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Tucker Carlson

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Tucker Carlson
Tucker Carlson 2020 (cropped).jpg
Carlson in 2020
Born
Tucker McNear Carlson[1]

(1969-05-16) May 16, 1969 (age 52)
EducationTrinity College (BA)
Occupation
  • Television journalist
  • commentator
  • columnist
  • author
Employer
Television
Political partyRepublican[2]
MovementPaleoconservatism[3]
Spouse(s)
Susan Andrews
(m. 1991)
Children4
RelativesDick Carlson (father)
WebsiteOfficial website

Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson[4] (born May 16, 1969)[5] is an American paleoconservative[6] television host and political commentator who has hosted the nightly political talk show Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News since 2016.

Carlson became a print journalist in the 1990s, writing for The Weekly Standard. He was a CNN commentator from 2000 to 2005 and co-host of the network's prime-time news debate program Crossfire from 2001 to 2005. From 2005 to 2008, he hosted the nightly program Tucker on MSNBC. He has been a political analyst for Fox News since 2009, appearing as guest or guest host on various programs before the launch of his current show. In 2010, Carlson co-founded and served as the initial editor-in-chief of the conservative news and opinion website The Daily Caller, until selling his ownership stake and leaving in 2020.[7] He has written two books: Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites (2003) and Ship of Fools (2018).

An advocate of former U.S. president Donald Trump, Carlson was described by Politico as "perhaps the highest-profile proponent of 'Trumpism' and willing to criticize Trump if he strayed from it".[8] He is also said to have influenced some of Trump's key policy decisions, including the cancellation of a military strike against Iran in 2019.[9][10] Carlson's remarks on race, immigration, and women – including slurs he said on air between 2006 and 2011 (which resurfaced in 2019)[11][12] – have provoked accusations of racism and sexism, as well as advertiser boycotts of Tucker Carlson Tonight.[13][14][15] As of April 2021, it was the most-watched cable news show in the United States.[16]

Carlson is a vocal opponent of progressivism and critic of immigration, and has been described as a nationalist.[17][3][18] Originally a supporter of libertarian economic policy, Carlson later criticized the ideology as "controlled by the banks" and became a protectionist.[4][19] In 2004, he renounced his initial support for the Iraq War,[20][21] and he has since been skeptical of foreign interventions by the U.S.[22][4]

Early life and education

Carlson at the Buckley School in 1975

Carlson was born Tucker McNear Carlson in the Mission District of San Francisco, California, on May 16, 1969.[1][23] He is the elder son of artist and San Francisco native Lisa McNear (née Lombardi) (1945–2011) and Dick Carlson (1941–), a former "gonzo reporter"[1][24][25] who became the director of the Voice of America, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the U.S. ambassador to the Seychelles.[26] Carlson's brother, Buckley Peck Carlson, later Buckley Swanson Peck Carlson, is nearly two years younger[27] and has worked as a communications manager and Republican political operative.[28][29][30]

Carlson's paternal grandparents were Richard Boynton and Dorothy Anderson, teenagers who placed his father at the Home for Little Wanderers orphanage where he was adopted at the age of two-years-old by upper-middle-class couple, Carl, a tannery worker of Swedish descent, and Mainer Florence Carlson.[31][24][32][33] Carlson's maternal great-great grandfather Cesar Lombardi immigrated to New York from Switzerland in 1860.[34][35] Carlson is also a descendant of Massachusetts politician, Ebenezer R. Hoar, and is a great-great grandson to Californian rancher Henry Miller.[27] Carlson himself was named after his great-grandparents, J. C. Tucker and George McNear.[23] Carlson is of English, German and Swiss-Italian ancestry.[36][27][35]

In 1976, Carlson's parents divorced after the nine-year marriage reportedly "turned sour".[27][37] Carlson's father was granted custody of Tucker and his brother. Carlson's mother left the family when he was six, wanting to pursue a "bohemian" lifestyle.[26][38][39]

When Carlson was in first grade, his father moved Tucker and his brother to the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California, and raised them there.[40][41] Carlson attended La Jolla Country Day School and grew up in a home overlooking the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.[42] His father owned property in Nevada, Vermont, and islands in Maine and Nova Scotia.[42][24] In 1984, his father unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Republican Mayor Roger Hedgecock in the San Diego mayoral race.[43]

In 1979, Carlson's father married divorcée Patricia Caroline Swanson, an heiress to Swanson Enterprises, daughter of Gilbert Carl Swanson, and niece of Senator J. William Fulbright.[26][44] Though Patricia remained a beneficiary of the family fortune, the Swansons had sold the brand to the Campbell Soup Company in 1955 and did not own it by the time of Carlson's father's marriage.[45]

Carlson was briefly enrolled at Collège du Léman, a boarding school in Switzerland, but says he was "kicked out".[46] He attained his secondary education at St. George's School, a boarding school in Middletown, Rhode Island, where he started dating his future wife, Susan Andrews, the headmaster's daughter.[47] He then went to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, graduating in 1991 with a BA in history.[26] Carlson's Trinity yearbook describes him as a member of the "Dan White Society", an apparent reference to the American political assassin who murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.[48][49][50] After college, Carlson tried to join the Central Intelligence Agency, but his application was denied, after which he decided to pursue a career in journalism with the encouragement of his father, who advised him that "they'll take anybody."[26][51]

Television career

Carlson began his career in journalism as a fact-checker for Policy Review,[26] a national conservative journal then published by The Heritage Foundation and later acquired by the Hoover Institution. He then worked as a reporter at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas, before joining The Weekly Standard news magazine in 1995.[26] Carlson actively sought a role with the publication after hearing of its founding, fearing he would be "written off as a wing nut" if he instead joined The American Spectator.[47]

In 1999, Carlson interviewed then-Governor George W. Bush for Talk magazine. He quoted Bush mocking Karla Faye Tucker (who was executed in Bush's state of Texas) and frequently using the word "fuck".[52][53] The piece led to bad publicity for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign. Bush claimed that "Mr. Carlson misread, mischaracterized me. He's a good reporter, he just misunderstood about how serious that was. I take the death penalty very seriously."[47][54] Among liberals, Carlson's piece received praise, with Democratic consultant Bob Shrum calling it "vivid". Carlson said of the interview, "I thought I'd be ragged for writing a puffy piece. My wife said people are going to think you're hunting for a job in the Bush campaign."[47]

Further into his career in print, Carlson worked as a columnist for New York and Reader's Digest; writing for Esquire, Slate, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, The Daily Beast, and The Wall Street Journal.[26][47] John F. Harris of Politico would later remark on how Carlson was "viewed ... as an important voice of the intelligentsia" during this period.[55] While working on a story for New York covering the Taliban, Carlson, alongside his father, was involved in a plane crash as it made its landing on a runway in Dubai on October 17, 2001.[56][57][58]

In his early television career Carlson wore bow ties, a habit from boarding school he continued on air until 2006.[39][59]

CNN (2000–2005)

Paul Begala (left) and Thomas McDevitt with Carlson in 2012

In 2000, Carlson co-hosted the short-lived show The Spin Room on CNN.[26] In 2001, he was appointed co-host of Crossfire, in which Carlson and Robert Novak represented the political right (alternating on different nights), while James Carville and Paul Begala, also alternating as hosts, represented the left.[26] During the same period, he also hosted a weekly public affairs program on PBS, Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered.

Jon Stewart debate

In October 2004, comedian and The Daily Show host Jon Stewart appeared on Crossfire, ostensibly to promote America (The Book), but he instead launched into a critique of Crossfire, saying the show was harmful to political discourse in the U.S.[26][60] Carlson was singled out by Stewart for criticism, with Carlson in turn criticizing Stewart for being biased toward the left.[26] Carlson and Begala later recalled that Stewart and one of the book's co-authors, Ben Karlin, stayed at CNN for more than an hour after the show to discuss the issues he had raised on the air, with Carlson saying, "It was heartfelt. [Stewart] needed to do this."[61][62] In 2017, The New York Times referred to Stewart's "on-air dressing-down" of Carlson as an "ignominious career [moment]" for Carlson, leading to the show's cancellation.[63]

On January 5, 2005, CNN chief Jonathan Klein told Carlson the network had decided not to renew his contract.[64] CNN announced that it was ending its relationship with Carlson and would soon cancel Crossfire.[65][66] Carlson later said: "I resigned from Crossfire in April [2004], many months before Jon Stewart came on our show, because I didn't like the partisanship, and I thought in some ways it was kind of a pointless conversation."[67]

PBS (2004–2005)

Carlson was hired to helm a new program for PBS in November 2003, Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered, which ran synchronously with Carlson's Crossfire gig on CNN.[68] The show launched on June 18, 2004, and was, according to The New Yorker, "part of a broader effort to push PBS further to the right ideologically".[69][70]

Carlson announced he was leaving the show roughly a year after it had started on June 12, 2005, despite the Corporation for Public Broadcasting allocating money for another season of the show.[71][dead link] Carlson said he wanted to focus on his new show, Tucker, on MSNBC, and said that although PBS was one of the "least bad" instances of government spending he disagreed with, it was still "problematic".[71][dead link]

MSNBC (2005–2008)

Carlson in 2007

Carlson's early evening show, Tucker (originally titled The Situation With Tucker Carlson), premiered on June 13, 2005, on MSNBC.[72] Rachel Maddow and Jay Severin featured as guests on a rotating panel.[72] He also hosted a late-afternoon weekday wrap-up for the network during the 2006 Winter Olympics.[73][non-primary source needed] In July 2006, he reported live for Tucker from Haifa, Israel, during the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. While in the Middle East, he also hosted MSNBC Special Report: Mideast Crisis.[74][non-primary source needed] Carlson was one of several reporters who reported from the scene of the Virginia Tech campus in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting on April 17, 2007.[75][non-primary source needed]

Tucker was canceled by the network on March 10, 2008, due to low ratings,[76] and the final episode aired on March 14, 2008. He remained with the network as a senior campaign correspondent for the 2008 election.[77] Brian Stelter, writing for The New York Times, wrote that "during Mr. Carlson's tenure, MSNBC's evening programming moved gradually to the left. His former time slots, 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., were then occupied by two liberals, Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow." Carlson said the network had changed a lot and "they didn't have a role for me."[78]

Media outside journalism (2006–2008)

Carlson was a contestant on season 3 of the reality show Dancing with the Stars, which aired in 2006; he was paired with professional dancer Elena Grinenko. Carlson took four-hour-a-day ballroom dance classes to prepare. In an interview a month before the show began, he lamented that he would miss classes during a two-week-long MSNBC assignment in Lebanon, saying, "It's hard for me to remember the moves."[79] Carlson said he accepted ABC's invitation to perform because "I don't do things that I'm not good at very often. I'm psyched to get to do that."[79] Carlson was the first contestant eliminated, on September 13, 2006.[26]

Carlson had cameo appearances as himself in the Season 1 episode "Hard Ball" of 30 Rock and in a Season 9 episode of The King of Queens.[80][81] He had a cameo appearance in the 2008 film, Swing Vote, again playing himself.[82]

Fox News Channel (2009–present)

Carlson works as a correspondent at a Hillary Clinton campaign rally at Manchester Community College, 2016

In May 2009, Fox News announced that Carlson was being hired as a Fox News contributor. He was a frequent guest panelist on Fox's late-night satire show Red Eye w/Greg Gutfeld, made frequent appearances on the All-Star Panel segment of Special Report with Bret Baier, was a substitute host of Hannity in Sean Hannity's absence and produced and hosted a special entitled Fighting for Our Children's Minds in September 2010.[83][84][85]

In April 2013, Carlson replaced Dave Briggs as a co-host of Fox & Friends Weekend, joining Alisyn Camerota and Clayton Morris on Saturday and Sunday mornings.[86]

Tucker Carlson Tonight (2016–present)

On November 14, 2016, Carlson began hosting Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News. The premiere episode of the show, which replaced On the Record,[87] was the network's most watched telecast of the year in the time slot with 3.7 million viewers.[88]

Tucker Carlson Tonight aired at 7:00 p.m. each weeknight until January 9, 2017, when Carlson's show replaced Megyn Kelly at the 9:00 p.m. time slot after she left Fox News. In January 2017, Forbes reported that the show had "scored consistently high ratings, averaging 2.8 million viewers per night and ranking as the number two cable news program behind The O'Reilly Factor in December."[89] In March 2017, Tucker Carlson Tonight was the most watched cable program in the 9:00 p.m. time slot.[90]

On April 19, 2017, Fox News announced that Tucker Carlson Tonight would air at 8:00 p.m. following the cancellation of The O'Reilly Factor.[91] Tucker Carlson Tonight was the third-highest-rated cable news show as of March 2018.[92]

In October 2018, Tucker Carlson Tonight was the second-highest rated cable news show in prime time, after The Sean Hannity Show with Sean Hannity, with 3.2 million nightly viewers.[93] By the end of 2018, the show had begun to be boycotted by at least twenty advertisers after Carlson said immigration makes the country "poorer, dirtier and more divided". According to Fox News, the advertisers only moved their ad buys to other programs.[94]

By January 2019, his show dropped to third with 2.8 million nightly viewers, down six percent from the previous year.[95] The show had lost at least 26 advertisers.[96][97] There were calls to fire Carlson from Fox News in March 2019 after Media Matters resurfaced remarks of his concerning women (calling them "like dogs" and "extremely primitive") and statutory rape,[11][98] Iraqis, and immigrants he had made over several years to the radio show Bubba the Love Sponge,[99] but his ratings rose eight percent that week despite the boycotts.[14] By August 2019, Media Matters calculated that some companies had fulfilled their media buy contracts and advertising inventory for the time slot and had now begun their purchases for other time slots on Fox News.[100][101] At the close of 2019, Carlson's Nielsen ratings among all viewers 25–54 placed him second only to Fox's The Sean Hannity Show among cable news shows.[102]

In December 2019, Playboy model Karen McDougal sued Fox News after Carlson, in a 2018 episode of his show, accused her of extorting Donald Trump. In September 2020, federal judge Mary Kay Vyskocil (a Trump appointee)[103] dismissed the lawsuit, citing her acceptance of Fox News's defense that Carlson's extortion claims were opinion-based and not "statements of fact". The judge also agreed with Fox News's defense that reasonable viewers would have "skepticism" over statements Carlson makes on its show, as he often engages in "exaggeration" and "non-literal commentary" and that Carlson is not "stating actual facts" on its show.[103][104][105]

Beginning the week of June 8–14, 2020, Tucker Carlson Tonight became the highest-rated cable news show in the U.S., with an average of four million viewers, beating out the shows hosted by fellow Fox News pundits Hannity and Ingraham. This came in the wake of Carlson's remarks criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement, which had caused some companies to pull their advertising from the show, including The Walt Disney Company, T-Mobile, and Papa John's.[106]

Carlson at the Student Action summit in West Palm Beach, Florida, 2020

In July 2020, Carlson's head writer, Blake Neff, resigned after CNN Business reported that he had been using a pseudonym to post remarks that were widely described as racist, sexist, and homophobic on AutoAdmit, a message board known for its lack of moderation of offensive and defamatory content. The incident drew renewed scrutiny to Carlson's program, already under pressure from sponsors because of Carlson's remarks about Black Lives Matter.[107][108] Neff had also previously been a writer on The Daily Caller.[109] Carlson condemned Neff's posts on the second episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight that aired after the posts were initially reported.[110]

By October 2020, Tucker Carlson Tonight averaged 5.3 million viewers, with the show's monthly average becoming the highest of any cable news program in history at that point. In the 25–54 demographic, the show maintained an average viewership of just over a million, with 670,000 being between 18 and 49.[111][112] Carlson's program saw a dip in viewership following the aftermath of the 2020 election, losing out to Anderson Cooper 360° in the 25–54 demographic which Carlson had maintained a hold of the prior month.[113] This coincided with Carlson's distancing himself of Trump's post-election legal fights, in which Carlson said the election was "not fair" but acknowledged that it still would not produce a Trump victory.[114][115] In 2020, Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Sean Hannity Show became the first cable news programs to finish a full year with viewership in excess of four million.[116]

In the week following the inauguration of Joe Biden as president, Tucker Carlson Tonight remained the only cable news program to not see a drop in viewership, slightly increasing from where it stood one week prior and reclaiming its lead among the 25–54 demographic.[117][118] As of April 2021, it was the most-watched news-related show on cable.[16]

In February 2021, Carlson announced a multiyear deal with Fox News to host a new weekly podcast and series of monthly specials dubbed Tucker Carlson Originals exclusively on sister streaming service Fox Nation with a planned release in April.[119][120]

The Daily Caller (2010–2020)

On January 11, 2010, Carlson and Neil Patel (a former aide to Dick Cheney, and former college roommate of Carlson)[7] launched a political news website titled The Daily Caller. Carlson served as editor-in-chief, and occasionally wrote opinion pieces with Patel.[121] The website was funded by the conservative activist Foster Freiss.[26] By February 2010, The Daily Caller was part of the White House rotating press pool.[122]

In interviews, Carlson said The Daily Caller would not be tied to ideology but rather "breaking stories of importance",[123] and "We're not enforcing any kind of ideological orthodoxy on anyone."[124] Columnist Mickey Kaus quit after Carlson refused to run a column critical of Fox News's coverage of the immigration policy debate due to his contractual obligations to Fox News.[125][26]

In June 2020, Carlson sold his one-third stake in The Daily Caller to Patel.[126]

Writing

Carlson authored the memoir Politicians, Partisans and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News (Warner Books, 2003), about his television news experiences.[127]

In February 2012, The Daily Caller published an "investigative series" of articles co-authored by Carlson, purporting to be an insiders' exposé of Media Matters for America (MMfA), the liberal watchdog group that monitors and scrutinizes conservative media outlets, and its founder David Brock.[128] Reuters media critic and libertarian Jack Shafer, while commenting "I've never thought much of Media Matters' style of watchdogging or Brock's journalism," nevertheless sharply criticized The Daily Caller piece for relying on conjecture, absence of evidence, and inclusion of "anonymously sourced crap", adding that "Daily Caller is attacking Media Matters with bad journalism and lame propaganda."[129]

In May 2017, Carlson, represented by the literary and creative agency Javelin, signed an eight-figure, two-book deal with Simon & Schuster's conservative imprint, Threshold Editions.[130] His first book in the series, Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution, was released in October 2018,[131] and debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times Best Seller list.[132] His second book, The Long Slide: Thirty Years in American Journalism, is set for an August 2021 release.[133]

Commentary

Carlson has been described in the media as a conservative[134][135] or paleoconservative.[136][137] Writing for New York magazine's Intelligencer, Park MacDougald called Carlson a "Middle American radical", which he described as someone who holds populist economic beliefs; hostility to corporatocracy; fervent positions on nationalism, race, and immigration; and a preference for a strong U.S. president. MacDougald identified this form of radicalism as the ideological core of Trumpism.[138]

Abortion and death penalty

Carlson opposes abortion and has said it is the only political issue he considers non-negotiable.[139][140][141]

Carlson wrote in 2000 that capital punishment "deserves more vigorous debate",[142] and in 2003 told Salon, "I'm opposed to the death penalty as I am adamantly opposed to abortion".[143] After saying on Fox News in 2010 that Michael Vick "should have been executed" for dog fighting, Carlson stated that he is "not comfortable with the death penalty under any circumstances".[144][145]

Economics

Carlson at a 2007 Ron Paul event

Early in his career, Carlson supported libertarian economics. He supported Ron Paul's 1988 presidential candidacy, when Paul ran as the candidate for the Libertarian Party, along with his 2008 presidential candidacy, when Paul ran as a Republican.[19][146] In 2009, Carlson became a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.[147] As of 2017, he is no longer affiliated with the organization.[148]

Since 2018, he has promoted more populist economics,[26] attacking libertarianism and saying "market capitalism is not a religion."[149] In an interview, he said that economic and technological change that occurs too quickly can cause widespread social and political upheaval, and praised President Theodore Roosevelt, whose intervention in the economy in the early 1900s may have, in Carlson's view, prevented a communist revolution in the United States.[150] In 2019 on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson said America's "ruling class" are, in effect, the "mercenaries" behind the decline of the American middle class, and "any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society."[149]

He criticized hedge funds (singling out the Republican donor Paul Singer in 2019) and private equity (in criticizing Mitt Romney, former CEO of Bain Capital).[151][152] He described the business model of firms like Bain as: "Take over an existing company for a short period of time, cut costs by firing employees, run up the debt, extract the wealth and move on, sometimes leaving retirees without their earned pensions... Meanwhile, a remarkable number of the companies are now bankrupt or extinct."[152][non-primary source needed] He attacked payday lenders, saying they "loan people money they can't possibly repay" and "charge them interest that impoverishes them"[152][149][153] He praised Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren's economic plan and called her book The Two Income Trap "one of the best books I've ever read on economics".[154][155]

Environment

On his show, Carlson frequently hosts guests who downplay the scientific consensus on climate change,[156] and he has also done that repeatedly himself.[157][158][159][160]

Republicans and Democrats

Carlson with Charlie Kirk in 2018

Carlson is a Republican.[2] In the past he has registered as a Democrat to vote in Washington, D.C., primary elections.[161]

Carlson did not vote in the 2004 election, citing his souring on the Iraq War; his disillusionment with the once small-government Republican Party; and his disappointment with President George W. Bush and like-minded conservatives:[20][21]

I don't know what you consider conservative, but I'm not much of a 'liberal', at least as the word is currently defined. For instance, I'm utterly opposed to abortion, which I think is horrible and cruel. I think affirmative action is wrong. I'd like to slow immigration pretty dramatically. I hate all nanny-state regulations, such as seat belt laws and smoking bans. I'm not for big government. I think the U.S. ought to hesitate before intervening abroad. I think these are conservative impulses. So by my criteria, Bush isn't much of a conservative.[20]

In 2003, Carlson said about John McCain and his failed 2000 presidential bid:

I liked McCain. And I would have voted for McCain for president happily, not because I agree with his politics; I never took McCain's politics seriously enough even to have strong feelings about them. I don't think McCain has very strong politics. He's interested in ideas almost as little as George W. Bush is. McCain isn't intellectual and doesn't have a strong ideology at all. He's wound up sort of as a liberal Republican because he's mad at other Republicans, not because he's a liberal.[162]

Carlson was reportedly floated as a potential candidate for the Libertarian nomination in the 2008 election. He was included in polling at the 2008 Libertarian National Convention, with unconfirmed speculation arising that he was personally funding the effort.[163]

During the Trump presidency, Carlson's commentary was not uniformly pro-Trump, but he was seen as defending Trump with frequent scorn for Trump's critics. Some commentators called Carlson an exemplar of such "anti-anti-Trump" arguments.[39][164][165][166][167]

In January 2019, Carlson used a Washington Post op-ed by Mitt Romney to criticize what he described as the "mainstream Republican" worldview, consisting of "unwavering support for a finance-based economy and an internationalist foreign policy", which he argued was also supported by the bulk of Democrats.[152] He cited parallels, in regard to economic and social problems which had befallen inner cities and rural areas, despite cultural and demographic differences between their respective populations, as evidence that the "culture of poverty", which had been cited by conservatives as the cause of urban decline, "wasn't the whole story:"[non-primary source needed]

[Both parties] miss the obvious point: Culture and economics are inseparably intertwined. Certain economic systems allow families to thrive. Thriving families make market economies possible.[152]

Prior to 2020, Carlson was a registered member of the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C.[161] In 2017, Carlson said his registration as a Democrat was to gain the right to vote in the primaries for mayoral elections in the district, "a one-party state", and that he "always votes for the more corrupt candidate over the idealist" in order to favor the status quo and stem progressivism.[168] By 2020, Carlson registered as a Republican in his newly adopted residency of Florida.[2][169]

Foreign policy

Carlson in 2012

Carlson is skeptical of foreign intervention, and has said "the U.S. ought to hesitate before intervening abroad."[22]

Iraq

Carlson initially supported the Iraq War. However, a year after the invasion of Iraq, he began criticizing the war, telling The New York Observer: "I think it's a total nightmare and disaster, and I'm ashamed that I went against my own instincts in supporting it."[170]

Iran

In July 2017, Carlson said that "we actually don't face any domestic threat from Iran." He asked Max Boot to "tell me how many Americans in the United States have been murdered by terrorists backed by Iran since 9/11?"[171] According to The New York Times, Carlson played an influential role in dissuading Trump from launching military strikes against Iran in response to the shooting down of an American drone in June 2019. Carlson reportedly told Trump that if he listened to his hawkish advisors and went ahead with the strikes, he would not win re-election.[9]

Carlson referred to the 2020 assassination of Qasem Soleimani as a "quagmire". He criticized the "chest-beaters" who promote foreign interventions, particularly Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), and asked, "By the way, if we're still in Afghanistan, 19 years, sad years, later, what makes us think there's a quick way out of Iran?"[172]

Mexico

Carlson supported Trump's expansion of the Mexico–United States barrier, saying a wall was needed to "restore sovereignty" to the border.[173]

In a July 2018 interview about Russian involvement in U.S. elections, Carlson said Mexico has interfered in U.S. elections "more successfully" than Russia by "packing our electorate" through mass immigration.[174] This assertion was disputed by journalist Philip Bump, who wrote that the number of Mexicans in the U.S. had decreased since 2009 and asked rhetorically: "What good has it done Mexico to have a number of its citizens move to the United States and gain the right to vote?"[175]

In May 2019, Carlson defended Trump's decision to place tariffs on Mexico unless Mexico stopped illegal immigration to the United States. Carlson said, "When the United States is attacked by a hostile foreign power it must strike back, and make no mistake Mexico is a hostile foreign power."[176]

Russia

Carlson has said he does not consider Russia a serious threat to the United States.[171] He called for the United States to work with Russia in the Syrian Civil War against a common enemy like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).[177][178] Peter Beinart of The Atlantic said Carlson has been an "apologist for Donald Trump on the Russia scandal".[171] Carlson described the controversy in the wake of revelations that Donald Trump Jr. was willing to accept anti-Clinton information from a Russian government official as a "new level of hysteria" and said that Trump Jr. had only been "gossiping with foreigners".[171]

In May 2019, after Robert Mueller gave a statement saying the Special Counsel investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 election did not exonerate President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice, Carlson called Mueller "sleazy and dishonest".[179]

At the beginning of December 2019, Carlson said, "the irony, of course, is that Putin, for all his faults, does not hate America as much as many of these people do," meaning liberals. "They really dislike our country. And they call other people traitors because they're mouthing the talking points of Putin." He was criticized by Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador during the Obama administration, who said, "You are wrong Mr. Carlson. Putin does hate America," urging him to "stop attacking Americans & defending Putin."[180][181]

Syria

Carlson opposes overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has downplayed some of the Assad regime's human rights violations in the Syrian Civil War.[171][182] In April 2018, Carlson questioned whether Assad was responsible for the Douma chemical attack that had occurred a few days earlier and killed dozens.[183][184] In November 2019, Carlson repeated this claim and queried whether the attack had happened at all.[185]

Carlson suggested that a similar attack that occurred the year before (the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack), which was attributed to Assad's forces and which the OPCW JIM indicated was carried out with sarin that bore the regime's signature, was a false flag attack perpetrated to falsely implicate the Assad government. Carlson compared Assad's war crimes during the Syrian Civil War to Saudi Arabia's war crimes in Yemen.[183]

North Korea

When President Trump met the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the country's border with the South in June 2019, Carlson told Fox & Friends said "there's no defending the North Korean regime, it's the last real Stalinist regime in the world. It's a disgusting place obviously [but] you've got to be honest about what it means to lead a country, it means killing people."[186] Carlson went on to argue that although "not on the scale that the North Koreans do, but a lot of countries commit atrocities, including a number that [the United States] are closely allied with."[187][188][189][190]

China

Carlson has said normalization of relations with China following President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit led to unforeseen consequences, and that America became progressively worse off for it.[191] He criticized LeBron James for speaking out against Daryl Morey, the latter having tweeted in support of the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests,[192][193] and referred to the former CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger, as a "propagandist" for the Chinese Communist Party.[191]

Immigration and race

Carlson at the Immigrants' Rights rally in Washington Mall, 2006

Carlson is a frequent critic of immigration,[17] and has been described by various writers as demonizing both legal and illegal immigrants.[194][195][196][197][198][199][200] He has repeatedly argued that Democrats are seeking "demographic replacement" to increase their voter base.[201][202] Terry Smith, a law professor at St. Thomas University, has called Carlson's rhetoric an example of white identity politics.[203] According to University of Michigan professor Alexandra Stern, Carlson propagates demographic fear.[204] Some have said Carlson promotes racism,[205][197][13][206] a charge he denies, saying in 2018, "I’m not a racist. I hate racism."[26] Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center has said that "Carlson probably has been the No. 1 commentator mainstreaming bedrock principles of white nationalism in [the U.S.]."[207] Neoconservative pundit Bill Kristol described Carlson's commentaries in 2018 as "close now to racism" and "ethno-nationalism of some kind, let's call it."[208]

Bubba the Love Sponge call-ins (2006-2008)

In call-in segments Carlson made from 2006 to 2008 on the radio show Bubba the Love Sponge, Carlson said Iraq was not worth invading because it was a country made up of "semi-literate primitive monkeys" who "don't use toilet paper or forks".[209] Carlson also stated that he had "zero sympathy" for the people of Iraq. He also criticized "lunatic Muslims who are behaving like animals", and said that any presidential candidate who vowed to "kill as many of them as [they] can" would be "elected king". Recordings of these segments were released online in March 2019 by the progressive nonprofit Media Matters for America. The Washington Post called these comments racist.[12]

Obama administration (2015)

In a guest appearance with Alex Jones in 2015, Carlson described the Obama administration: "They categorize people by race in a way that, you know, you can't even imagine – 30 years ago you would have said, 'Wait a second, that's like Nazi stuff.'"[210]

Trump campaign (2016)

When Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president, denounced then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, saying Trump made a "disqualifying and disgusting response" by evading questions about former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke's support,[211] Carlson criticized Romney and dismissed his speech by suggesting "Obama could have written this".[212][213]

Immigrants and 'replacement' (2018–2021)

In 2018, Carlson suggested that mass immigration makes the United States "dirtier", "poorer" and "more divided"[214][215] and said it "has badly hurt this country's natural landscape."[216] Talking about Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where Hispanics had quickly become a majority of the population, Carlson said it was "more change than human beings are designed to digest".[197] In May 2019 he said, "The flood of illegal workers into the United States has damaged our communities, ruined our schools, burdened our healthcare system and fractured our national unity."[176] In December 2019, he falsely claimed that immigrants were responsible for making the Potomac River "dirtier and dirtier".[217][218]

In April 2021, Carlson argued that the Democratic Party "is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World". He also said, "Everyone wants to make a racial issue out of it, 'Ooh, the white replacement theory.' No, no, no, this is a voting rights question. I have less political power because they are importing a brand-new electorate. Why should I sit back and take that?" The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and others said that Carlson was endorsing the Great Replacement, a white nationalist conspiracy theory that claims white people are being systemically replaced through declining white birth rates and high rates of immigration.[202][35][219][220] In an open letter to Fox News, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called for the network to fire Carlson, arguing that the talk about demographic replacement "was not just a dog whistle to racists — it was a bullhorn."[219]

Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch defended Carlson, writing that Carlson had "decried and rejected replacement theory" when he said, "White replacement theory? No, no, this is a voting rights question." Greenblatt responded that Carlson's saying this made it "worse, because he’s using a straw manvoting rights – to give an underhanded endorsement of white supremacist beliefs while ironically suggesting it’s not really white supremacism".[221]

South Africa (2018)

In August 2018, Carlson alleged that the South African government was targeting white farmers because "they are the wrong skin color" and falsely said the country's president had changed the constitution to allow land thefts from whites during ongoing land reform efforts.[222][223][224][225][226] CBS News, Associated Press, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal described Carlson's segment (with guest Marian Tupy of the Cato Institute) as false or misleading, because violence against farmers had reached an all-time low and the reforms had yet to pass and were primarily aimed at land that had fallen into disuse.[227][223][224][228][226][229][230]

Following the Carlson segment, President Trump tweeted that he had instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "closely study the South Africa land and farm seizure and large scale killing of farmers".[222][223][224] Trump's tweet was denounced as "'misinformed'" by the South African government, who said it would address the matter through diplomatic channels. AfriForum, a South African non-governmental organization focused mainly on the interests of Afrikaners, took credit for Carlson's and Trump's statements, saying it believed that its campaign to influence American politics had succeeded.[224]

The evening after the segment, Carlson acknowledged that the proposed amendment was still being debated and added that no farms had yet been expropriated, though he did not admit to having made errors. Carlson later said in an interview that his South Africa segment made "an argument against tribalism".[226]

Ilhan Omar (2019)

Carlson concluded Tucker Carlson Tonight on July 9, 2019, with a three-minute monologue about Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN), calling her ungrateful to the United States, where she had been granted asylum, and calling her "living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country". His monologue was described by The Guardian as "racially loaded" and "full of anti-immigrant rhetoric".[231] Congresswoman Omar responded on Twitter, saying that "advertisers should not be underwriting this kind of dangerous, hateful rhetoric."[232] In its July 10 article on the incident, The Daily Beast commented that, mainly because of "right-wing attacks that have then been amplified by members of Congress and the president", Omar has been receiving death threats since she was elected to Congress.[233] According to the article, while Carlson "has devoted numerous segments" of his show to criticizing her, this time Carlson "took his anti-Omar stance even further".[233]

El Paso shooting (2019)

Several days after the 2019 El Paso shooting, which was committed by a man who released an anti-immigrant manifesto complaining of a "Hispanic invasion", Carlson described white supremacy as a "hoax" and "a conspiracy theory used to divide the country and keep a hold on power."[201] He asked rhetorically, "the combined membership of every white supremacist group in America – would they be able to fit inside a college football stadium?"[234][235][236] According to The Washington Post, "Carlson's argument is belied by many experts and seemingly contradicted by a recent wave of deadly attacks by men motivated by those views."[237]

Black Lives Matter and George Floyd (2020–2021)

Carlson cast doubts on the intentions of Black Lives Matter protestors in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, saying in June 2020, "it is definitely not about black lives, and remember that when they come for you, and at this rate, they will." Although Fox News said Carlson was referring to Democratic leaders and not protesters, Carlson's comments on Black Lives Matter were met with rebuke. Advertisers including The Walt Disney Company, Papa John's, Poshmark, and T-Mobile stopped advertising on Carlson's program. In other comments, Carlson argued that the unrest following Floyd's killing stemmed from a desire for ideological domination, rather than genuine opposition to police brutality.[238][239][240][241]

Carlson claimed in 2021 that "there was no physical evidence that George Floyd was murdered by a cop" and "the autopsy showed that George Floyd almost certainly died of a drug overdose," even though two autopsies found that Floyd died from homicide caused by former police officer Derek Chauvin's kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd had drugs in his system when he died, but medical professionals determined this did not cause his death.[242][243][244]

After jurors found Chauvin guilty of murder, Carlson argued that they were threatened into doing so by Black Lives Matter protests rather than being swayed by witness testimony or visceral video of the killing of Floyd. He characterized the protests as "nearly a year of burning and looting and murder by BLM".[245]

COVID-19 pandemic

Carlson aired segments warning about COVID-19 in the first months of 2020, and reportedly influenced then-President Trump to take the virus more seriously.[246][247] But by spring of 2020, Carlson began to publicly question the severity of the virus,[248] opposing social distancing measures,[249][250] and in 2021 he repeatedly aired segments casting doubt on masks[251][252] and vaccines.[253][254]

Carlson differed with Trump and some of his colleagues at Fox News in early 2020 by saying COVID-19 should be taken more seriously in the U.S.[246][255] On March 9, 2020, Carlson opened his show by saying, "People you trust, people you probably voted for, have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem. ... But they're wrong. It's definitely not just the flu."[10] Two anonymous sources in the White House told The Washington Post that Carlson's statements had caused Trump to reconsider his position.[10] Carlson also told Vanity Fair that he spoke to Trump and encouraged him to take the outbreak seriously.[247][246] Carlson blamed China for causing the pandemic.[255] However, Carlson also claimed that some U.S. officials were overstating the deadliness of the virus – a claim that Politifact called mostly false.[248] Carlson criticized stay-at-home orders brought on by the pandemic, and ridiculed NIAID director Anthony Fauci.[249] Carlson defended protests against lockdowns in rural areas, saying, "The threat to rural America from this virus is minuscule, so why are we punishing the people who live outside the cities?"[250]

In 2021, Carlson ran segments that misrepresented the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and asserted that U.S. officials were "lying" about them.[256][257][258][259][260] He questioned why the CDC was advising vaccinated people to continue mask-wearing and distancing, saying, "maybe [the vaccine] doesn't work, and they're simply not telling you that... what's the other potential explanation? We can't think of one." Both Politifact and FactCheck.org called this statement false, as COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in protecting against COVID-19 infections and severe symptoms, and universal masking helps prevent unvaccinated people from spreading the virus.[253][251] Fauci called Carlson's remarks a "crazy conspiracy theory"; in response, Carlson said that he "never for a minute doubted" the efficacy of the vaccines, but "the people in charge are acting like it doesn't work."[253] In another segment, Carlson cited the unverified federal database VAERS to claim that in the previous five months around 30 people per day in the U.S. died after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.[254][261][262] Politifact and others called Carlson's argument misleading,[263][254][264][258] as the unverified VAERS reports have been a breeding ground for false claims disputing vaccine safety,[263] and deaths after receiving a vaccine can be from unrelated causes.[263][265] The CDC said it "has not established a causal link" between COVID-19 vaccinations and deaths afterward based on VAERS.[254][263]

Carlson called people wearing masks outdoors "zealots and neurotics", said children wearing masks was child abuse, and said, "Your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different from your response to seeing someone beat a kid in Walmart... Call the police immediately, contact child protective services. Keep calling until someone arrives."[266][252][267]

2020 election aftermath

After Joe Biden won the 2020 election, Carlson raised false allegations of fraud in the election.[268][269][270][271] On his show, he mentioned the names of purportedly dead individuals who voted in Georgia; investigative reporting subsequently found that some of the individuals whom he claimed to be dead were in fact alive.[272]

Later that month, Carlson cast doubt on unfounded conspiratorial claims made by former federal prosecutor Sidney Powell, who alleged that Venezuela, Cuba and unidentified communist interests had used a secret algorithm to hack into voting machines and commit widespread electoral fraud.[273] Carlson said "what Powell was describing would amount to the single greatest crime in American history," but that Powell became "angry and told us to stop contacting her" when he asked for evidence of widespread voter fraud.[273] Prominent defenders of Trump criticized Carlson for his skepticism.[274]

In February 2021, after attorney general nominee Merrick Garland pledged at his confirmation hearing to supervise the prosecution of "white supremacists and others" involved in the storming of the U.S. Capitol, Carlson alleged, "There's no evidence that white supremacists were responsible for what happened on January 6th. That's a lie."[275] Several rioters had known ties to white supremacist groups, according to court records and congressional testimony by law enforcement leaders, and video and photos from the incident showed white supremacist symbols prominently displayed.[276][277] Politifact rated Carlson's claim false,[277] and Philip Bump of The Washington Post wrote in an analysis that Carlson was blurring the lines between "being involved" and "being responsible for" to create a strawman in an effort to "undercut the public understanding of what happened and, by extension, to soften the implications for Trump and his supporters".[278]

In June 2021, Carlson suggested the Capitol storming was an FBI false flag operation intended to "suppress political dissent." He asserted "FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol on January 6, according to government documents." He continued that some of the "key" people who participated in the attack had not been charged but were described by prosecutors as unindicted co-conspirators, asserting "it means that potentially every single case they were FBI operatives."[279] Legal experts said prosecutors cannot describe an undercover agent as an unindicted co-conspirator. Carlson's assertions were based primarily on writing by Darren Beattie of website Revolver News. Beattie had been fired as a Trump speechwriter in 2018 after CNN asked the White House about his attendance at a gathering of white nationalists, and Revolver has been promoted by Trump and his supporters. Neither Carlson nor Beattie, whom Carlson interviewed on-air, noted that one of the unindicted co-conspirators was readily identifiable as Stewart Rhodes, founder and leader of Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government militia organization that was implicated in the Capitol attack. Another unindicted co-conspirator was likely the wife of an indicted alleged conspirator.[280][281][282][283] Carlson also said Russian president Vladimir Putin was asking "fair questions" when he suggested the government search for rioters who participated in the Capitol storming was comparable to the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, which Putin denied involvement in. "If all of that was going on in Russia, we would rightly call it scary. We would call Putin a dictator. In fact, we do call him a dictator," Carlson said.[284][285] Republican House members Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene quickly embraced the Carlson story, and Republican congressman Paul Gosar entered the Revolver News story into the Congressional Record during a House Oversight Committee hearing, stating it contained information about "infiltration and incitement of the January 6 protest by federal officials."[286]

Rhetorical style

Carlson's rhetorical style and debating tactics have drawn close attention from writers and other public figures.[4][39][287][288][26][289]

In arguments, Carlson can quickly shift between personas as a devil's advocate and a moralizing truth teller, and simultaneously appear outraged and blasé – employing a "joking/not-joking loophole" that radio shock jocks have often used, according to Lili Loofbourow of Slate.[287] James Carville, a Democratic strategist and friend of Carlson who has appeared on his shows, called Carlson "one of the world's great contrarians", with a gift for making his views sound rebellious even when they are widespread or advantageous.[39]

During remote interviews, Carlson's producers will keep his face close-up onscreen so viewers can watch him react, often in disbelief.[39] His trademark scowl lets viewers "share his disdain" toward opposing views, foreshadowing a "scathing rebuttal".[288][290]

Carlson has said he especially targets the "moral preening" of people he sees as having a sensibility of "I'm a really good person, and you're not."[4] Elaina Plott in The Atlantic summed up Carlson's style as "a gleeful fuck you" to his opponents.[4] Carlson is known to interrupt guests repeatedly with direct demands to answer questions he poses, sometimes focusing on an embarrassing episode or statement from a guest's past.[288] Jack Shafer wrote in Politico that "When the host barks questions in your earpiece, you can't help but jolt to life like a puppet on a string," suggesting that successful guests on Carlson's show must match his quick-wittedness and unflappability.[288] Lyz Lenz of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote that this debate maneuver mirrors Jon Stewart's confrontation of Carlson on Crossfire in 2004, describing Stewart then and Carlson now as both "com[ing] out of the gate with an impossible line of questioning and a disingenuous defense".[26]

Carlson's use of hyperbole as a rhetorical device was cited by Fox News in its successful defense in 2020 of a slander lawsuit by Karen McDougal, after Carlson incorrectly argued in 2018 that Donald Trump had been a victim of extortion by McDougal.[291][103][104]

Personal life

Carlson is married to Susan Thomson Carlson (née Andrews).[26][292] They met at a Rhode Island boarding school, St. George's School, where she was the headmaster's daughter,[47] and were married on August 10, 1991, in the school chapel.[292] They have four children.[41][293] Carlson is an Episcopalian and "loves the liturgy, though [he] abhors the liberals who run the denomination".[39]

Carlson is left-handed and dyslexic.[294]

Carlson quit drinking alcohol in 2002, "having decided that neither the pleasant nights nor the unpleasant mornings were improving his life".[39] Years earlier, he had quit smoking and replaced cigarettes with nicotine gum, which he buys in bulk from New Zealand and "chews constantly".[39]

Carlson is a Deadhead (a fan of the rock band Grateful Dead); he said in 2005 that he had attended more than fifty of their concerts,[295] and said in 2021 that the title of his book Ship of Fools was inspired by the Grateful Dead song "Ship of Fools".[294] He is also a fan of the band Phish.[294]

He was friends with Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof and attended his funeral in 2018.[146][296][297]

In 2018, a group of antifa activists associated with the "Smash Racism D.C." group protested outside Carlson's Washington, D.C., home.[298] Carlson's driveway was vandalized with a spray-painted anarchist symbol.[299]

Published works

  • Carlson, Tucker (2003). Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 978-0-7595-0800-2.
  • Carlson, Tucker (2018). Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-501-18366-9.
  • Carlson, Tucker (2021, upcoming). The Long Slide: Thirty Years in American Journalism. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-501-18369-0.

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Further reading

External links