Subscribe Now »

Special Holiday Deal

Give the Gift of the

Give one person a magazine subscription for $29.95, and get each additional subscription for just $19.95.

Newsletters

I would like to receive the following free email newsletters:

Newsletter Signup
  1. Bridal Party
  2. Dining Out
  3. Kliman Online
  4. Photo Ops
  5. Shop Around
  6. Where & When
  7. Well+Being
  8. Learn more
The Bearable Lightness of Being Tucker Carlson
He knows that people loathe him, think his career is in the toilet, and believe that his website, the Daily Caller, marks a new low in journalism. But the truth is that Tucker Carlson couldn’t be happier. By Tom Bartlett
Illustration by Edel Rodriguez.
Comments () | Published November 26, 2012

I’m searching for a caricature of Tucker Carlson at the Palm, the restaurant near Dupont Circle wallpapered with the faces of the city’s famous and semi-famous, along with a bunch of other people who must be excellent tippers.

Carlson is firmly in the first category. He’s been on television almost constantly for more than a decade, hosting shows on CNN, PBS, and MSNBC, including one titled simply Tucker. He’s the guy with the bow tie who isn’t George Will. (Actually, he ditched the bow tie years ago, but the accessory is so fused with his identity now that it doesn’t matter whether it’s in his closet or around his neck.) These days he pops up on Fox News, expounding on this and that, deploying a “Come on!” or an “Absolutely!” as needed.

But where is he? There’s Margaret Carlson, the Bloomberg columnist. But no Tucker. Which is odd, considering he’s been a regular at the Palm for more than ten years—it’s not unusual for him to eat here a few times a week or even twice in a day. The interview for an early profile, published in New York magazine, took place at the Palm. Carlson was 31 then—he’s 43 now—and the article proclaimed him “the world’s most ascendant pundit.” This was at the dawn of George W. Bush’s reign, and Carlson was the wisecracking contrarian conservative with limited confidence in the newly arrived Texan. (“I don’t think he has any idea what’s coming,” Carlson said at the time.)

Maybe it has to do with a story Carlson once wrote about Tommy Jacomo, the Palm’s executive director. In the mostly flattering piece, Carlson mentioned Jacomo’s long-ago brush with the law—he was acquitted of charges that he’d helped arrange the sale of an ounce of cocaine—which embarrassed and angered him. Pissing people off accidentally is a hazard of journalism. The two later patched things up, and Carlson was again persona grata.

It was at the Palm that Carlson and Neil Patel—his college roommate and close friend and a former adviser to Dick Cheney—brainstormed the idea for the Daily Caller, a conservative news site in the mold of the liberal Huffington Post but with more firearms coverage and fewer nipple-slip slide shows. It launched in 2010 and in less than three years has become widely read, profitable, and reviled by the left, all of which must have been in the original PowerPoint.

Several members of the Palm’s waitstaff, killing time in the pre-lunch lull, assist in my hunt for Carlson’s likeness. Another waiter emerges with an explanation: “We had to take Tucker down because people kept drawing a mustache on him and writing dirty words. It was too much of a hassle.”

“Really?” I say, whipping out my notebook to record this choice morsel.

“No,” he says.

Ah.

The joke about mustaches and dirty words feels true because—let’s just say it—Tucker Carlson is not America’s sweetheart. The word “dick” is a frequent descriptor, often modified by “total.” That was the epithet Jon Stewart directed at him during their infamous Crossfire showdown, an encounter that hastened the demise of the program and, temporarily at least, deflated the world’s most ascendant pundit.

Search Twitter and you’ll find Carlson deemed a hack, a loser, and a bunch of other names that magazines like this one don’t publish.

He is “like that kid in the 2nd grade you just HATED,” one tweet says. The editor at large of Salon, Joan Walsh, recently asserted that Carlson is the “poster boy for spoiled rich kids everywhere.” Wonkette called him a “snide trustfunder.” The always understated Matt Taibbi once wrote in the Buffalo Beast that you “would be hard-pressed to find an American who would not leap to his feet to cheer the sight of Tucker Carlson getting his teeth kicked down an alley.” Those warm feelings extend to the Daily Caller, which Gawker—who knows a thing or two about the bottom-feeding corners of the Web—declared “the worst website on the Internet.”

And in case you need another reason to despise Tucker Carlson, there’s this: The man couldn’t be happier.

Tucker Carlson was holding a hot dog in the fall of 1995 when his life changed. He was returning with his sad takeout lunch to his desk at a brand-new magazine in DC called the Weekly Standard, where he worked as a staff writer. He was in his mid-twenties. Carlson had graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut before getting his first journalism job, as an editorial writer at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He hadn’t planned on journalism as a career, even though his father had been a print and television journalist before becoming an executive at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Voice of America. Instead Carlson was convinced he would become a CIA agent or a teacher at a boarding school. After he failed to get into the CIA, reporting seemed like an exciting fallback.

In a hallway at the magazine, he ran into a publicist who asked if he knew anything about the O.J. Simpson trial. The truth was he knew what everyone else knew: The former football star and actor was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend. The publicist said a producer from 48 Hours needed someone on the show that night to discuss the trial. Carlson briefly considered admitting his ignorance, but he stopped himself.

This is how you become a talking head. There’s no background check or evaluation period, no test or pledge. One minute you’re some dude with a hot dog, and the next you’re inflicting your opinions on the masses. That is, assuming you possess the knack. Plenty of brilliant people turn wooden when the red tally light comes on. Not Tucker Carlson. He seems to belong on TV, as if he were just waiting to be asked, even though he’ll assure you, with apparent sincerity, that he doesn’t think he’s particularly good at it and doesn’t watch it. He’s fluid, lively, deft with the verbal parry. More important, he seems to know what he’s talking about.

Categories:

Media & Politics People & Politics
Subscribe to Washingtonian

Discuss this story

Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question. The Washingtonian reserves the right to remove or edit content once posted.
  • PolicyWonk

    This article is embarrassing. It's childish and ends where the story should have begun, meaning it reads like a first draft. The mildly literate are not interested in sophomoric nastiness that some millennial from suburban Ohio finds intriguing. Learn to write.

  • Guest

    Wow . . . I kept reading this article due to my amazement at the author getting the facts so wrong. That Harry Reidwas a pederast was a running gag for weeks after the Obama operatives including Harry Reid falsely and loudly accused Romney of being a: felon, tax cheat, killing a woman, ad nauseum . . . . Progressives obviously have no sense of humor if they can't even get what's an OBVIOUS joke. Brings to mind that great Reagan saying to the effect that the trouble with our liberal friends is that they know so much that isn't true. Also, if I remember correctly that "out-dated" video the author scolds Carlson for plugging on his website in which Obama is talking down to the people of New Orleans also shows that Obama deliberately lied to the audience. He accused America of caring more about the victims of other disasters than of the people affected by Katrina and cited a funding bill. Turns out he voted AGAINST the bill that would have facilitated funds getting to the victims of the hurricane. Once again, the author of this, oh so arrogant, look down your nose, hit piece against Carlson and other conservatives has no clue what he is talking about. Perhaps he can unite with the rest of his Journolists and call someone "racist" to get the heat off of Obama. Go back to your rat hole, I am sick of you all.

  • Guest

    Harry Reid is progressive? Hardly.

  • wrick

    Others have noted the author's cluelessness in not understanding the Harry Reid allegation, in which Instapundit and others called on Reid to prove an unsubstantiated charge wrong, as Reid was expecting Romney to do regarding his taxes.

    Also, the Obama/Wright video should have been news. The author seems to mock Carlson for calling the accent 'phony', but it was jarring to hear Barack Obama in 2007 sounding like Huey Newton -- and giving accolades to his friend and mentor, Jeremiah Wright, while accusing the Federal government of intentional malfeasance regarding Katrina aid in New Orleans.

    Had a video of Romney been produced in which his voice and cadence were entirely different from his current persona, it certainly would have been news.

  • Minicapt

    The Washingtonienne was much better with Miss Cutler.

    Cheers

blog comments powered by Disqus

Posted at 09:33 AM/ET, 11/26/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles