You’d like Tucker Carlson if you met him. You wouldn’t be able to help it. He’s curious and convivial, self-deprecating and smart. He seems glad to be wherever he is. People who know him toss around adjectives like cheerful, lighthearted, generous. One friend of Carlson’s has called him “the happiest guy you’ll ever meet.” Another says he has one of those rare, outsize personalities that come equipped with a listening mode. He dispenses advice freely—which, he acknowledges, can be an off-putting trait, but the tone is less condescending jerk and more buddy with the inside scoop. When the waitress sets his lunch in front of him (Caesar salad topped with steak), he responds as if she’s surprised him with an early Christmas gift: “Fantastic!”
Some facts about Carlson, in no particular order: He married his high-school sweetheart when he was 22. He has four kids, one of whom is college-shopping and another who attends the same Rhode Island boarding school Carlson went to. He grew up outside San Diego. He has a place in Maine and spends most summer weekends there. He says he reads the New Yorker cover to cover even though he finds editor David Remnick’s politics “embarrassing.” He subscribes to more than one fly-fishing magazine and has been known to bestow gear on friends he believes should take up the pastime.
In 2003, Carlson’s first and so far only book, Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites, was published. It isn’t a partisan screed à la Ann Coulter, which may explain why it wasn’t a bestseller. Instead it’s a collection of amusing anecdotes and observations. You don’t get much of Carlson’s personal life or early history, though there are hints about his personality. He calls John McCain a “belligerent wiseass,” which he means as a compliment. Bush is “a bit of a towel-snapper but in a way I found charming.” It’s hard not to see Carlson reflected in those descriptions.
He writes about the transition from print guy to cable host. One change is that the hate mail becomes more personal. Before, they hated your article; now they hate you: “There’s something about you that somebody else finds offensive, loathsome, repulsive. It can hurt your feelings.” To cope with this, he came up with a standard response:
Dear Mr. Jones,
Carlson claims never to have read his book, and I believe him. He seems to have no idea what’s in it. I also read him a few quotes from interviews he’s given, including an odd one from Elle magazine in which he shares, among other opinions, his belief that most women like a good spanking. He gives me a blank look. He doesn’t remember saying that. Tucker Carlson doesn’t dwell on, or in some cases even remember, his own past. Whatever faults he may have, navel-gazing isn’t among them.
He gave up booze years ago—same with cigarettes—and stays away from caffeine. But he’s a slave to Nicorette. He chews the nicotine-infused gum at a rate inconsistent with the manufacturer’s recommended dosage. He used to order expired Nicorette from eBay but stopped after it began to make him feel funny. Now he has a supplier in New Zealand.
“How much do you go through in a week?”
“An ample amount.”
“More than one package a day?”
“I don’t deny myself.”
“What if someone were to cut your supply?”
“I wouldn’t want that to happen.”
Oh, and he loves dogs. Loves them. When the topic comes up, he pulls out his iPhone and swipes past pictures of his human family to show off photos of his springer and English cocker spaniels, Meg and Dave. One of the dogs sleeps in the crook of his arm each night. This fondness may explain why, a few years back, he said on TV that he thought quarterback Michael Vick should be executed for running a dogfighting ring. Carlson later said he “overspoke,” but when I ask him about it he doesn’t seem penitent. “I’m not in charge of making the decision about who lives or who dies,” he says. “And it’s a good thing for people who abuse dogs, I promise you.”
The key to understanding Tucker Carlson may be P.G. Wodehouse, the British author best known for cranking out comic novels about sympathetic Bertie Wooster and his omniscient butler, Jeeves. Carlson has read many of Wodehouse’s 70-plus novels and keeps the author’s collected short stories on his iPhone. The most pressing problems in the Wodehouse universe involve girls who are overly eager to wed or wealthy aunts who threaten to cut off their layabout nephews. The stories are sunny, the putdowns creative, the dangers few. People with abiding passions are mocked as bores. Good humor is valued above all. You don’t read Wodehouse for the plots, which are predictable. You read him for the delightful turns of phrase. It’s not what he has to say so much as the stylish way he says it.