PBS's new weekly standard: Tucker Carlson; An unfiltered Media Matters for America analysis of the new PBS host
Research ››› ››› DUNCAN BLACK
Carlson doctored Gore quotes; told lies about Wellstone memorial service
Carlson on women: "[T]hey want to be spanked vigorously every once in a while."
Carlson's Hillary Clinton fantasy: "Every time I see her I think I could, you know, help.... She seems tense."
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On Friday, June 18, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) will premiere its new weekly talk show, Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered, hosted by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson, who will also serve as the program's managing editor. As Ken Auletta wrote in the June 7 issue of The New Yorker, in an article titled "Big Bird Flies Right: How Republicans learned to love PBS," the establishment of Carlson's show is part of a broader effort to push PBS further to the right ideologically.
Carlson, co-host of CNN's Crossfire, made a name for himself writing for the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, which is edited by William Kristol. (Carlson is currently on the masthead as a contributing editor.) Carlson is the author of the book Politicians, Partisans and, Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News, published in 2003 by Warner Books -- which is owned by CNN's parent company, Time Warner.
He is also a former a staff writer at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; has been a columnist for New York magazine and Reader's Digest; is a regular contributor to Esquire; and is a political analyst for CNN. As the subject of a June 16 "Live Online" chat at washingtonpost.com, Carlson told The Washington Post he hopes, in the Post's words, that "the new program ... will be less partisan in tone" than Crossfire. Here are two "less partisan" remarks Carlson made during the chat:
- I must say, though, that most of the hate I run across these days seems to be coming from the left. Check out MoveOn.org sometime if you don't believe me.
- I think Michael Moore is loathsome, though, not because he dislikes Bush, but because he seems to dislike America.
Carlson is no stranger to the public broadcasting family: His father, Richard W. Carlson, was president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) from 1992 through 1997. CPB is a private, non-profit corporation created by Congress that has a substantial role in funding the operation and programming of PBS.
According to Auletta, pressure from members of the Bush administration and other Republicans prompted CPB to commission Carlson's show, as well as another new program (expected to debut this fall) hosted by Paul Gigot, editor of the very conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. CBP will be providing funding for these programs -- even as PBS's NOW with Bill Moyers, which received no CPB financial support, will be reduced from 60 minutes to 30 minutes of weekly broadcast time. (Moyers is retiring after the November elections; the show's co-host, David Brancaccio, will be promoted to host.) From Auletta's article in The New Yorker:
"This is the first time in my thirty-two years in public broadcasting that C.P.B. has ordered up programs for ideological instead of journalistic reasons," Moyers wrote to me in an e-mail. "So now we have C.P.B. funding two right-wingers, Gigot at the W.S.J. and Carlson at CNN-God bless them both!-who already own big megaphones in commercial media. How does that make public television different?"
Major Republican fundraisers have been appointed to CPB's board. In addition, Auletta wrote:
[President George W.] Bush has refused to appoint Chon Noriega, a professor of film, television, and digital media at U.C.L.A. and a co-founder of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, who was recommended in March of 2003 by the Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle. Noriega, a Democrat, was interviewed that month by Rebecca Contreras, of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. He was asked, he remembers, the question that Lott asked Halpern: Was it appropriate for the C.P.B. to intervene in programming deemed politically biased? "It was clear that this was the important question," Noriega told me.
Noriega, who told Contreras that the C.P.B. should intervene only in extraordinary circumstances, has heard nothing about his appointment. A White House spokesperson, Healy Nully, said, "It is my understanding that we have asked for another candidate" from Daschle.
According to Auletta, CPB Board of Directors chair Kenneth Y. Tomlinson wanted "neutral" hosts for these new programs. Notwithstanding Carlson's occasional spats with fellow conservatives (he accused former Bush communications director Karen Hughes of lying; and he called Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist "a mean-spirited, humorless, dishonest little creep"), there's little reason to think Carlson would be, as Tomlinson described, a "neutral host" -- or to think there was any "journalistic reason," rather than an ideological one, for his selection by PBS. Indeed, PBS describes him as follows: "Carlson combines a conservative and libertarian take on the news."
More troubling than his lack of neutrality, throughout his career, Carlson has misquoted various individuals as well as misrepresented various individuals' positions. While working as a staff writer for The Weekly Standard, Carlson wrote a May 19, 1997, cover story titled "The Real Al Gore." Referring to Gore's book on the environment, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, Carlson wrote, "Gore lets it drop that his 'Global Marshall Plan' to save the environment will cost the United States 'almost $100 billion a year.'" As noted by Bob Somerby in the April 30, 1999, edition of The Daily Howler website, this assertion is contradicted by the actual text of the relevant portion of the book:
Today, of course, the United States cannot conceivably be the principal financier for a global recovery program. ... The financial resources must now come from Japan and Europe and from wealthy, oil-producing states.
Elsewhere in the article, Carlson stated that Gore had become a "fanatic," claiming that characterization was justified by the following sentence from Gore's book (excerpted below from Carlson's article):
We now face the prospect of a global civil war between those who refuse to consider the consequences of civilization's ruthless advance and those who refuse to be silent partners in the destruction.
But Carlson misquoted Gore: The sentence actually began with the words "We now face the prospect of a kind of global civil war..." [emphasis added]. Further, Carlson misquoted Gore as writing "ruthless advance"; yet what Gore actually wrote was "relentless advance."
The distortions significantly alter the meaning of the paragraph. Carlson's first rewrite reads as if Gore was referring to a literal civil war; the second makes the reader believe Gore has a negative view of the advance of civilization, when in fact he was only concerned with "those who refuse to consider the consequences" of that advance.
In that same article, Carlson attacked Gore for campaigning on the same day his sister died, implying that Gore was too busy to be genuinely concerned with her death:
The day Nancy Hunger died must have been a very busy one for Al Gore, for at some point during the same day, July 11, 1984, he also found time to give a speech before the Kiwanis Club in Knoxville, across the state from his sister's deathbed. He also squeezed in an interview with a wire-service reporter. Whether he managed to do these things before or after his sister's last words to him is not clear, since Gore didn't mention her in the UPI interview he gave.
As Carlson later learned, it was indeed a busy day for Al Gore. Two weeks later, on June 2, 1997, the magazine printed a letter from Gore's driver:
Regarding Tucker Carlson's "The Real Al Gore": The implication that Al Gore gave campaign speeches and interviews on the same day and possibly after his sister died is inexcusable. Carlson says that "it is not clear" whether Gore was campaigning before or after his sister's death that day. It is clear in my memory, however, because I was his advance person and driver during that campaign. He was in East Tennessee when he was notified that his sister, Nancy, had taken a turn for the worse. He immediately returned to the hospital in Nashville to be with her. He arrived late in the afternoon and she died that night. She had been sick for some time and was in and out of the Vanderbilt Hospital for a period of months and I also stayed at her parents' house in Carthage, Tennessee. Al made time to visit with her often in the hospital and when she was in Carthage. We would drive from one end of the state to the other to get back to Nashville or Carthage so he could spend time with her. When I was too tired to drive, he would.
Apparently undeterred by these facts, Carlson responded to this letter by chastising Gore for mentioning his sister during a speech at the 1996 Democratic National Convention:
Inexcusable or not, Al Gore was campaigning on the day of his sister's death, as records of both his interview and his speech that day make clear. But that's hardly the point: Weeks by her side in the hospital would not make up for the cheap way he treated her memory at the Democratic convention last year.
So what was "the cheap way," as Carlson put it, in which Gore treated his sister's memory? At the convention, Gore recounted his final conversation with his sister and explained how it inspired him to fight to protect "our children from the dangers of smoking."
Carlson claimed that during Gore's 1984 senatorial campaign, Gore "didn't talk much about curbing smoking that year." Carlson asserted this without evidence and proceeded to quote a journalist who said that, during the campaign, Gore "was willing to call the tobacco industry Merchants of Death."
In his role as co-host of CNN's Crossfire, Carlson continued his habit of misrepresenting events to criticize how people respond to family deaths. After the memorial service commemorating those who died in the fatal plane crash that killed Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife, their daughter, and five others, Carlson stated, on October 30, 2002:
The political world is still reeling tonight from yesterday's nauseating display in Minnesota, where a memorial service for the late Senator Paul Wellstone was hijacked by partisan zealots and turned into a political rally. Republican friends of Senator Wellstone were booed and shouted down as they tried to speak.
In fact, no Republicans were "shouted down as they tried to speak." Carlson also said of the memorial service, "It is revolting" and "It makes me sick."
Apparently, Carlson was revolted and sickened by something he hadn't even seen. As Carlson admitted to Al Franken (as reported in Franken's book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right), he hadn't yet watched the memorial service he described in such outraged terms, even as he repeatedly and incorrectly referred to it as a funeral.
He also claimed to Franken that he did watch the memorial as preparation for the following day's edition of Crossfire (10/31/02), during which Carlson continued to mischaracterize the event with the following analogy:
If I died and my children stood up at my funeral and said our father has died, but the most important thing is that his show continue to beat MSNBC. That's the most important thing. His legacy -- I'm serious that would be sick. There's something sick about this.
While Carlson is correct that Wellstone's surviving children expressed concerned for their father's legacy, at no point during the memorial service did any of them state that "the most important thing" was for former vice president Walter Mondale, who replaced Wellstone as the candidate, to beat his opponent, Norm Coleman.
Carlson himself stated, "To politicize a man's tragic death is about as low as you can go, isn't it?"
Carlson's falsehoods and misrepresentations on Crossfire are frequent. Of former President Bill Clinton, he said, "[He] hasn't cured AIDS in Africa, despite his promises" (5/21/04); yet Clinton never promised to cure AIDS in Africa. Carlson denied that any Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resources were used to track the plane of a Democratic politician from Texas who had left the capital, Austin, in order to thwart a quorum during the controversial redistricting process, when, in fact, DHS did play some role (05/16/03). Carlson claimed, "Halliburton is actually losing money on its Iraqi contracts," something that is difficult to do with "cost plus" contract arrangements (3/11/04).
Carlson also accused former Freedom Rider and current U.S. Represenative Bob Filner (D-CA) of being a liar and of committing "slander on the United States" for pointing out that the United States had sold biological weapons to Iraq (9/25/02). An article in Newsweek (9/23/02), which has been confirmed by similar reports elsewhere, reported:
According to confidential Commerce Department export-control documents obtained by NEWSWEEK, the shopping list included a computerized database for Saddam's Interior Ministry (presumably to help keep track of political opponents); helicopters to transport Iraqi officials; television cameras for "video surveillance applications"; chemical-analysis equipment for the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC), and, most unsettling, numerous shipments of "bacteria/fungi/protozoa" to the IAEC. According to former officials, the bacteria cultures could be used to make biological weapons, including anthrax. The State Department also approved the shipment of 1.5 million atropine injectors, for use against the effects of chemical weapons, but the Pentagon blocked the sale. The helicopters, some American officials later surmised, were used to spray poison gas on the Kurds.
No public correction or apology to Filner was forthcoming from Carlson, who said, "I don't care what jail the guy's been in, that's an outrage that he would say that on television," after being reminded by co-host Paul Begala of the following:
In 1961 an Ivy League child of privilege by the name of Bob Filner joined the Freedom Riders in the segregated South. Filner was beaten, arrested and thrown in Mississippi's notorious Parchment State Penitentiary, where temporarily he was housed on death row. His cellmate lost his mind.
Today Filner is a Democratic Congressman. Yesterday he noted, factually, that America had armed and aided Saddam Hussein in the past. Joe Wilson, a right-wing Republican from South Carolina, accused Filner of hating America.
One of Crossfire's frequent guests, Kenneth M. Pollack -- senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution and director of research at Brookings's Saban Center for Middle East Policy -- cleared things up for Carlson a few months later (2/10/03):
POLLOCK: Well, Tucker, remember, we're not blameless in this either.
CARLSON: Have we done that?
POLLOCK: Well, we sold Saddam the anthrax and we kind of looked the other way.
While co-hosting Crossfire, Carlson referred to crossdressing as a "Democratic value" (7/16/03); accused Begala of being homophobic for pointing out that Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) was a cheerleader at the University of Mississippi (9/25/02); regularly made snide remarks about the transgendered community being a constituency of the Democratic Party; and mocked outreach by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) community. Regarding goals to increase GLBT delegate representation at the Democratic National Convention, which Carlson ridiculed, he said, "And if you don't find them at least mildly funny, you're probably a Democrat," while falsely claiming the efforts included the establishment of quotas (5/19/04).
In an October 1997 commentary in The American Spectator, titled "The Episcopal Church in Crisis," Carlson predicted that the Episcopal Church's increasing embrace of gays and lesbians would soon cause "the whole enterprise [to come] tumbling down." Carlson described an incident in which brochures distributed by the Marin AIDS Interfaith Network were modified by someone to include Old Testament quotes condemning gays and lesbians. Carlson mocked The National Episcopal AIDS Coalition for being concerned about this and for referring to the perpetrators as "hatemongers." Carlson's retort: "Imagine that, huffed the Episcopalians: quoting the Bible. Talk about hateful."
In an April interview in Elle magazine, Carlson stated, "One area of liberal phenomenon I support is female bi-sexuality -- this apparent increased willingness of girls to bring along a friend. That's a pretty good thing." And, in response to a question about which woman he would most like to be, he answered, "Elizabeth Birch [former executive director] of the Human Rights Campaign, because you'd be presiding over an organization of thousands of lesbians, some of them quite good-looking."
In that same interview, Carlson said of women, "They want to be listened to, protected and amused. And they want to be spanked vigorously every once in a while." The following are statements Carlson made on CNN's Crossfire on the subject of feminists and feminism:
- You will admit that at least 40 percent of any vote in a Democratic race is humorless feminists. (7/18/02)
- The traditional anti-fun feminist point of view is that of course men are bad, and they make women do bad things. (11/20/02)
- Who laughs less than feminists? (5/26/04)
- To be a feminist, you could cut your hair really short. You have to be really angry about something. (5/21/03)
Carlson falsely claimed that complaints from feminists had prompted Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department to cover with sheets the exposed breasts of The Spirit of Justice, the statue that stands in its Hall of Justice (6/03/02).
Carlson told Elle that his "guilty fantasy" is Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY): "Every time I see her I think I could, you know, help.... She seems tense."
When it came to the Iraq war, Carlson frequently used sophistry to undercut the arguments of war opponents who came on the show. For example, on the August 21, 2003, edition of Crossfire, he said, "If it was up to the U.N., Saddam Hussein would still be killing his own people."
After Pope John Paul II sent an envoy to President George W. Bush to argue that the war was not justified, on the March 5 edition of Crossfire, Carlson asked Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for Free Choice:
I want to know what are the Pope's plans to liberate the Iraqi people? I didn't hear you talk about that.
Apparently Carlson has done an about-face on the Iraq war. On May 12, 2004, Carlson was quoted in The New York Observer saying the following about the Iraq war: "I think it's a total nightmare and disaster, and I'm ashamed that I went against my own instincts in supporting it." Yet on Crossfire that same day, Carlson had the temerity to criticize Senator John Kerry's (D-MA) statements on the Iraq war, when in fact it is Carlson who has flip-flopped. From the May 12 edition of Crossfire:
Kerry did vote for it, but then he opposed it. Now he wants to prolong it. What does John Kerry think about Iraq? Who knows. Who cares.
On September 23, 2002, Carlson said, "I found the former Vice President Al Gore's speech today so dispiriting, not to say pathetic," objecting to what he considered Gore's failure to address "the threat that Iraq poses to the world." On the following day's program he referred to "Al Gore's touching, poignant, utterly useless attempt to inject himself into the Iraq debate." In the days following the speech, Carlson frequently misrepresented the meaning of one particular part of it:
Nevertheless, Iraq does pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf and we should organize an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.
Of this, Carlson said:
Those two sentences back to back contradict each other. The first one says get the world community to take away weapons of mass destruction, the very next sentence says it's impossible, he'll have to be removed. Who wrote this? What's going on here?
The following day, Carlson reported:
He [Gore] said we ought to use the U.N. In the very next sentence, he said those weapons will remain as long as Saddam lives. It was very, very junior varsity, kind of sad, weak. And I expected better from him.
Gore clearly said "Iraq's search for weapons" would continue -- the important word being "search" -- while Carlson's case against the speech rested on the incorrect premise that Gore had asserted that Iraq, at the time, had weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to the United States but nonetheless did not consider Saddam Hussein to be a threat to the United States. Carlson mischaracterized the speech yet again on the September 24, 2002, edition of CNN's Inside Politics: "Yes, it's a threat. No, I'm not sure what we are going to do about it," even though the speech plainly spelled out what Gore considered to be a proper course of action.
In an August 2003 interview, Carlson was quoted by Kevin Holtsberry of blogcritics.org as saying:
I draw the line at honesty. I have no time for political hacks who say things they don't believe because they get paid to.
I try to tell the truth. To be interesting but to tell the truth.
Hopefully Carlson will try harder.
- Public Broadcasting