The Shady Side Of Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson has unwittingly found himself at the top of the Fox News food chain. And while the now-right-leaning pundit seems like a perfect fit for the conservative news organization, he didn't start out on that end of the political spectrum. In fact, he didn't seem to have television aspirations at all in the early days of his career as a print journalist, but somewhere along the way, he became a mainstay of the political chat circuit. You don't get there without making a few waves along the way, and Carlson has left a substantial wake.

And yet, despite some revelations from his past, not to mention the controversies he's spun along the way, Carlson made it to his seat in primetime Fox News glory relatively unscathed. Meanwhile, other notable titans of network, including the sketchy Bill O'Reilly, Eric Bolling, Trish Regan, and even the late network CEO Roger Ailes, couldn't hang in there.   

Clearly, Carlson's political views are well-known, but his backstory is a bit more opaque. This is the shady side of Tucker Carlson. 

What was up with Tucker Carlson's bow ties?

Though he's since done away with his signature accessory, Tucker Carlson used to be known for showing up to political tussles donning a curiously chosen pice of formalwear: bow ties. There's a good reason for that. He got used to dressing up while attending prep school. According to The New Yorker, Carlson's affinity for fancy neckwear started "in 1984 when he was in tenth grade, at St. George's, a Rhode Island prep school with a dress code."

Carlson continued wearing bow ties all the way through his broadcast career until 2006 when MSNBC — who previously promoted Carlson as "The Man. The Legend. The Bow Tie." — convinced him to put on a regular tie. The New Yorker claims producers felt the bow ties "encouraged the audience to view him as a character, or perhaps a caricature."

Tucker Carlson kind of failed his way upwards

Tucker Carlson is one of the few talking heads to have made the rounds all across the cable news spectrum, including stints at CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. He even spent some time at PBS. None of his shows were particularly successful. Case in point: Crossfire on CNN crumbled after guest Jon Stewart's memorable appearance – Stewart said Carlson's style of journalism was "hurting America." Carlson tried to say he quit Crossfire on his own accord, except then-president of CNN Jonathan Klein told The New York Times that there was "not a role here in the way Tucker wanted his career to go" and that he agreed "wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart's overall premise." Ouch.

From CNN, Carlson did a brief two-year stint at MSNBC, until his show there, Tucker, also flopped. The cancellation of Tucker in 2008 led to Carlson rebooting his entire career, which he did by co-founding The Daily Caller, a privately-funded right-leaning online media outlet. The Daily Caller caught the eye of then-Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who made Carlson a weekend contributor on Fox & Friends, which Carlson parlayed into appearances on just about every other Fox News show until he finally returned to headlining with Tucker Carlson Tonight in 2016.  

The multimillionaire former prep school kid who hates elites

One of Tucker Carlson's favorite talking points is his apparent disdain for the so-called "elites." Whether he's talking about political or media establishment figures, Carlson has always positioned himself as a cynical outsider, who gets a rise out of pointing out the hypocrisy of Washington. However, according to a profile by The Atlantic, Carlson was raised by a father who was a well-connected Republican player, and his stepmother was the "heiress to the Swanson frozen-food fortune." The New Yorker pointed out that while Carlson attended a prestigious boarding school, he performed so poorly there that his then-girlfriend, now wife — the headmaster's daughter — had to pull strings to get him admitted to Trinity College, a school that as of this writing now has a yearly tuition of $52,280.

Incidentally, he did reportedly downgrade his $4 million dollar, six-bedroom, eight bathroom house in the posh Kent neighborhood of Washington, D.C in 2011 to a $2 million dollar, seven bedroom, six bathroom house about a mile away. That makes him very relatable, no?

Tucker Carlson saw opportunity in the O.J. Simpson trial coverage

For all of Tucker Carlson's lambasting of the problems he has with the mainstream media, he dove headfirst into the wave of rampant punditry surrounding the O.J. Simpson trial and never looked back. You might be thinking, "So what? The guy took an opportunity and ran with it." But hang on a second, because according to Mediaite, it was the O.J. Simpson trial that kick-started the 24 hour news cycle that still fuels the cable news industry today. And it's not like Carlson denies his dubious beginning on the coattails of America's most famous alleged murderer. In his own book (via the Columbia Journalism Review), Carlson himself said, "If O. J. Simpson hadn't murdered his wife, I probably wouldn't be working in television."

What happened with Tucker Carlson and Bill O'Reilly?

Bill O'Reilly's unceremonious exit from Fox News slid Tucker Carlson's show into a prime-time slot, and Carlson couldn't have been more gracious toward the former Factor host during the transition, saying, "He set a high bar, and I'm gonna do my best to meet it," according to the Los Angeles Times.

But the internet has a long memory, and footage of Carlson being pretty critical of Fox's former juggernaut quickly resurfaced. Mediate posted a video of Carlson promoting his 2003 book in which he wrote, "O'Reilly's success is built on the perception that he really is who he claims to be. If he ever gets caught out of character, it's over." In explaining the apparent dig, Carlson called O'Reilly "talented," but also said "there is kind of a deep phoniness at the center of his shtick," which he then explained away by basically saying that it's not possible for O'Reilly to be a working class hero and a millionaire TV personality at the same time.

Carlson now seemingly regrets those remarks. Asked about the slam by a GQ reporter in 2017, Carlson said, "I've learned since that not every thought has to be expressed."

The student becomes the master

Tucker Carlson also has a rich history with another superstar pundit, albeit one on the other side of the aisle. Though his MSNBC show, Tucker, didn't make him a star, it certainly worked out nicely for Rachel Maddow. Ever heard of her? Right, well according to The New Yorker, she was a "little-known radio host" at the time who Carlson frequently brought on as a guest since her inevitable left-leaning take on virtually any topic would no doubt run counter to his own, therefore creating the magic of political television.

Tucker would be Carlson's last hurrah with MSNBC, but Maddow found a home there, especially after the network's pivot towards more lefty programming. While Carlson toiled away at his smaller Fox News gigs, Maddow became the star player for the rival network. In fact, Carlson and Maddow even briefly went head to head in the ratings when they occupied the same time slot. As of this writing, Carlson is on at 8 p.m. EST and Maddow appears at 9 p.m. EST, so technically viewers could still enjoy watching them both, although something tells us that's not a likely scenario. 

Duking it out with Lauren Duca is one of Tucker Carlson's regrets

One of the biggest viral moments ever generated from Tucker Carlson's many shows is a heated exchange he had with writer Lauren Duca. Their cringe-worthy conversation went to another level when Carlson began mocking a piece Duca wrote for Teen Vogue. It was all downhill from there, with Carlson ending the segment by telling Duca to "stick to [writing about] the thigh high boots," and Duca saying, "You're a sexist..." before having her mic cut off. It was a remarkably tense altercation even for a political debate program.

Tucker later did a follow-up segment, acknowledging that he "lost control and snapped at her." He said, "I shouldn't have done it, but I did." He then refers to Duca as a "not very impressive 26-year-old blogger," calls her writing "vapid," and accuses her of "fantasizing about the deaths of her political enemies." In an interview with The Atlantic, Carlson expressed regret over how he handled the Duca interview, saying, "I don't ever want to get mad ... I think it diminishes me and the show, and I don't want to be that way."

Tucker Carlson's brother seems nice, too

When New York mayor Bill Blasio's spokesperson, Amy Spitalnick, emailed The Daily Caller seeking a retraction for a story covering remarks the mayor had made, she probably wasn't expecting to be called a "LabiaFace" by the editor-in-chief's brother, but that's exactly what happened when Tucker Carlson's brother, Buckley Carlson, accidentally copied Spitalnick on a reply to Tucker's response to Spitalnick.

That sounds a bit confusing, but according to Buzzfeed, this is what happened: Spitalnick emailed the writer of the story, Peter Fricke, and another staffer, Christopher Bedford, who refused her repeated requests for a retraction. Bedford eventually tells her that she is "annoying" him with "whiny emails," at which point Spitalnick goes over his head to Tucker, his boss. Tucker lectures Spitalnick on her "tone" and scolds her about not being "polite" in her emails. At some point, Buckley gets looped in and fires off a reply to Tucker's email, inadvertently including Spitalnick. His vitriolic description of Spitalnick, including grotesque references to sex acts, is crude to say the least, and the aforementioned insult is basically his only remark that we're willing to repeat here.

Perhaps the craziest aspect of the whole incident is that when Tucker was reached for comment regarding his brother's screw-up, his only reply was, "I just talked to my brother about his response, and he assures me he meant it in the nicest way."

Why does Tucker Carlson get to decide which political scandals are 'nobody's business?'

Over his years of stoking the fires of partisan politics, Tucker Carlson has been accused of making many inaccurate and hypocritical statements. Media Matters put together a lengthy list in 2004 that includes his inconsistent position on the Iraq War and his insensitive statements regarding the death of Al Gore's sister, but perhaps the most glaring example of Carlson's hypocrisy is his coverage of two senators, Republican David Vitter and Democrat Robert Menendez, and their respective prostitution scandals.

According to New York Magazine, Carlson responded to the public vilification of Vitter — who was exposed in the "D.C. Madam" scandal in 2007 —  by saying "that's none of our business." Fast forward six years: The Daily Caller, led by Carlson, engaged in a four-month long campaign to nail down accusations against Menendez regarding prostitutes he'd allegedly slept with in the Dominican Republic. According to Slate, the whole thing turned out to be a thinly-veiled smear campaign by Cuban intelligence that other news agencies had dismissed due to poor sourcing. So, the question is: Why was David Vitter's prostitution scandal — which was actually real — nobody's business, while the obviously fake one about Menendez was?  

Don't 'bother' Tucker Carlson in the bathroom

Though he's been a lukewarm supporter of gay marriage, Tucker Carlson also has a long history of troubling remarks surrounding LGBTQ+ issues. In an interview with Elle (via Wonkette), Carlson espoused his fondness for "female bi-sexuality," which he defines as "this apparent increased willingness of girls to bring along a friend." He also added, "That's a pretty good thing." 

Then there was the time he wrote a piece for the American Spectator (via Media Matters) in which he "predicted that the Episcopal Church's increasing embrace of gays and lesbians would soon cause 'the whole enterprise [to come] tumbling down.'"

But perhaps his most apparent moment of gay panic was when he gleefully recounted the story of how he assaulted a man who "bothered him" in a restroom. In this clip, Carlson can be seen telling the story of how he returned to the bathroom with a buddy to confront the allegedly gay man, at which point Carlson claims he "grabbed him" and "hit him against the stall with his head." This story was somehow supposed to relate to the "foot-tapping" scandal involving Senator Larry Craig, in which he was arrested for allegedly soliciting sex in a public bathroom, a problem Carlson views as rampant in the gay community. But ... yeah.

Proud to pose with the Proud Boys

Former Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone (above right), posted the above photo to Instagram in May 2018. Also in the photo are Tucker Carlson, as well as two members of an alt-right group called Proud Boys. According to The Wrap, the photo was taken backstage at Fox News ahead of Stone's appearance on another Fox show. The pic proved potentially problematic for Carlson due to the Proud Boys' designation by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "a hate group." The Proud Boys rejects being associated with the so-called "alt-right," which is a fringe conservative movement with ties to white nationalism, but the SPLC maintains that the group's actions indicate otherwise. Members of the group participated in the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va,, which the SPLC says "brought together Klansmen, antisemites, Southern racists, and militias." 

When asked by The Wrap about the photo, Carlson offered the following sarcastic response: "I strongly support and endorse every personal belief of every person I take a picture with on the street, the subway or in the green room, and always have."

Nothing to add

Tucker Carlson devoted little time on his show to the sexual harassment scandals that brought down fellow Fox News personalities Bill O'Reilly and Eric Bolling and former CEO Roger Ailes. However, in the cases of Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, and former Senator Al Franken, Carlson was all over them. Carlson explained the apparent double standard to Business Insider by saying that he simply didn't "know what to add" in the instances dealing with his former colleagues. "It's been thoroughly covered — those aren't secret stories," he said. As opposed to the likes of Lauer, Weinstein, and Franken who the media just ignored, right?

Perhaps some insight into Carlson's attitude towards sexual harassment can be found in statements he made in 2006 on his MSNBC show, Tucker. Referencing congressional Democrats, Carlson mused, "This is a group that made up the concept of sexual harassment. You look great today.  Boom, I'm charging you with a crime. Do you know what I mean?" In other words: Carlson doesn't seem to think much of sexual harassment allegations unless they're levied against a certain type of person (Hint: liberal).

Does Tucker Carlson's show employ dirty tricks?

In the tagline for Tucker Carlson Tonight, the show describes itself as "the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness and group think." However, observations made by GQ writer Stephen Rodrick, who profiled the controversial pundit in 2017, don't exactly fit that mold.

Rodrick writes that Carlson "relies on a few home-field advantages" to "get the best of his guest." Those include Carlson's preference for long-distance interviews, "which allows Carlson to react with bafflement or a triumphant smirk in real time." Also, Rodrick points out that Carlson's "mic always seems turned up to 11, whereas his opponent is forced to speak in a scaredy-cat whisper." The result is a consistently domineering image of a seemingly undefeated Carlson. But wait, the ruse goes even deeper. While visiting the set, Rodrick observed further proof of Carlson's "duality" — what he described as "Dr. Jekyll the charmer, and Mr. Hyde the takedown artist" — as he watched the cable host "roast" a young democratic congressman on-air before cordially chatting with the man's wife during a commercial break. 

Sure, we all know that everything you see on TV should be taken with a healthy dose of cynicism, but if you're going to play that game, maybe don't declare yourself "the sworn enemy of lying."

Tucker Carlson is not a big Michelle Obama fan

Former First Lady Michelle Obama was the subject of what Media Matters described as Tucker Carlson's "racist remarks" during an April 2008 episode of radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge's show. In the uncomfortable audio transcribed by the outlet, the radio host, a co-host, and the Fox News star, discussed Michelle's potential impact on Barack Obama's then 2008 presidential campaign. 

"I think she can be a problem. She can be a liability," Bubba the Love Sponge said in clip, which was released by the liberal media watchdog group in March 2019. Carlson seemingly agreed with the statement, adding: "She's got an edge to her that's bad." The political pundit also accused Michelle of having a bad attitude, stating: "I'm not attacking her personally. I'm just saying, as a public figure, you just get the feeling she's got a major chip on her shoulder."

If those comments weren't bad enough, things took a particularly ugly turn when the shock jock's co-host said: "I'll tell you what, yesterday she got ghetto and started snapping her neck. I'm like, that's a real sister right there." The radio host argued that Michelle "should do less of that," while Carlson said the former first lady would be a "problem" for Barack. "She turns into a sister," Bubba the Love Sponge said, to which the conservative host replied, "turns into a sister." 

As of this writing, Carlson hasn't apologized to Michelle.

Wait, what did Tucker Carlson say about women?

Tucker Carlson has some interesting thoughts about women. Case in point: In unearthed audio of an October 2007 call-in the political pundit made to Bubba the Love Sponge's radio show, he referred to females as "primitive" beings. It's unclear what spurred the offensive remark, but what possible context could justify the following statement? "I mean, I love women, but they're extremely primitive, they're basic, they're not that hard to understand," Carlson said, in a clip obtained and transcribed by Media Matters. "And one of the things they hate more than anything is weakness in a man." Um, say what? 

In another phone conversation from May 2006, the television host discussed the best way to upset a woman. "You debate politics with a woman and just go — just full blown out there, especially feminism. If you're talking to a feminist, and she's given you, 'Well, men really need to be more sensitive,' [say] 'No, actually, men don't need to be more sensitive. You just need to be quiet and kind of do what you're told,'" he said. 

Carlson's comments are especially upsetting when you consider he's the dad to three daughters. Yikes.

Tucker Carlson had disturbing views about minors

Tucker Carlson's commentary about underage children is arguably the most concerning. His remarks — which are disturbing, to give fair warning — address everything from the sexual assault of minors to the crimes of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs

On the topic of underage marriage, Carlson said during an August 2009 episode of The Bubba the Love Sponge Show (via Media Matters)," I just don't think it's the same thing exactly as pulling a child from a bus stop and sexually assaulting that child. ... The rapist, in this case, has made a lifelong commitment to live and take care of the person, so it is a little different." Carlson did, however, continually claim to be "against" underage marriage. 

When discussing a case involving the repeated sexual assault of a 13-year-old boy by his 28-year-old teacher, Carlson said, in part, "My point is that teachers like this, not necessarily this one in particular, but they are doing a service to all 13-year-old girls by taking the pressure off."

As for Jeffs, Carlson said the former FLDS leader — who is in prison for two felony counts of sexual abuse against minor girls — "would be out on the street" if he made the laws. In addition to getting the facts about Jeffs' criminal case wrong, Carlson didn't apologize and said in statement that "anyone who disagrees" with his "views" can come on his show, according to a March 10, 2019 tweet.

Where did Tucker Carlson get his science degree?

Despite 56,000 Americans dying of COVID-19 at the time of his show in late April 2020, Tucker Carlson downplayed the coronavirus pandemic. "This new evidence means the virus is far less deadly, a full order of magnitude less deadly, that authorities first told us it was," he said (the Daily Beast). "At the same time, the same research suggests the virus is incredibly easy to spread between adults."

He also downplayed the role of social distancing and nationwide lockdowns in stopping the spread, citing the disputed claims of two California doctors who suggested that the mortality rate of coronavirus infections is too low to justify the continuation of extreme quarantine measures. "Six weeks later we are happy to say that curve has been flattened, but it's likely not because of the lockdowns," Carlson insisted, adding, "The virus just isn't nearly as deadly as we thought it was, all of us, including on this show. Everybody thought it was, but it turned out not to be."

At the time of this writing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the United States has more than 1.3 million cases and over 83,000 deaths. On top of that, experts leading the fight against the virus maintain that there is simply not enough data to draw conclusions about mortality rates yet. Carlson might want to leave pandemic takes to the experts.

Tucker Carlson called CNN's Brooke Baldwin 'some airhead'

In May 2020, CNN Newsroom host Brooke Baldwin interviewed California barbershop owner Juan Desmarais, who planned to reopen his three locations despite the state's stay-at-home order. Desmarais argued that his and his employees' livelihoods were "at stake." He also claimed he refused "to live in fear" of a virus that statistically wouldn't kill him. Baldwin, who is one of the many celebs who contracted coronavirus, pushed back. Desmarais replied, "You're a healthy young lady and you recovered from it. I'm a healthy young man and I'm gonna recover from it. I have no mitigating risks."

The interview was rather contentious, but Desmarais was then invited on Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss his reopening plans and his experience with Brooke Baldwin. "He was lectured by someone with a guaranteed income. Some airhead," Carlson said before introducing Desmarais, later telling Desmarais that he'd been "really struck by the pompous lecture that you received from one of their anchors yesterday. Someone who will not be out of work when you are out of work."

"I think she does have a secure job, her hair looked amazing and I think she's not in the same boat as I am," Desmarais answered, adding that his three barbershops were "completely booked" and said he was fine to be "the scapegoat for the city."  

Bill de Blasio probably isn't getting Tucker Carlson's vote

During the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio had some harsh words for a crowd of Hasidic residents in Brooklyn, who gathered for the funeral of a rabbi who died of COVID-19 complications. "My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed," de Blasio tweeted. "I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period."

Tucker Carlson didn't take too kindly to what he called de Blasio's "hostile" rhetoric, and criticized the mayor for what he deemed as hypocrisy when it comes to the crowds de Blasio allows to gather (via the Washington Examiner). He then criticized de Blasio's handling of the city's problem with homeless people taking refuge in the subway system, before introducing City Journal associate editor Seth Barron. "De Blasio is spiraling down. The city is in tremendous stress. ... [de Blasio's] only solution right now is to shut the subways down at night to force them off. That's an utter failure," Barron said, adding, "De Blasio's legacy is crumbling in front of him."

Barron continued blasting the mayor, saying "he thinks he's FDR giving fireside chats." Carlson more than agreed, saying he's "sure [de Blasio] is smoking a ton of weed," and describing his ideas as "mediocre, dumb, and incompetent." Tell us how you really feel, Tucker.

Tucker Carlson called white supremacy a 'hoax'

In the wake of the 2019 anti-immigrant El Paso mass shooting (perpetrated by a gunman who warned of a "Hispanic invasion") that left 23 people dead and more than two dozen injured, President Trump gave a speech condemning "racism, bigotry, and white supremacy" (via The Washington Post).

Tucker Carlson dismissed Trump's idea that white supremacy was to blame and suggested the term was a political ploy being used by Democrats. "It's actually not a real problem in America," Carlson said during an August 2019 segment of his show, adding, "This is a hoax, just like the Russia hoax. It's a conspiracy theory used to divide the country and keep a hold on power." Not only does Carlson believe that white supremacy isn't a real problem, but he also stated that in order to commit a hate crime the person had to belong to an organization that spews white supremacist beliefs. "If you were to assemble a list, a hierarchy of concerns, of problems this country faces, where would white supremacy be on the list? Right up there with Russia, probably," he continued. "The combined membership of every white supremacist organization in this country would be able to fit inside a college football stadium."

A few months later, The New York Times ran a story citing FBI crime statistics that indicated right-wing hate crime violence reached a 16-year high in 2018. So, Carlson promptly went on the air to amend his statements, right? Guess again. 

Tucker Carlson was accused of sexual misconduct

On July 20, 2020, a complaint was filed in New York federal court that alleged several prominent Fox News hosts — including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity — had engaged in sexual misconduct, Deadline reports. In the complaint, Carlson was accused of offering a full-time job to frequent Tucker Carlson Tonight guest, Cathy Areu, in exchange for sex in December 2018.

"Mr. Carlson, hardly making any effort to hide his intentions, began telling Ms. Areu that he would be alone in New York City that night, and specifically said that he would be staying alone in his hotel room without any wife or kids," the lawsuit claimed, stating that Areu "awkwardly sidestepped Mr. Carlson's advances and declined to spend the night at his hotel." The complaint also alleged that once Areu declined the offer, Carlson stopped booking her on his show: "According to Mr. Carlson's producer, it is Mr. Carlson himself who consistently rejects proposals to have Ms. Areu on his show, notwithstanding the fact that her segments were, or were among, his most popular."

Fox News responded to the allegations by calling them "false, patently frivolous and utterly devoid of any merit." At the time of this writing, Carlson has yet to publicly respond to the complaint.