Tucker Carlson Calls Journalists ‘Animals.’ He’s Also Their Best Source.


Last month, I texted Tucker Carlson to ask him a question that was on my thoughts: “Did you get vaccinated?”

“When was the last time you had sex with your wife and in what position?” he replied. “We can trade intimate details.”

Then we argued forwards and backwards about vaccines, and he ended the dialog with a pleasant invitation to return to his present. “Always a good time.”

One question you could be asking, in case you are a New York Times reader, is: Why are you exchanging texts with Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host who just lately described the media at massive as “cringing animals who are not worthy of respect”?

And in case you are a Tucker Carlson viewer, you might also be asking: How can the man who tells you each night time that the media is mendacity be texting with the enemy?

The answer is one among Washington’s open secrets and techniques. Mr. Carlson, a proud traitor to the elite political class, spends his time when he’s not denouncing the liberal media buying and selling gossip with them. He’s the go-to man for sometimes-unflattering tales about Donald J. Trump and for protection of the inner politics of Fox News (to not point out tales about Mr. Carlson himself). I gained’t speak right here about any off-the-record conversations I could have had with him. But 16 different journalists (none from The Times; it will put my colleagues in a bizarre position if I requested them) instructed me on background that he has been, as three of them put it, “a great source.”

“In Trump’s Washington, Tucker Carlson is a primary supersecret source,” the media author and Trump chronicler Michael Wolff writes in his forthcoming assortment of essays, “Too Famous.” Mr. Wolff, who thanked Mr. Carlson within the acknowledgments of his 2018 e-book, “Fire and Fury,” defined, “I know this because I know what he has told me, and I can track his exquisite, too-good-not-to-be-true gossip through unsourced reports and as it often emerges into accepted wisdom.”

Mr. Carlson was notably nicely positioned to be a supply in regards to the Trump administration. His Fox platform, the place in May he had a nightly common of three million viewers, made him somebody who mattered to Mr. Trump, an in depth follower of tv rankings. He has a former reporter’s eye for element and anecdote, and his observations may be detected within the lurid tales of Mr. Trump’s chaotic courtroom and Fox’s personal tumultuous inner politics.

A coming e-book by the Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost,” features a second during which Mr. Carlson sends Mr. Trump’s calls to voice mail after the primary presidential debate final fall, when he was criticized for repeatedly interrupting Joe Biden. When Mr. Trump lastly reaches the Fox host, the e-book describes, verbatim, an trade between the 2 males that casts Mr. Carlson in a flattering gentle. (“Everyone says I did a good job,” Mr. Trump tells Mr. Carlson. “I don’t know who told you that was good,” Mr. Carlson says. “It was not good.”) Mr. Bender declined to touch upon the sourcing that allowed him to so exactly reconstruct a dialog solely two individuals had been aware about.

And Brian Stelter, the host of the CNN program “Reliable Sources,” instructed me that “you can see Tucker’s fingerprints all over the hardcover” version of his 2020 e-book “Hoax,” which excoriates Fox News for amplifying Mr. Trump’s falsehoods. He mentioned that he “couldn’t stomach” speaking to Mr. Carlson, who has grown ever extra hard-line, for the up to date paperback model that was simply launched.

Mr. Carlson was born to a world of insiders and story shapers, and makes no secret of it. His father was a reporter in Los Angeles and San Diego earlier than Ronald Reagan appointed him director of the Voice of America, and the son grew up with a era of elite Washington journalists. “I’ve always lived around people who are wielding authority, around the ruling class,” he mentioned in a 2018 interview. A former New York Observer media author, Sridhar Pappu, recalled to me that when he first traveled to Washington to cover the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner within the early 2000s, it was Mr. Carlson who requested him, “Do you have an invitation to Tammy’s?” referring to the annual brunch for media insiders co-hosted by Tammy Haddad, the well-connected former MSNBC producer.

Mr. Carlson has mentioned he turned in opposition to his fellow elites after the 2008 monetary disaster. His political shift additionally reworked his lengthy journeyman’s career as {a magazine} author and MSNBC conservative, and made him Fox’s main tribune of the pro-Trump plenty.

But his a long time of Washington relationships have produced a tiresome dialog amongst Mr. Carlson’s outdated associates about what he actually stands for, whether or not he’s actually a racist or whether or not he cynically performs one on TV. Who is aware of, and what does it matter anyway? Mr. Carlson’s current fixations embrace suggesting that the Jan. 6 Capitol rebel was, in reality, a provocation staged by the F.B.I. and that making kids put on masks is abuse. The Anti-Defamation League just lately referred to as for him to be fired from Fox News for warning that Democrats are plotting to “replace” the present citizens with “more obedient voters, from the third world.” The Pentagon rebuked him for a sexist riff on ladies within the navy.

And then there are his acknowledged views on the media. “I just can’t overstate how disgusted I am,” he instructed the Fox-owned sports activities media website Outkick in April. “The media is basically Praetorian Guard for the ruling class, the bodyguards for Jeff Bezos. That’s the opposite of what we should have. I really hate them for it, I’ll be honest.”

Mr. Carlson spends much less time on air speaking about his heat relationships with a era of political and media reporters. To be honest, they don’t brag a lot about speaking to him both. Right-wingers could not need their champion chattering with the lamestream media. And how do readers of stories retailers like this one course of the truth that reporters’ jobs embrace creating relationships with individuals they might despise?

The double recreation isn’t new to Mr. Carlson’s pressure of American right-wing populism. In the Nineteen Fifties, “no politician in America understood better than Joe McCarthy how the press worked and how to manipulate it,” the McCarthy biographer Larry Tye wrote in his 2020 e-book “Demagogue.” Mr. Trump, too, excelled at it. His trade of entry for favorable protection prompted the nice New York City columnist Jimmy Breslin to write down in 1991 that “the guy was buying the whole news industry with a return phone call.”

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June 17, 2021, 1:52 p.m. ET

And Mr. Carlson’s snug place inside Washington media, most of the reporters who cover him say, has taken the sting off a number of the protection. It has additionally served as a type of insurance coverage coverage, they are saying, defending him from the marginalization that ended the Fox career of his predecessor, Glenn Beck, who additionally drew an enormous viewers with shadowy theories of elite conspiracy.

“It’s so unknown in the general public how much he plays both sides,” marveled one reporter for a distinguished publication who speaks to Mr. Carlson recurrently.

Another Washington journalist in his orbit mentioned he thought Mr. Carlson benefited from his worth to the media.

“If you open yourself up as a resource to mainstream media reporters, you don’t even have to ask them to go soft on you,” the journalist mentioned.

The nature of nameless sources signifies that you often can’t fairly inform the place Mr. Carlson has been useful, however he sometimes makes it clear by saying on the file what he had beforehand mentioned off the file. Last March, for example, after tales about how he had rushed to Mar-a-Lago to warn Mr. Trump of the seriousness of the Covid-19 menace, Mr. Carlson told the story on the file in an interview with Joe Hagan of Vanity Fair.

“I’ve known Tucker Carlson for 20 years,” Mr. Hagan wrote in an introduction to the interview, calling the Fox host “one of the most intelligent and reliably savage observers of Washington — even more so off camera.” He additionally hinted on the substance of Mr. Carlson’s much less guarded observations: “A canny TV diplomat, he won’t say Trump is terrified, weak, politically doomed, in deep denial and surrounded by toadies and mediocrities.”

Mr. Carlson’s different protection in opposition to dangerous publicity, in fact, is his willingness to make use of his platform as a weapon, and to attack individual reporters, setting off waves of harassment. When a contract author and photographer for The Times started engaged on an article about his studio in rural Maine final year, Mr. Carlson pre-emptively attacked the 2 by identify on the air and characterised one as a political activist, which Erik Wemple of The Washington Post referred to as a “stunning fabrication.” The deliberate article, a lightweight function that was nowhere near publication, turned unattainable to report, after threats and a menacing incident on the photographer’s home, in response to The Times’s media editor, Jim Windolf.

In a separate incident final February, a Politico reporter, Ben Schreckinger, made inquiries about commercials on Fox for a model of laxative marketed by Purdue Pharma, the company that paid a $2.8 billion civil settlement for its function within the opioid epidemic. (Mr. Carlson has skewered the company and different drug makers for what he calls a “tsunami” of opioid deaths and has criticized politicians who take its money.) Before any story could possibly be printed, Mr. Carlson went on the offensive, airing a phase attacking Politico’s partnership with a Hong Kong newspaper, and he demanded that Mr. Schreckinger answer for it. “How does Ben Schreckinger feel about working for a publication that makes money from Chinese state propaganda and political repression?” Mr. Carlson asked.

The Purdue story, such because it was, by no means appeared. Politico’s editor in chief, Matthew Kaminski, mentioned, “We’ve never run or not run a story based on anything Tucker has said about us.”

Those assaults are one purpose his followers love him and the journalists who don’t recurrently speak to him detest him. At Fox, nevertheless, Mr. Carlson’s shut relationship with reporters has difficult his relationship with colleagues, with bosses and with the company’s feared (by Fox workers, at the very least) head of public relations, Irena Briganti.

“Whenever there’s a positive story about Tucker, some Fox executives assume he’s had a hand in it,” mentioned the Daily Beast reporter Maxwell Tani.

Ms. Briganti mentioned it was “not really surprising for anyone who works in media to talk to the press.”

When I requested Mr. Carlson final week about his status as a supply of gossip and perception into the Trump administration, he dismissed the notion.

“I don’t know any gossip. I live in a town of 100 people,” he texted, referring to his distant Maine life.

But Mr. Wolff writes in his forthcoming essay that Mr. Carlson’s ubiquity as a supply throughout the Trump years meant there was a draw back to repeating his yarns.

“Too many times to count, after someone’s confidence, I’ve asked, ‘Did that come from Tucker?’” Mr. Wolff writes. “And equally, after I’ve shared a juicy detail, I’ve been caught out myself: ‘So … you’ve been speaking to Tucker.’”


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