Portrait | The bow-tie man may finally have to get knotted


Portrait | The bow-tie man may finally have to get knotted

Even Vladimir Putin made fun of Tucker Carlson after their recent interview. How did someone who was once one of the US's most popular journalists get to this point? By WILLEM KEMPEN.

IT'S ironic that many people's first encounter with Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson was on CNN. In the early 2000s, Carlson was “the guy from the right" with his then-signature bow tie and Richie Rich hairstyle. He appeared on the political talkshow Crossfire, with co-host Paul Begala as “the guy from the left".

Carlson won his reputation as a right-winger in the 1990s when writing for magazines such as Esquire and The New Republic, but it was CNN that made him widely known.

The idea with Crossfire was that the politically disparate presenters would balance each other out to offer a kind of political equilibrium. The reality was that the conversation often just devolved into predictable mudslinging.

Still, compared to what has happened since then, the atmosphere at the time was actually quite hearty. In 2003, for example, Carlson said on Crossfire that he would eat his shoes if Hillary Clinton's autobiography, Living History, sold more than a million copies. The book reached that milestone within a month, at which point the New York senator surprised a smiling Carlson with a chocolate cake in the shape of a shoe on the set of Crossfire:

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Such moments weren't enough for the show to survive, though. In October 2004, just a month before George W Bush defeated John Kerry to win a second term as US president, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show appeared as a guest on Crossfire and wiped the floor with the unsuspecting Begala and Carlson:

“[Crossfire] is not as much bad as it's hurting America," Stewart told them to their faces. “Right now, you're [both] helping the politicians and the corporations, and [the American people] are left out there fending for themselves. You are [...] partisan hacks."

Less than six months later, Crossfire's cancellation was announced. (CNN revived it in 2013 but terminated it again shortly afterwards.)

After Crossfire, Carlson was briefly at MSNBC, where his right-wing sentiments grew even stronger. In particular, he railed against what he called the “invasion" of immigrants in the US. He became known as the voice of the alt-right and the Republicans' “nativist wing" — a faction that has nothing to do with the nation's actual first nations, but rather with shielding American-born citizens against new arrivals from elsewhere. It was an early version of “Make America Great Again".

In 2009, Carlson joined Fox News, a move that coincided with the global financial crisis, Barack Obama's first term as president and later the growing popularity of Donald Trump.

The next big jump in his career was in 2016, when he started Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News, just days after Trump became president. His new show's first episode attracted nearly four million viewers.

Another year later, Carlson again got lucky when Fox News fired Bill O'Reilly, easily its most popular and profitable presenter, after a series of out-of-court settlements in sex harassment cases. Tucker Carlson Tonight moved to O'Reilly's earlier 8pm time slot and to Fox's relief was soon almost as popular as its predecessor.

With the help of Trump's surging popularity, Carlson revelled in his new role as right-wing America's most prominent frontman. He paid no attention to critics who accused him of having a racist or white nationalist agenda, and at times did the most bizarre stuff. Like when he referred to the metric system as the “yoke of tyranny":

Or when he — apparently seriously — called for the US to invade its northern neighbour to keep it from “becoming like Cuba" under Justin Trudeau:

But then Trump lost the 2020 election and it was the beginning of the end for Carlson's relationship with Fox News. Over the next three years, it had to defend itself against allegations that its journalists knew full well Trump was lying when he said the election was rigged against him.

On Friday April 21 last year, Carlson ended his show with the words: We'll be back on Monday. In the meantime, have the best weekend with the ones that you love, and we'll see you then."

But it wasn't to be. That Monday morning, his bosses issued a statement that Carlson clearly knew nothing about the previous Friday: “Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways. We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor. Mr Carlson's last program was on Friday April 21st."

No reasons were given, but three days before Carlson's last show, Fox had agreed to pay $787 million to Dominion Voting Systems to settle a defamation suit of $1.6 billion. One of the things that came to light in the court documents was that Carlson had privately ridiculed Trump's claims about election fraud while promoting them on his show.

Carlson then started his own show on X, and last December he launched the Tucker Carlson Network, a streaming service with a subscription fee of $9 a month (since reduced to $6).

Later that month, Carlson left even his diehard fans scratching their heads when he aired a “surprise Christmas Eve fireside chat" with disgraced actor Kevin Spacey — not as himself, but in his role as US President Frank Underwood from the once-popular TV series House of Cards:

Then came the more than two-hour interview last month with Vladimir Putin that Max du Preez wrote about here. In the first part, Carlson displays his characteristic frown while Putin gives him a lengthy lesson in Russian history. Carlson asked nothing about the death of Alexei Navalny, although Putin did say an agreement on the release of Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich “could be reached".

Putin told Russian state media afterwards that he was disappointed in Carlson, “because I honestly thought he would be aggressive and ask so-called sharp questions. And I wasn't just ready for it, I wanted it, because it would have given me the opportunity to react equally sharply to it … But he chose a different tactic."

In turn, Carlson told Chris Cuomo from NewsNation he had “a bunch of Navalny questions” ready for Putin but decided during the interview that asking them “wouldn't move the ball at all". When asked what he had learnt from the interview, Carlson said Russia was “an extremely complicated political environment".

He added: “These are the people who dominate world chess, and so their politics are incomprehensible to me — so what’s actually happening? I mean, I’ve been in a lot of countries and covered a lot of stuff abroad, and the one thing I’ve learned is you actually don’t really know what’s going on.”

That last comment might be the only thing Tucker Carlson has said that almost no one is going to argue with.

♦ VWB ♦

BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Speech Bubbles

To comment on this article, register (it's fast and free) or log in.

First read Vrye Weekblad's Comment Policy before commenting.