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Tucker Carlson from the Daily Caller

Thursday, August 5, 2010

HH: Hi, Tucker, welcome.

TC: How are you doing, Hugh? I’m in an undisclosed location, but I’m glad your crack producer did track me down.

HH: Well, I’m glad that we found you. It’s taken ten years, so I don’t want to waste this opportunity. First of all, congratulations on the Daily Caller. It’s tough to get into my daily reads, because after a decade of this, you know, you kind of get your habits, et cetera. But the Daily Caller has broken through. Tell people about it. You launched it this year. How’s it going?

TC: It’s going great. We launched it six months and three weeks ago, and it’s basically an online newspaper. And it’s exceeded our expectations pretty dramatically, and it’s been fun as hell. I’ve loved it.

HH: Now what do you intend to do with it, Tucker. Tell people what the operating theory of the Daily Caller is.

TC: The operating theory is there’s a market for reporting, and the one thing that’s been lacking in opposition media, I hate the phrase mainstream media, because is suggests that anybody who doesn’t work at the Washington Post is not in the mainstream, and we’re emphatically in the mainstream. We’re not a fringe organization. But we’re not on board with the basic assumptions of the traditional media. We don’t worship Barack Obama like God incarnate. We don’t have the same cultural assumptions. But we have accurate, honest reporting. We spell the names right, we are not substituting opinion for facts. I mean, we have actual newspaper reporters, a lot of them, working for us. And our bet has been that that would sell, that people would…you know, there’s a place for opinion. We have a vibrant opinion section, and we love opinion pieces, but it’s also nice to have a lot of reporting. And it’s done well.

HH: Now you’ve launched it in the year, I was on your network today, Fox News, telling Martha McCallum, because Megyn was out…

TC: Ah, can I say, Martha McCallum is one of the most appealing people in all of television, I would say.

HH: Well, I agree with you on that, and Megyn is as well.

TC: Yes.

HH: And I am so convinced that Fox is winning because Fox puts smart people on as anchors.

TC: Completely. And Martha McCallum, I mean, obviously Megyn Kelly is smart, everyone knows it. Marth McCallum is smart, too.

HH: Yeah.

TC: I’m impressed.

HH: Whenever you’re a guest, you learn this in a hurry, I used to do shows with you when I was in D.C. when you were over at the other network…

TC: Oh, God, let’s not speak its name.

HH: Let’s not speak its name, because it was always kind of weird going there. But you know, compared to…I’m not going to name names. I don’t want to go there. Let’s go back to what I wanted to get to. If I was C-SPAN, if I was God of C-SPAN, I’d get you and Breitbart in a room, and talk about what you think the news media is going to look like in ten years. And so I’m going to ask half of that right now. In ten years, who are you going to be competing with?

TC: Well, that’s just it. I mean, right now, I don’t feel like there are many competitors. I don’t wish anybody ill. And I’m including Huffington Post in that. I mean, there’s a massive, I don’t agree with anything they say, they infuriate me most of the time, but I think we’re seeing, quite obviously we’re seeing, a massive shift in news consumption. People are going online for their news, and I think you’re going to see in the next ten years, obviously, this migration of some traditional media online, most will not be able to make the cut. The older companies are not nimble. They’ve had a monopoly for eighty years, and they no longer do. And they’re failing as a result of that. And so most print newspapers are going to go away. They will not just become web-based papers. But some will survive. The New York Times will survive, the Washington Post is likely to survive. And they will be, I think, major players. But they will also have to share the marketplace with upstarts. I hope we’re one of them. Huffington Post will be one of them, Politico, I hope to see a lot more on the right reporting based news organizations. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be. There’s certainly a lot of room for it.

HH: What do you think of Breitbart?

TC: I love, well, Andrew’s a friend of mine.

HH: Yeah.

TC: I love Breitbart. He’s one of the very few people I can listen to speak uninterrupted for, say, four hours at a time.

HH: I agree. And he does that in thirty minutes, too. He can put…

TC: (laughing) Exactly. I love Breitbart. I mean, look. I know that not everyone loves Breitbart. Obviously, the left despises him. But I think even lefties, you know, who go out to lunch with Breitbart come away liking the guy, because it’s hard not to.

HH: Fabulously intelligent. It always comes back to that.

TC: He’s fabulously intelligent, and he’s got a great sense of humor, which is the thing that doesn’t convey sometimes in stories about him, the guy is really funny. He’s punctuated with irony and sarcasm, and just a pretty dry wit. He’s a bright guy.

HH: He’s read everything, too. And this really matters to me. The old generation of journalists on television, and some of them in the newsrooms, just didn’t read. And now you cannot be caught out on facts. Now Tucker, the reason I was really eager to talk to you, I was abroad for two weeks on vacation when the Journolist story went from interesting, Dave Weigel, to massively important, the Spencer Ackerman emails.

TC: Yes.

HH: At that point, I said, you know, Weigel slammed me a little bit, and I went on and defended the kid. He’s a nice kid, and you know, you do things like…

TC: He is a nice guy, yeah.

HH: Yeah, when you’re young, you write things like that. But the Spencer Ackerman attack on Fred Barnes was a defining moment for me about how important this story is. Tell me how Journolist, you know, how did you decide to cover it the way you did? Just kind of let the audience know how it developed.

TC: Well, Journolist is, was, of course, this online community of about 400 lefty journalists, and some academics and political activists. I’d heard about it. There had been one story about it in Politico, and then Mickey Kaus over at Slate had received a few leaked emails. This was about a year ago, and I thought that sounds pretty interesting, so I had it on my list of things to do, and I emailed Ezra Klein who runs it over at the Washington Post. I know him, I live here, you know, it’s a small town, and I said I’d love to get on. And he said well you can’t, because you’re not liberal. And that was sort of annoying, and so I thought well gee, I sure would like to know what’s going on in this thing, so you know, we’re journalists, and we found out. And we ended up getting quite a few threads from these email conversations delivered to our office. And we’ve discovered that all of the worst preconceptions you ever had about the liberal media, all the kind of foaming, conservative conspiracy theories about how they were in league against Republicans, they’re all true, (laughing) which was a little bit stunning to me, I have to say. I worked at that other network, as you said, so I’ve certainly been around a lot of liberals in the media. But I just had no idea how out in the open they were about colluding with one another, coordinating their message, and putting a thumb on the scale on behalf of Democratic candidates, and Barack Obama in particular.

HH: Now I must say, Tucker, in the old days, I used to say there is no liberal media conspiracy. There is a liberal media mindset. But like Fred Barnes, I’ve had to correct my approach now.

TC: Well, I kind of agree with that, Hugh. In fact, that’s almost exactly, I don’t think I said it quite as artfully as you did, but that’s exactly the point that I would always make, is that this is an unintentional conspiracy of people from similar background, with similar worldviews, they’re all pro-choice, they’re all secular, they’re all for gun control, they’re all, you know, suspicious of religion. They have a certain way of looking at the world. They all went to impressive Eastern schools, et cetera, et cetera. They’re all from the coasts. But they’re not really getting together and trying to figure out how to subvert news coverage in order to help candidates. Well, it turns out, at least with Barack Obama, they were doing just that.

HH: And their secular absolutism, I’m glad you touched on that, is one of their defining tactics or traits. But what I want to make sure we get before the break, Tucker, do you have any more Journolist emails that you have not yet published?

TC: Well, we have, yes we have quite a few in the many thousands. But we are not going, we have reached the end of what we’re going to publish. We actually restrained ourselves, which wasn’t easy, I can promise you. There was a lot of, these are catty folks, okay? These are liberal journalists. If you’ve ever had drinks with the staff of the New Republic, you know they spend a lot of their time slamming each other, speculating about who’s gay, attacking each other. And you know, I felt like some of that stuff probably had been, well, a lot of it had no redeeming news value. It would be kind of entertaining, but we decided that our series was important enough that we would not publish that stuff, because why pollute an important story with that.

HH: Well, let me ask about that. I would be intensely interested, not in the gossip, but in those who stood by and watched it happen. And I guess, I talked about this with Mike Allen earlier this week when I got back, and said Mike, what did you say when they went after Fred Barnes, who may be the nicest man in Washington, D.C. And Mike didn’t actually answer that. We’ll come back after the break, we’ll talk with Tucker Carlson about the Journolist story.

– – – –

HH: Tucker, what I was getting to in the last segment is that you’ve been in many awkward moments, as I have, when you’re sharing the stage with someone who says something completely outrageous. And you have to either distance yourself or expect to be slammed for not distancing yourself. And hopefully, you distance yourself gracefully, but you get out of there. You know what I’m talking about, right?

TC: I know it’s so. I was the emcee at a Ron Paul convention, so I know exactly what you’re talking about.

HH: (laughing)

TC: And I got out of there as soon as they started blaming Israel for the bombing of the Twin Towers. I was out the door, so I know the deal.

HH: Okay, well then, so I want to know who left the room. I want to, I don’t know…that’s why I want to argue to you that the Journolist archives, maybe it’s a year from now. Maybe you want to put, that they ought to be made public, because they define a particular moment in time, a particular mindset about Obama. They tell us a lot about American media. And I would like to know who didn’t leave the room, or who in fact jumped on the pile on Fred Barnes, et cetera.

TC: Well, I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you one thing that really struck me, and we actually ran a little piece on this, just because I felt we should. There were a couple of people who actually stood up at key moments and said wait a second, lunatics, back off. These are liberals, you know, these are people who have views I disagree with, kind of conventional lifestyle liberals. But in a couple of cases, they actually stood up, not in public, but on Journolist, for moderation and common sense. And one of them, I’m kind of surprised to say this, was Jeff Toobin of CNN and the New Yorker.

HH: Oh, I’m actually not surprised by that, because I liked his book, The Nine so much. That’s…

TC: Yeah, you know, and I like Jeff, actually, personally. But you know, this was a place where everyone’s liberal, so you can kind of say whatever you want. And in a couple of cases, Jeff Toobin stood up and said whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And in one case, he literally defended Rush Limbaugh, which as you can imagine, you know, is fine to do on the Hugh Hewitt Show or at my dinner table. But to do it on Journolist, you know, takes some juevos, and he did it. And I was definitely impressed by that.

HH: Okay, I missed that piece. I’m going to have to go back on the Daily Caller archives and look that through. So Tucker, what about the argument, though, you’re sitting on, archaeologists see different things. If you let a thousand eyes see these archives, they’re going to see things that you don’t know. They’re going to catch out, especially, hypocrisy which you or your staff may not be aware of. They may have just a thousand different perspectives that would shine a lot of light on journalism. Why not let them out?

TC: Well, that’s a great question, and as you can imagine, that has been a vigorous and ongoing debate in our newsroom. We’ve got about fifty people working here, and they’re all…

HH: Fifty people?

TC: Yeah, we’ve got about fifty people, yeah. Yeah, it’s a big company. We have, we have grand ambitions. We’re not, we don’t want to be a little website. No, not at all. So we’ve got a lot of people here, and a lot of them are opinionated and loud, and some of them are drunk. And they don’t keep their opinions to themselves. And there are a lot of people agitating through that. We’re going back and forth. It’s possible we may do that, but at this point, I feel a kind of obligation to separate the nasty and the pointless from the wheat here.

HH: Now you know what’s interesting, Tucker, though, that means that you and your colleagues, and by the way, it sounded like any other newsroom I’ve ever been in, are putting themselves in the position of editor for the world…

TC: Yes.

HH: …that you’re standing in the way of knowledge.

TC: We are. We are. We’re doing that emphatically. We see that as our job. And I know that that runs counter to the ethos of the web, but that’s my view of journalism. I think it’s, I don’t think it’s a profession. It’s trade. It’s not very complicated. It’s less complicated than being an electrician, that’s for sure. But I still think it’s a job that requires subjective judgments. And not all news is of equal value, and I see it as our job to make that determination. And yes, that’s elitist. I’m an elitist.

HH: Yeah, two quotes. The late, great Michael Kelly on this program always used to say journalism is a craft. And Dan Rather used to say news is where you look, when people paid attention to Dan Rather.

TC: Yes.

HH: I’m just wondering, do you feel comfortable that you’ve had enough eyes look at that stuff, that they have seen the gold, that you haven’t missed the diamonds, and that American understands just how deep the corruption of Beltway-Manhattan media elites have become?

TC: Well, you know, I don’t. I don’t feel comfortable with that. I mean, you can imagine how difficult it is to get your message out when your message is attacking the people who would disseminate it, right?

HH: Yup.

TC: So we didn’t get great pick up in the New York Times or the Washington Post. We were dismissed entirely by Politico in, like, four different pieces in which they essentially attacked us, and tried to belittle our series. There were a number of Politico reporters on the site, unfortunately, as you know. So yeah, I was frustrated with that, without question. However, the nature of the web makes it possible for our pieces to hang around. So we wrote twelve pieces on Journolist. I think taken as a whole, they make the case pretty powerfully that there was deep corruption going on, particularly in the coverage of the last presidential campaign.

HH: Well, this is why I want to urge you. Obviously, I’m not going to get a commitment from you to rethink it. I consider Mike Allen a friend. I have him on at least once a week.

TC: I love Mike.

HH: Yeah.

TC: Mike’s a good and longtime friend of mine.

HH: A tremendous, tremendous journalist. And I would like to see the archives so I could assure myself that there’s nothing I have to worry about putting Mike…I will never have Spencer Ackerman back on this program ever. I think he’s only done it once. I will never have him back, because he’s a bad guy, and he hasn’t apologized.

TC: I agree.

HH: But that’s what I’m talking about, is I don’t know who to trust if they were in that room…

TC: Well, I can tell you, just to put your mind at rest on this one question. We don’t have the entire Journolist archives, so just to be totally up front about that. We have quite a few, quite a few threads. Mike Allen, so far as I know, and we’ve definitely asked around, because Mike is a friend of mine, as I said, never participated in any way on Journolist. And by the way, I consider that legitimate. In 1998, a friend of mine, a guy I know fairly well and known my whole life, was part of the Clinton morning call to defend Bill Clinton and keep him from being impeached coordination call that Democratic strategists had at that time in Washington. And he gave me the number and the password, and the passcode to that call. And I often went on that conference call and listened as they colluded to try and defend the very guilty president from getting what he deserved. I never wrote about it by prearrangement. I never said a single word on the call, and I never felt guilty about that. It increased my knowledge of the sub-culture, and it helped my reporting in other areas. But I kept that knowledge, again, by prearrangement, from my readers at the time. And I don’t feel bad about it. and so I think that’s what Mike was doing. And there were other people who were doing that. They just wanted to see what was being said, because it made them better informed. But they did so with the agreement that they wouldn’t divulge it. And I think that’s legitimate.

HH: Last question, Tucker Carlson. Have you had a call from Nick Lemann or anyone at the Columbia School of Journalism yet to come up and talk about this? Is journalism’s high priesthood interested in…

TC: (laughing) You know, can I just say one thing about Nick Lemann? No, of course they’d never call. Nick Lemann is probably the greatest political profile writer I’ve ever read. I will say that.

HH: Well, having been profiled by Nick, and nicely so, I have to agree with you, of course.

TC: He is so talented. I was a political profile writer for ten years, so I know what it takes.

HH: Yup.

TC: His profile of Al Gore in 2000 was the most devastating profile I’ve ever read about Gore, and I’ve written a couple of pretty devastating ones. He’s so much better. Now I know Nick Lehman’s a liberal, and I doubt that he approves of me or what we did. But I just have to say that. No, of course they haven’t invited us, and they never will. They hate us.

HH: Well, when they invite you up to Columbia, let me know so I can fly back and make sure I’m there to watch that one.

TC: (laughing)

HH: Tucker Carlson of the Daily Caller, a pleasure catching up with you, Tucker. Continued good luck to you, and I appreciate you taking the time. We’ll get you back soon.

End of interview.

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