Tucker Carlson's Pathetic Descent Into Gutter of Hackdom
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It began with O.J. Simpson, whose murder trial helped launch the career of so many other worthless media figures. In 1994 and 1995, anyone who’d ever written more than a paragraph for money was asked to appear on television to address the Simpson trial at least once. Some then simply never went away. Carlson became a CNN regular (he has joked, “If O.J. Simpson hadn’t murdered his wife, I probably wouldn’t be working in television”), and after he proved quite adept at treating the Lewinsky affair with the mock importance that cable news demanded, they finally hired him to co-host a show in 2000. The show was called “The Spin Room,” and Carlson hosted it with genial liberal Bill Press. The show was terrible and everyone hated it. The hosts devoted an inordinate amount of airtime to reading their own hate mail.
But Carlson was perfect for CNN. He had a TV-ready personal style — Ivy League blazers and bow ties and his “fratty side part” — and a cheerful willingness to say dumb, outrageous stuff with an eminently punchable smirk. He embodied perfectly the CNN version of politics, which is two buddies joshing each other about things they clearly know to be utterly irrelevant. Carlson rooted for “Team Republican,” and his job was to trash-talk with fans of “Team Democrat.” After “Spin Room” was unceremoniously canceled, they sent Tucker to one of the many interchangeable shows it was modeled after: “Crossfire.”
The more you’re on TV, the dumber you get, to paraphrase “Repo Man.” Carlson largely stopped interacting with people outside the Beltway politico-media bubble for stories, and his formerly occasional forays into lazy, glib generalities became just about all he was capable of. But at least Paul Begala and James Carville and even Ann Coulter can be funny — sometimes even witty — in their sports talk radio call-in show “political debates.” Carlson’s idea of a laugh is fratty sexism and pervasive gay panic. Like most other crappy pundits he has a blithe disregard for accuracy, especially when the truth gets in the way of scoring some asinine political point. This vintage Media Matters catalog of his various distortions captures Carlson’s TV style nicely. Especially fun to recall are his many strong arguments in favor of invading Iraq, like: “I want to know what are the Pope’s plans to liberate the Iraqi people.”
Carlson eventually decided he didn’t actually support the war, because his job isn’t to actually believe the shit he says on TV. (“I have no time for political hacks who say things they don’t believe because they get paid to,” he said in 2003. “So there you have it: cross-dressing and abortion, two great Democratic values that go great together,” he also said in 2003.) Now, of course, he’s called for Iran to be “annihilated,” then protested that he shouldn’t have been taken at his word when he called for Iran to be annihilated.
In 2004, Jon Stewart made his famed “Crossfire” appearancein which he declared the show bad for America and its hosts partisan hacks. This criticism was always flawed, because it operated from the premise that CNN cared whether or not its programming was bad for America and its personalities hacks, but the Stewart appearance struck a chord with everyone who followed politics because they actually cared about the real-world implications of politics, and not because they enjoyed watching two assholes yell at each other. Stewart basically burned Carlson about as badly as anyone has been burned on television in a long time (Carlson: “You’re more fun on your show.” Stewart: “You’re as big a dick on your show as you are on any show.”), and when CNN canceled “Crossfire” three months later, everyone assumed that the network had been shamed.