Media

How Tucker Carlson Lost It

By Alex Shephard New Republic

In February 2009, when he took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Tucker Carlson was in the midst of an identity crisis. Five years earlier, he had been a victim of what was arguably the first viral takedown of the internet era. Jon Stewart, then at the height of his Daily Show fame, appeared on CNN’s Crossfire, told the hosts they were ruining the country, and singled out Carlson in particular as a “dick.” Crossfire limped along for three more months before being canceled. Carlson then spent the next four years in the wilderness, appearing on Dancing With the Stars and hosting Tucker, which was canceled for low ratings in early 2008, on MSNBC, still a year or two away from deciding it would be the liberal cable news network. In 2003, a fresh-faced 34-year-old Carlson had released a memoir, Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites, which cataloged and celebrated his meteoric rise through the burgeoning world of cable news. Now, however, Carlson was on the verge of flaming out.

“I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but I lived here in the 1990s and I saw conservatives create many of their own media organizations,” Carlson said in 2009, at Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel. “I saw many of those organizations prosper, and I saw some of them fail. And here’s the difference: The ones that failed refused to put accuracy first. This is the hard truth that conservatives need to deal with. I’m as conservative as any person in this room—I’m literally in the process of stockpiling weapons and food and moving to Idaho, so I am not in any way going to take a second seat to anyone in this room ideologically.” Watching the clip today, one can feel Carlson’s agitation; trained in the measured pace of TV speak—speaking too slowly makes you seem dumb, while speaking too quickly makes you seem nervous—he is talking at a speed somewhere between Lionel Messi and Usain Bolt.

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