Fred Dickey's Island of Human Drama
Long before Fox News, Carlson was a La Jollan
Long before Fox News, Carlson was a La Jollan
By Fred Dickey Feb. 5, 2017
The best local-kid-makes-good stories are rags to riches.
In this case, we have to do without the rags. Tucker Carlson grew up in La Jolla with every advantage given to him except talent and drive. He was on his own for those.
Fortune shined on him in another way when a month ago, he was elevated to the Fox News prime-time slot vacated by Megyn Kelly, who had jumped to NBC.
He is 47, has four children and has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than a quarter-century. He lives in Washington, D.C.
His given name is Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson. I wonder if prep schools have a cut-off for number of names? If that’s the name on his passport, it would be interesting to hear him paged at an airport.
He is the son of Richard “Dick” Carlson, who ran and lost for mayor of San Diego against Roger Hedgecock in 1983. The elder Carlson was a newscaster and a Republican who held prominent positions, including head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The younger Carlson counts the late Sen. William J. Fulbright in his lineage, as well as his great-grandfather who founded Swanson Foods. I don’t know how thinly that pot-pie has been sliced, but maybe there’s a bite or two left over for him.
He thinks fondly of La Jolla. (What’s not to be fond of?)
“I grew up in La Jolla, knew a million great people. I visit often. I used to swim every day. I’d swim from La Jolla Shores over to the cove. I was thinking about the Clam the other day, the cliffs we used to jump off. It’s a little bit north of the Children’s Pool. You know where Sunny Jim Cave is? ...”
Carlson’s on-air persona is a friendly, impish smile and a merry little giggle that says to some guests: What you’re saying is idiotic, but I like you anyway.
He’s a conservative, but not afraid to stray from the herd. He obviously voted for Donald Trump, but I wouldn’t call him a cheerleader. He has genes that compel him to ask hard questions that make ardent partisans shudder.
I got him on the phone, and he promised not to hang up on me. Since he’ll talk about anything, we pretty much do. I love to start with questions like this one:
Huffington Post wrote last month that you were “A man with a track record of insulting and demeaning women (who) landed a prime-time spot on Fox News.”
“That’s pretty funny,” he says, not particularly amused. “I mean, I don’t know how to respond exactly. I like women more than men. I treat guests like adults, and I ask them adult questions. That’s not sexism, that’s respect.”
An issue that has not gotten enough attention is the closing of minds on college campuses. Why have tenured faculty not defended freedom of speech when that was what tenure was created to defend?
“Because they’re fearful. They’re cowards. We’ve carved out these sinecures, these special places called tenure where they’re safe. But the pressure (from leftist students) makes them afraid.
“They’re mediocre people. American higher education is revered around the world because our engineering, sciences and medical schools are still top-notch. But in the humanities, we’re just hiring a lot of dumb people. They’re members of a herd.”
You’re a career journalist. Objectivity in reporting used to be holy writ. What happened?
“Reporters stopped pretending they had no opinions, and they began to take sides for (Barack Obama’s) election, and then against Trump’s election. As soon as they started putting their thumb on the scale for candidates, they telegraphed to their readers that it wasn’t worth reading.
“The problem with Washington journalism is that everyone who practices it comes from the same background, have the same political and cultural assumptions. They’re the same people.
“Whenever you have a group of like-minded people, you have an airless room where people can make bad decisions without even knowing they’re making bad decisions. Few people seem willing to break from the herd and think for themselves.
“(Traditional journalism) is worrying about survival, and thinking how do we keep the doors open? The fastest way to do that is to identify a specific audience and cater to them. That, in some cases, is exactly what news outlets have done.”
How about the loss of the follow-up question? In other words, interviewers will ask a question and the answer will be a total evasion, and the reporter will just go on to the next question rather than saying, “That is not what I asked you.”
“It really depends on why the (interviewer) asks the question. If your goal is to inform your readers or viewers, then you’re going to ask a follow-up question to get an answer. You’re never going to get an answer without a follow-up question from a politician, never. If your goal is to show how smart you are, then you only need one question to do that.”
For a TV show, I assume the risk of asking tough questions is that the prominent politician won’t come back.
“Look, it’s not a question of being mean or yelling at people. I hate yelling at people. I try never to do that. I have, but I try not to. But if you ask hard questions and flesh out the topic, politicians are scared of that, so it’s hard to book them.”
Let’s talk about President Donald Trump — that still sounds strange. Will his tweeting grow tiresome to the public?
“Well, it’s already tiresome to me. A president has a lot of ways to communicate, and I don’t think that tweeting demands the kind of reflection that presidential statements deserve.”
How many of his advisers do you suppose have begged him to stop tweeting, or at least be more selective?
“Probably none. I mean, I know some of them, and my sense is they’ve determined he’s not going to stop. He understands it’s a source of power for him, which it is. He can go over the media and around Congress, and he’s going to keep doing it.”
He seems incapable of not responding to any slight, any challenge. He’s kind of a jut-jawed, “Oh, yeah?” guy.
“That’s true. I definitely think that’s true.”
People talk about him blurting out things and repeating words, and coming back repeatedly to pet words such as “incredible” and “huge.” That is not a reflection on his intelligence, but I wonder if he’s basically an inarticulate man.
“That’s for sure. I think journalists notice it, because we work with words. By the same token, journalists, and certainly I’m in this category, can overvalue the power and value of words.”
The election has been dissected more than a laboratory frog. But, it occurs to me it might come down to that the second-most unpopular candidate edged out the most unpopular.
“That may be right. But I never think elections are just about the candidates; they’re about larger forces. I think Obama won primarily because of the financial meltdown.
“I think Trump won because of the distortion of the way wealth is distributed in the country. A small group of people got much richer than ever before, and the rest of the people languished. He represented a departure from that.”
Obama is going to stay active as a party voice, there’s no question. Will that retard the development of next-generation Democratic leaders?
“Of course it will. Nothing grows in the shade. Obama remains popular as a person, and I don’t expect that to change. It’s really simple. Somebody needs to represent the middle class, and neither party wanted to. Trump forced the Republican Party to do it. They didn’t want to at all. The Democratic Party doubled down on identity politics.”
What is the hold the Clintons have had on the Democratic Party?
“They’re great fundraisers. The Clintons were better at that than anybody. That’s a lot of it. That is absolutely a lot of it. The money.”'
Are the divisions in America that we’re seeing reconcilable?
“I hope so. I mean, they need to be for the country to hold together. I live in an affluent area, and I can tell you that people where I live have no understanding of and even less sympathy for the middle of the country.
“My suspicion is it’s the nature of a meritocracy. People who are successful believe their success is wholly a product of their own virtue and hard work. They don’t see luck or good fortune playing any role in it.
“They think they deserve everything they have, and they think that everybody beneath them on the socioeconomic ladder deserves to be where they are.”
What about Trump frightens you?
What encourages you?
“His willingness to think for himself.”
What is the one issue you’re glad I didn’t pursue?
Fred Dickey’s home page is freddickey.net
He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]