By:
July 15, 2021

The Washington Post published a major piece Wednesday about Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson. Michael Kranish, a national political investigative reporter for the Post, wrote the story with the headline: “How Tucker Carlson became the voice of White grievance.”

Kranish writes, “This account of Carlson’s years-long focus on racial grievance, and his rise to the top of the conservative media ecosystem, is based on a review of his books, broadcasts and writings over nearly three decades, as well as interviews with current and former associates, subjects of his on-air attacks and others who have observed his career.”

Then Kranish adds, “What emerges is a portrait of an ambitious television personality who came of age in privilege — having grown up in an upper-class enclave and attended private schools — but who, by his own telling, is a victim.”

This paragraph from Kranish was particularly interesting: “Several people who have interacted with him over the years say they don’t know what he really believes, but they say they are increasingly troubled by his influence as what one of his former mentors described as a ‘very talented demagogue.’”

It’s an excellent deep dive. Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan called it “disturbing,” although anyone familiar with Carlson’s on-air rhetoric won’t be stunned by what’s in the Post story. Still, it’s a good consolidation of Carlson’s journey to where he is and what he has become. And when you see it all put together, it makes an impression.

This part — which is equal parts amusing, bizarre and sad — seems to be getting a good chunk of attention: Carlson might have embellished or flat-out made up fiction to describe his first-grade teacher in a 2018 book. Carlson’s “Ship of Fools” described his teacher as “a parody of earth-mother liberalism” who “wore long Indian-print skirts. … She had little interest in conventional academic topics, like reading and penmanship.”  Carlson wrote she sobbed at her desk, saying, “The world is so unfair! You don’t know that yet. But you’ll find out!”

He added that she “never did teach us; my father had to hire a tutor to get me through phonics.”

Kranish reached out to that teacher — now 77-year-old Marianna Raymond, who was unaware of Carlson’s description of her. She told Kranish that she never sobbed at her desk and didn’t wear an Indian skirt or advocate her political views. She also mentioned that in addition to teaching Carlson in school, she also tutored him at his home.

When told what Carlson wrote, Raymond said, “Oh my God. That is the most embellished, crazy thing I ever heard.”

The rest of the Post story is much more serious, but this particular episode gives you an idea of how Carlson operates. If someone, as is alleged in the Post story, is going to stretch the truth with things like his first-grade teacher, what else might they lie about?

As far as the response from Carlson and Fox News, Kranish wrote, “Carlson did not grant an interview for this story. After The Post posed questions to Fox News last week and requested time with Carlson, a Post reporter received a text message over the weekend from a number listed in a phone records database under Carlson’s name saying, ‘It’s Tucker Carlson. I’d love to add comment to your piece. Let me know when you have a minute.’”

Kranish added, “Carlson did not respond to multiple attempts to reach him again. Fox News later sent a written statement from Carlson in which he said: ‘You want to make me shut up, so you call me a racist. I’ve seen it before.’”

Fox News told Kranish in a statement, “Tucker Carlson is an important voice in America which deeply resonates with millions of viewers via our powerful primetime lineup and two in-depth shows on FOX Nation — we fully support him.”

A special guest

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, right, speaks about pop star Olivia Rodrigo, left, during the daily briefing at the White House on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Wednesday’s White House press briefing had a special guest: pop singer Olivia Rodrigo. She was at the White House to meet and film videos with President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci to encourage young Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a prepared statement, Rodrigo told briefing room reporters, “I am beyond honored and humbled to be here today to help spread the message about the importance of youth vaccination. I’m in awe of the work President Biden and Dr. Fauci have done, and was happy to help lend my support to this important initiative.”

The Biden administration is hoping someone such as the 18-year-old Rodrigo, who has millions of social media followers and the No. 1 album in the country, can reach young people who haven’t been vaccinated. In a video put out by the White House and shown in the briefing room, Rodrigo said, “Hey, I’m Olivia Rodrigo and today I’m at the White House meeting with President Biden and Dr. Fauci because it’s so important that we all get vaccinated. It doesn’t matter if you’re young and healthy, getting the vaccine is about protecting yourself, your friends and your family. Let’s get vaccinated!”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “I will say, not every 18-year-old uses their time to come do this so we appreciate her willingness to.”

Tweet of the day

On Wednesday, former President Donald Trump issued a statement congratulating and promoting a book by Fox News’ Jesse Watters. The statement said, “Great book out by Jesse Watters, How I Saved the World. Interspersed are his thoughtful suggestions for overcoming left-wing radicalism, maintaining American democracy, moving beyond aging hippies (like his long-suffering, loving parents), saving the world from social justice warriors and the deep state — all while smirking his way through life in only the nicest way. Get your copy today, congratulations Jesse!

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted what many are thinking: “I wanna know who wrote this.”

Meanwhile, social media users quickly found the same passage on Fox News’ website promoting Watters’ book. The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi tweeted, “Who plagiarized who?”

Speaking of Trump …

Perry Bacon Jr. has a smart column in The Washington Post: “The media must reinvent itself for the era of Trumpian politics. Here’s how.”

Among Bacon’s suggestions:

  • CNN, the New York Times, The Post and similar outlets should embrace and announce their core values.
  • Other national outlets should have different values — and be transparent about them, too.
  • Local newspapers and local public radio stations should be organized into democracy-defending institutions.

Give Bacon’s column a look. He writes, “Moving forward, the nearly half of voters who backed a man that the press cast as racist and authoritarian aren’t going to forget the media’s judgment on their candidate. The media can’t credibly go back to posturing as disinterested or neutral — nor should it if Trump and Trumpism remain threats to democracy. It needs to chart a new path forward for a United States with a Trumpian Republican Party.”

Look who reportedly defended Jeffrey Epstein

Attorney Kenneth Starr. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Among the revelations in Julie K. Brown’s upcoming book about the Jeffrey Epstein story: Kenneth Starr waged a “scorched-earth” campaign in an effort to get federal prosecutors to drop a sex-trafficking case against Epstein. Starr is best known for investigating former President Bill Clinton’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky in the 1990s.

Brown has been the leading reporter on the Epstein case. Her book, “Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story,” is due out next Tuesday.

The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington obtained a copy of the book and wrote:

“The book says that emails and letters sent by Starr and Epstein’s then criminal defense lawyer Jay Lefkowitz show that the duo were ‘campaigning to pressure the Justice Department to drop the case’. Starr had been brought into ‘center stage’ of Epstein’s legal team because of his connections in Washington to the Bush administration. When Epstein’s lawyers appeared to be failing in their pressure campaign, with senior DoJ officials concluding that Epstein was ripe for federal prosecution, Starr pulled out the stops. Brown discloses that he wrote an eight-page letter to Mark Filip, who had just been confirmed as deputy US attorney general, the second most powerful prosecutor in the country. Filip was a former colleague of Starr’s at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Brown writes that Starr deployed ‘dramatic language’ in the letter reminiscent of the Starr report, his lurid and salacious case against Clinton that triggered the president’s 1998 impeachment.”

In a piece for Esquire, Charles P. Pierce wrote, “If there is a less excusable human being walking upright than Ken Starr, head huntsman of the Great Penis Chase of 1998, then I’m hard pressed to think of who it is.”

But as The New York Times’ David Enrich wrote in a review of Brown’s book: “If you were to ask a random sampling of adults to name the worst person in America, the sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein would probably rank high on the list. In an age of intense polarization, here is one thing that everyone, left and right, radicals and moderates, fantasists and realists, can agree on.”

Shep Smith’s show

Frustrated by what was going on at Fox News, Shepard Smith left the network in 2019. He eventually joined CNBC and is now anchor of “The News with Shepard Smith.” It’s a sharply produced, straightforward and respectable news program. But is it resonating with viewers?

The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright and Maxwell Tani wrote, “(The show) has struggled to attract the millions of viewers who watched Smith every day for years at Fox News, or to produce the fiery breakout viral moments that defined the later part of his tenure at the conservative cable-news giant. And those struggles have seemingly fostered some turmoil within the network and the show’s staff.”

Cartwright and Tani add that the program averaged 197,000 total viewers in June, and is currently the seventh-highest rated program on CNBC. That’s probably not what CNBC was hoping for.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, CNBC said, “It’s been less than a year since we launched The News with Shepard Smith and we are incredibly proud of the high quality journalism and powerful storytelling the team produces every week night. While news viewers’ habits take time to change, The News has far outperformed in the 7pm timeslot from the same time period in 2020 and in June, viewers watched 7.2 million hours across TV, digital and social platforms, which was double-digit percentage growth month-over-month.”

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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