Tucker Carlson: A True Washington Story

Tucker Carlson True Washington StoryMSNBC is FINALLY taking a needed step, and not a moment too soon. David Gregory will replace Tucker Carlson. Now, instead of suffering through election season with an obnoxious dimwit, we will actually have some informed dialog and insight. I would have preferred Rachel Maddow, but MSNBC is trying to put forth more clout from NBC News, and she will almost certainly be a regular guest on the new program. Also, keep in mind the name of Gregory’s show: “Race for the White House.” What happens to this timeslot after November?

Gregory, as Senior White House Correspondent, knows there will be little happening on that beat for the remainder of the year. So he’s settling in to cover the campaign and he can return to the White House with the new president. Then maybe Maddow or David Shuster will get another shot at a show.

With news of the cancellation of trustfund pundit Tucker Carlson, it seems like a good time to look back on the events that led to this profound conclusion. (See Tucker Carlson Canceled for links to his dismal program performance).

It all started in a little mansion in San Francisco where the spawn of Republican ambassador and public broadcasting chief Richard Warner Carlson, and TV dinner princess Patricia Caroline Swanson, was ingloriously hatched. Thirty-eight years later it all comes screeching to a halt. Well, it actually just sort of peeters out, but that doesn’t sound quite as dramatic.

The writing has long been on the wall.

In October of 2006, Tucker responded angrily when asked about his future at MSNBC and whether he had already been cut:

“It’s bullshit. It’s total bullshit. I talked to Abrams last night. I’ve got another year on my contract. That’s my comment: Bullshit.”

I’m not entirely sure, but I think that Tucker considers this report to be some sort of bullshit. I could be wrong. This would have have placed his contract expiration some time in October of 2007. So in November of 2007 he signed off his show saying:

“That does it for us. Thank you for watching as always, we mean that sincerely to all eight of you.”

Sounds like he knew something. Maybe that’s why he chose to embarrass himself on “Dancing With The Stars” and taped a pilot for a game show called (I kid you not) “Who Do You Trust?” If he didn’t know something was up, he ought to have. After all, his boss, Phil Griffin, bragged to NPR about the network’s personalities saying:

“Keith Olbermann is our brand; Chris Matthews is our brand. These are smart, well-informed people who have a real sense of history and can put things in context.”

But when he was specifically asked whether Tucker Carlson is also their brand, he pauses and says:

“He is right now.”

There’s a real vote of confidence. And, predictably, the effort to Save Tucker fell flat on its face, even after he reportedly took a 50% paycut.

As far back as December, the rumors of Tucker being replaced were circulating. Prominent among them were reports that Rachel Maddow and Bill Wolff had taped a pilot that would fit nicely in the slot that Tucker was wasting.

Now that Tucker has bombed on on PBS, CNN, and MSNBC, some may think that it’s off to Fox News for him. But he has some history there that would need to be smoothed out first. In 2003, Tucker was asked on air for his home phone number. He thought it would be funny (in an infantile sort of way) to give out the number for Fox News instead. Not surprisingly, Fox was besieged by anxious Tucker “fans.” So Fox did what only Fox would do. They posted Tucker’s home number on their website asserting that they were merely correcting Tucker’s poor journalism. In a snit that ignored every trace of irony, Tucker called Fox News:

“…a mean, sick group of people.”

For those who think Tucker provided balance on the network, note that MSNBC already airs, in addition to Tucker, 3 hours of conservative Republican Joe Scarborough, and another two hours of Chris Matthews’ orchestrated hostility for Democrats. That’s five hours of right-wing propaganda against the one hour that Olbermann occupies. Where’s the balance in that?

Congratulations to David Gregory.

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Tucker Carlson Canceled!

I finally made it happen! In the post just prior to this one, I asked “Seriously, when is this low-life, ratings loser going to be canceled?” I got my answer.

You can all start thanking me now. I have been making the case for canceling Tucker Carlson’s show for two years. He has consistently had the worst performing program on MSNBC’s schedule. He was a drain on resources as well as the performance of his network colleagues. But it’s all over now.

News Corpse readers know that I have been working tirelessly to get this twit axed. I produced slick presentations, with eye popping graphics describing why this show was bringing down the whole network:

Tucker Carlson: The Biggest Loser

There was also my signature pitch for Tucker’s banishment from TV. This analysis proved unequivocally that there was no business case for carrying this load of broadcast waste.

Tucker Carlson: A Ratings Black Hole

It was a long slog, but now I can say with confidence that it was all worth it.

Look out Glenn Beck – You’re next!

Glenn Beck’s Ratings: Headline Snooze

Glenn Beck poses the same problem at CNN’s Headline news as Tucker did at MSNBC. He is a reliable under-performer and an albatross around the necks of the shows adjacent to him.

The only reason to give Beck a stay of execution would be fealty to the brand of caveman conservatism that he espouses. If CNN doesn’t cancel this stinker they will have settled, once and for all, the speculation as to whether they are a compromised media lapdog with an agenda aimed at placating the powerful and debasing journalism.

Tucker Carlson’s Ethics Education

In the thoroughly overblown controversy surrounding Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power, there is no shortage of hysterical lunacy.

Power, in a momentary lapse of judgment referred to Hillary Clinton as a “monster.” Clinton’s campaign then proceeded to act like one, calling for Power to be fired. It seems like an oddly inapt sanction for the first truly viable female presidential candidate to banish from the political theater another women who is a Pulitzer prize winning author, historian, lawyer and foreign policy expert. Clinton continues off the deep end by saying…

“I think that it is important to look at what she and his other advisers say behind closed doors…”

Presumably this means that Clinton will shortly release the transcripts of her private meetings and those of her advisers. Obama, for his part, should never have accepted Power’s resignation. It would be shameful to lose the talents of this brilliant woman over a trivial campaign dust-up.

But the supreme idiocy is, as usual, reserved for the media. On Friday, Tucker Carlson interviewed Gerri Peev, the reporter who published the fateful Power story. In the course of the discussion, Carlson inexplicably asserts that reporters have some obligation to grant all requests to take a subjects comments off the record. He then disparages the whole of British media by stating that their standards are “dramatically lower” than those in the U.S. Here’s the clip (and the full interview):

Tucker February 2008Hearing Tucker Carlson elucidate on journalistic ethics is like having Dick Cheney tutor you on honesty and open government. It was, however, nice to hear Peev put Tucker in his place. To cap it off, after Carlson insults Peev for doing her job, he has the gall to chastise her, saying…

“People don’t talk to you when you go out of your way to hurt them…”

You mean like when you declare that they, and all of their nation’s journalists, have low standards? I can’t think of many examples of American journalism’s standards that sink as low as Tucker. Seriously, when is this low-life, ratings loser going to be canceled?

Free For All: The Media’s Gift To Political Advertisers

In the days leading up to the March 4 primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island, millions of residents of those states (and of America) saw a now infamous advertisement from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

However, the “Red Phone/3 am” ad was mostly seen by viewers of news programs that broadcast the commercial for free. In effect, the media is providing millions of dollars worth of in-kind contributions to candidates in the name of reporting on the content of their ads.

It didn’t begin with Clinton.

The most famous example of a “free media” bonanza is the Daisy Girl ad for Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign. Today it is one of the most notorious political advertisements in history despite the fact that it actually aired only once in paid media.
During the 2004 Democratic primary, a group called Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values produced an ad showing Osama bin Laden and accusing Howard Dean of not having the experience needed to fight terrorism. They spent only $14,000 to run the ad just 16 times in two small markets. However, it generated four days of attention from national news outlets.
Also in 2004, the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, a front group with funding from Republican partisans, spent less than a half-million dollars to run an ad for one week, in only three states, slandering Democrat John Kerry’s war record. The uproar resulted in more than three weeks of nationally televised rebroadcast and debate.
More recently, Gov. Mike Huckabee orchestrated a press conference where he showed an ad attacking Mitt Romney. He then announced that he had no intention of paying to air the ad. The event was merely a brazen attempt to garner some publicity for a spot without having to actually spend anything on airtime.

These tactics are now a routine part of campaign strategy. Politicians and interest groups know that they can manipulate news providers to do their work for them. Television, in particular, is susceptible due to its ravenous appetite for pre-produced video programming.

So what should be done about it? It would be unwise to implement some sort of legal mandate to regulate how news media cover campaign advertising. It is entirely legitimate to report on the content of political ads, their veracity, and their strategic goals. However, it wouldn’t hurt to apply some journalistic ethics to the editorial judgment. That means assessing the newsworthiness of any piece that includes such ads. Also, there is no need to broadcast them repeatedly to make a point. They know that the campaigns are manipulating them. Why do they let them get away with it?

Here are a couple of other measures editors ought to consider when confronted with this.

  • Don’t bother to report on any ad that has not exceeded a defined threshold of paid impressions. In other words, if the campaign doesn’t make a significant purchase of air time for their own ad, it isn’t news.
  • If the ad is shown it should be confined to a small percentage of the screen with a video watermark over the whole piece labeling it is a campaign ad. This would serve to blunt the promotional value of the airing and focus on the news value.

Implemented voluntarily, this would not infringe on journalistic freedom or civil liberties. Journalists should not allow themselves to be exploited by campaigns or interest groups. They have no obligation to assist in promotional activities. They need only to report what is actually newsworthy. By maintaining a professional detachment they will produce a better product and provide a better service to the public.

Brit Hume Just Doesn’t Get It

Brit Hume was interviewed by the magazine of his alma mater, the University of Virginia. He had some revealing things to say about his view of journalism and the world. The first question dealt with what changes he has seen in the country:

There used to be a general view that America was not what was wrong with the world. In many corners now today and in academia and in the media, I think we see an interest in the idea that maybe America is what’s wrong with the world. There’s a worry that when the U.S. undertakes something, that the U.S. is likely to be the problem, not the solution. I think that’s an attitude that didn’t exist when I first started in this business and I think it’s not for the better.

Another way of putting that is that there used to be a general view that America was infallible and that our leaders could not be questioned. Apparently Hume would like to return to those days.

When asked about the perception of Fox News as conservatively biased, he rattled off a litany of issues (without any support) that he believes his press associates lean leftward on. He then concedes that Fox takes a different stance on those issues. The admission that Fox has a stance on issues should be enough to dismiss them as a credible news organization. But Hume isn’t nearly done:

“As long as our competitors are convinced that we’re a right-wing news organization out to promote right-wing causes, they never will get it. That’s good news for us. They can’t fix their problem because they don’t understand it. As long as they continue to think in that way, they’re probably not going to gain much ground on us.”

It is hysterical on its face that Hume still insists that Fox is not a “right-wing news organization.” But even funnier is his delusional analysis of his competition not gaining ground. Here are the facts for just this year:

  • January 07-08 gains: CNN 42% – MSNBC – 37% – Fox 9%.
  • February 07-08 gains: CNN 133% – MSNBC – 62% – Fox 16%

I’d call that gaining ground. And those numbers reflect network performance going back at least two years. The fortunes of Fox have been trending down in virtual syncopation with the still sinking approval ratings for President Bush. While they still have a large reserve of Stepford viewers, Fox is at a decided disadvantage. Their audience is aging and is generally less appealing to advertisers. In fact, CNN is able to charge 50% more ($5.96) per thousand viewers than Fox ($4.06).

Recently Fox has lost outright to competitors. They came in last on March 4th’s primary coverage (after both CNN and MSNBC) and were bested by CNN for the whole month of February in the key 25-54 demographic. And Keith Olbermann’s Countdown beat O’Reilly again last week. Granted, it’s not an everyday occurrence, but it used to be unheard of. Mark your calendars for March 30, when Countdown will have it’s second broadcast on the NBC mothership. The last time they did that, Countdown’s subsequent MSNBC airings jumped by 17%, beating O’Reilly then as well.

The fallacy of Fox’s market domination will have to eventually tune in to Hume’s brain wave. Until then, we will likely be subject to more of these hallucinatory bouts of braggadocio. And in all likelihood they will stray even further from reality, because, in the end, it’s Brit Hume and his Fox comrades who “never will get it.”

The Internet vs. Traditional Journalism

There is a new Zogby poll on the nation’s attitudes toward Internet vs. traditional journalism. Some highlights:

  • 67% believe traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news.
  • 32% said Internet sites are their most trusted source for news and information, followed by newspapers (22%), television (21%) and radio (15%).
  • 75% believe the Internet has had a positive impact on the overall quality of journalism.
  • 69% believe media companies are becoming too large and powerful to allow for competition.
  • Republicans (79%) and political independents (75%) are most likely to feel disenchanted with conventional journalism, but the online survey found 50% of Democrats also expressed similar concerns.

I still don’t understand that last item. A Gallup poll last October found similarly that 66% Democrats trust the media. I wrote at the time that it made no sense to do so and itemized the reasons why. If Democrats were paying attention, they would be far more disenchanted with the media status quo than this survey suggests. However, it is heartening to see that 69% recognize the threat that Big Media represents. If there were a more concerted effort on the part of our elected officials to address the issue, they would find a grateful constituency.

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George W. Bush’s Legacy Of Secrecy

Joseph Wheelan, with George Mason University’s History News Network, reminds us of a dangerous assault on open and honest government. It came in the form of George W. Bush’s Executive Order 13233: The Presidential Records Act Executive Order.

“…this is not just another blow against openness; Bush’s Executive Order 13233 could change history – literally – by restricting historians’ access to materials that help them document and ultimately judge a president’s actions, lapses, and principles.

Executive Order 13233 gives ex-presidents nearly unlimited discretionary authority to prohibit the release of their papers…”

The article goes on to describe the practical impact of this Order.

“Executive Order 13233 portends a day when spin, the currency of politics, may become the province, too, of presidential history. One can envision a future when a presidential library’s watchdogs would allow only “safe” historians to sift through the library’s holdings for material to cook up a bracingly whitewashed version of his subject’s actions. Objective historians, denied access to the panegyrist’s primary sources and all the juicy details, would be placed at a severe disadvantage. Which version do you think would get the seven-figure publishing advance and the lavish promotional campaign?”

This is not a new development. The Order was issued in November of 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. It’s almost as if the still new Bush administration knew in advance that they would be engaging in nefarious activities that had to be covered up. In the intervening years, Bush has proven to be the most secrecy-obsessed president in U.S. history.

This being an election year, it is a good time to recall this stain on academic freedom and the public’s right to know the truth about it’s leaders and their actions. It would be nice to get the present crop of presidential aspirants to go on record as to whether they would revoke Executive Order 13233 if elected.

Chris Wallace Still Obsessed With Absent Democrats

Chris Wallace, the host of Fox News Sunday is still perturbed that he can’t get presidential candidates with a “D” after their name to come play in his sandbox.

Wallace has been particularly obsessed with poking at Democrats who have declined to submit to Fox News abuse. Reading this viewer letter is just another attempt to “shame” Democrats into appearing on his show. To equate the process of international diplomacy with that of face-time on a biased, third-rate cable news channel is beyond idiocy. But it is not beyond Wallace.

Democrats are right to shun Fox and should continue to do so. The strategy is working as evidenced by Wallace’s all-consuming attention to it. If it wasn’t hurting them, they would never mention it. And it is paying off in a couple of significant ways. First, it denies Fox the opportunity to cast more of its slime onto Democrats. Second, Fox misses out on the higher ratings and revenues they would receive from associating with the more popular Democratic candidates. (Fox News Sunday is consistently last amongst the Sunday news interview programs – behind Meet the Press, This Week, and Face the Nation)

Most importantly it maintains the premise that Fox is not a credible news entity and should not be treated as one. Let’s hope the Democrats have the stamina to keep it up throughout the general election.

Tucker Carlson: The Biggest Loser

Somebody tell me why Tucker Carlson still has a television show. Seriously! Is there anyone at MSNBC who reads News Corpse? I want an answer. I just can’t figure out what’s going through their heads.

Tucker has been the worst performing program on the MSNBC primetime lineup for as long as he’s been on. And he rarely notches anything above last place versus his competition. That record of defeat has predictably repeated itself for February 2008.

Tucker February 2008

What does it take to get canceled by this network. Does Tucker have to insult a women’s basketball team to get the ax? There are many examples of him insulting women, like when he said about Hillary Clinton that, “there’s just something about her that feels castrating, overbearing, and scary.” Then there is the time he said Obama “seems like kind of a wuss,” and “sounds like a pothead.” Now he has taken to inviting the most repugnant guests he can dig up. Last month he hosted Jonah “Liberal Fascism” Goldberg and Roger “C.U.N.T.” Stone.

But the network doesn’t need a scandal to ditch Tucker. They just need a desire to get better ratings and make more money. Isn’t that what they’re in business for? Tucker’s show is an expensive flop and it is bringing down the shows adjacent to it. As I’ve said on many previous occasions, there is simply no business case for keeping this show on the air. And yet it’s still there.

It’s not like MSNBC doesn’t have some recent experience with success on which to draw. Keith Olbermann’s Countdown continues to surge and is the fastest growing program on cable news. Last Thursday it even scored a #1 ranking, beating its nemesis, Bill O’Reilly. But even when it doesn’t come out on top, it’s a more valuable asset. O’Reilly’s audience is not particularly appealing to advertisers. Only 17% of its total viewers are in the coveted 25-54 demographic. Countdown’s audience in the demo is 40%.

So what’s wrong with MSNBC? Why don’t they want to emulate their successes and eject their failures? Since there are no arguments from a business perspective for keeping him, then what are their arguments? There is good cause to suspect that their motivations are not wholly reputable. Either someone is doing someone else a favor, or some political bias is being exerted, or Tucker has photographs of an executive in a compromising situation. It’s worth remembering also, that Tucker is the son of Richard Warner Carlson, a former U.S. ambassador, director of the U.S. Information Agency, and president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. There is plenty of room for salacious speculation, but what there is little supply of is reason.

Any half-way sane television professional would have canceled this loser long ago. I think it’s time the viewers get involved and demand that MSNBC account for themselves. If, as I suspect, they are protecting Tucker due to some unsavory and secret compact, then they are violating a public trust and they need to come clean. Write to MSNBC and ask them to explain why Tucker is still on the air despite his dismal performance. Ask them why they are protecting a program that has never delivered for them. Feel free to cite the data in this article and ask for specific answers. In the pursuit of journalistic ethics and transparency, we have a right to know.

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