Earlier this year, Tucker Carlson’s already long and varied journalistic résumé added a new entry: Web impresario. In January, the conservative former Crossfire host launched The Daily Caller, a D.C.-based site that covers government and politics. Last month, Carlson spoke about the venture with assistant editor Greg Marx for an interview published in the March/April issue of CJR. A longer version of the edited transcript appears here.
Greg Marx: First of all, congratulations—I saw yesterday the site was admitted to the White House travel pool. Is there any sort of symbolic value that comes with something like that, joining the mainstream media at the White House?
Tucker Carlson: No. You know, I can’t stand the phrase “mainstream media,” because it implies anybody who’s not in the “mainstream media” is not mainstream, and I’ve always considered us mainstream. I don’t see us as some sort of fringe publication attempting to be taken seriously. I’ve always assumed we’d be taken seriously, and we have been.
GM: What space is the site filling in the Washington journalistic ecosystem?
TC: The space that used to be occupied by reporters who are now working at public relations firms or for the Obama administration. There are fewer reporters. It’s very, very simple. The business has been decimated, and people I know well and respect have given up, and a bunch of them now work for the president. I try not to judge other people’s career choices, but that says something pretty sad about the state of journalism, and we just think that it would be good to have more reporters covering government and politics.
GM: I didn’t hear the words “conservative” or “right-wing” in there. That’s a label that’s been attached to you guys a lot. Is that how you see yourself?
TC: My politics are relatively well known. They’re certainly easily found on Google. But this site is not a pure distillation of my politics. My views are not interesting enough to sustain the company we’re building. They’re just not. Millions of people are not going to tune in every month to hear my view of the federal budget; people are too busy. This is a for-profit enterprise, and our view is that people want reliable information they’re not getting other places. If that’s right-wing, the world has turned upside down. Moreover, you can assess the site by its content. If you think our news stories are inaccurate or unfair, say so and we’ll change it. I think we’ve been pretty straightforward.
I think as a general matter the press has sucked up to Barack Obama in a repulsive way, and that’s wrong. It’s not just bad business; it’s also wrong. That’s not what you’re supposed to do to people in power. The coverage of Obama in the primaries, especially, was totally over the top. I was the chief campaign correspondent for MSNBC at that time, so I was right in the middle of it, and I was really disheartened by what I saw. I think a lot of people—a lot of reporters who voted for Barack Obama, and that’s obviously the overwhelming majority—felt the same way. You don’t have to be a right-winger to think sucking up to a candidate is wrong. So we don’t plan to suck up to anybody.
GM: When you first launched, as people tried to make sense of what you were doing it was often described in terms of either Arianna Huffington’s project, as a right-leaning Huffington Post, or in terms of Andrew Breitbart’s work—people who don’t like Breitbart’s work would cast your site as a more responsible form of conservative journalism. Is there any truth to those frames, in your view?
TC: That’s just your typical stupid journalist shorthand, you know. Those are the descriptions you use when you’re not clever enough to find your own. It’s almost like the way people pitch scripts in Hollywood: ‘Well, it’s sort of Avatar-meets-The Sound Of Music.’
Go ahead and describe it in your own terms. Arianna and Andrew both wrote for us on our first day. That’s a reflection of my friendship with each of them, and also a reflection of the fact that when there are so few Web-only sites doing original reporting, it’s hard to see anybody as a competitor. Everyone’s success helps everyone else, because Breitbart’s success and Arianna’s success are both measures of this shift in the way people are consuming news. The more people who turn on their laptops first thing rather than going outside to get their papers, the better for everyone. I see them as friends rather than competitors.
GM: Who do you see your as your audience?