It was at the Palm, just before the 2008 election, that the idea for The Daily Caller was born. Carlson had been “canned,” as he puts it, by MSNBC and was dining with his good friend Neil Patel. Patel, Carlson’s roommate from Trinity College, would also be looking for work soon: he was Vice President Cheney’s primary advisor on domestic and economic policy. At dinner, Patel told Carlson he’d been thinking about starting a website. “Nobody had figured out the news business model yet,” Patel says. “The Huffington Post had clearly discovered it for the liberal audience,” and that left a gap on the Right.
They drew up a business plan and nabbed a $3 million investment from big-time Wyoming GOP donor Foster Friess. Carlson quickly put the money where his mouth had been at CPAC. They leased offices near Dupont Circle, hired an ad team, and began collecting reporters. They wooed Guardian Washington editor Megan Mulligan and installed her as executive editor. Next came a stream of pressmen from around the capital and big-name columnists like Carlson’s friend, Matt Labash, the witty star writer of The Weekly Standard. He continued adding after launch: Mickey Kaus, Matt Lewis, and even conservative activist (and Supreme Court spouse) Ginni Thomas. As of June, the Caller had thirty-two editorial staffers, including Carlson, the editor, and seven on the business side, including Patel, the publisher.
Carlson has high expectations for the team, telling me he hopes every story on his site will someday be adjective-free—“they’re a lazy man’s verb.” But top of the list is to plug the rightward reporting hole that navel-gazing conservatives have long noted and watched grow as news has shifted from page to screen. Where the leading digital outlets to emerge on the Left in the last decade—Talking Points Memo, Think Progress, et al.—have emphasized investigation and complex information-moving infrastructures, the Right has focused on aggregation and opinion.
Jon Henke, a conservative political consultant and blogger, suggests that liberals built this muscle to counteract the supposed vast right-wing conspiracy. “Their estimation of the Right’s infrastructure was, at least in part, paranoia,” he notes, “but paranoia is a great strategist.” Dave Weigel, who covers the conservative beat for Slate, hits that same point: the Left built up to fight a phantom; now, with outlets like the Caller, “the phantom is starting to build itself.”
It will surprise some that Tucker Carlson is the man raising the hammer. Most recognize Carlson as the handsome goof who, with his waspish wave of chestnut hair, must surely have been lost on his way to Cape Cod when he stumbled into the CNN studios in the early 2000s. Or they recall the embarrassments: Jon Stewart calling him a “dick” or the disastrous shuffle-hobble that led to a first-round elimination on Dancing with the Stars in 2006. There is even half a season of an unaired game show Carlson hosted floating around with the unsettling title of Do You Trust Me? In a 2010 New Republic profile, Jason Zengerle wrote that journalists everywhere could console themselves in their darkest hours with this thought alone: “At least I’m not Tucker Carlson.”
What often gets lost in that parade of cheesy grins and cha-cha-chas are memories of features he penned for The Weekly Standard, Esquire, and famously, his brutal 1999 profile of George W. Bush in Talk. It’s a track record of good—great, even—reporting that draws praise from all sides. Breitbart says he “fell in love” with Carlson’s work at the Standard, describing a piece exposing the cluelessness of celebrities supporting death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal as “a howler.” Carlson’s Esquire editor Mark Warren describes him as “an exceptionally talented writer especially coming from Washington.”