Tucker Carlson on Vanity Candidates and Style MOABs

Today, Tucker Carlson, co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” discusses media coverage of the Democratic candidates, questions the press should be asking, and Al Sharpton’s hair, part of Campaign Desk’s ongoing series of interviews with reporters and commentators about how the press is covering the election.

Bryan Keefer: What do you think has been the worst aspect of the media’s coverage of the election so far, and how does that compare to the 2000 campaign?

Tucker Carlson: I think the coverage has been pretty good. If you read The New York Times or The Washington Post every day, you know a lot about the race, and a fair amount about what the candidates think.

My one real complaint is that reporters haven’t pressed the Democratic candidates to explain where they’d go from here in Iraq. As a result, Kerry and Edwards have been able to skate by with lines like, “We need to rebuild our alliances around the world.” Great, but what does that mean? Not much. It’s a bumper sticker, not an answer.

Journalists ought to force candidates to get specific about their plans for Iraq: How should we respond if the country falls completely apart after June first? The U.N. is not going to fix it. Should we? How many more troops might we need to do that? And what sort of new Iraqi government should we settle for? Is an Islamist, Iranian-inspired government acceptable?

I can think of more. They’re simple questions, but for some reason they’re almost never asked. Iraq really matters. I’m sure issues in the 2000 campaign mattered too. Unfortunately I can’t remember what those issues were.

BK: Do you think the media has had anything to do with any of the Democratic primary candidates bowing out of or staying in the race?

TC: Despite what the Dean people say, media coverage hasn’t pushed anyone out of this race. Voters have.

I do think journalists aid and abet vanity candidacies. I know I do. Maury Taylor, Alan Keyes, Dennis Kucinich — I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time writing and talking about all of them, mostly because they’re an interesting diversion from real politicians, and also because I have a weakness for the flamboyant, the deranged and the hopeless. If we all agreed to ignore them, they’d go away. But we don’t, so they keep running.

BK: How do think the media’s coverage of Bush’s presidency compares to its coverage of Clinton during his term in office?

TC: Less sex.

BK: What journalist would you most like to interview (30 minutes, live, no edits, no holds barred) and why?

TC: It’s hard to imagine interviewing a journalist, but if I could pick one to have dinner with, it would be John Burns of The New York Times. Anyone who can bang out magazine-level prose in a war zone day after day on deadline is a hero of mine. He can, and is. He’s obviously physically courageous. And he seems to write exactly what he thinks is true, no matter where he is, which is what I admire most.

BK: Given that you were just named one of the ten best-dressed men in America by Esquire, only five slots behind Andre 3000 of Outkast, which candidates does President Bush have the most and least to fear from on the style front (former candidates included)?

TC: The answer is so beyond dispute, this must be a trick question: Al Sharpton, on both counts. Sharpton has more style than a platoon of mortal politicians. He exudes it, is dripping with it. The suits, the chains, the hair — he’s a style explosion, the MOAB of stylishness. Bush can’t compete. To be fair, neither can anyone else.

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Bryan Keefer was CJR Daily’s deputy managing editor.