That Time Tucker Carlson Met His Match: Al Sharpton

By A.J. Katz 

Looking for a shot in the arm leading into its highly-rated prime time slate, Fox News assigned veteran TV newser Tucker Carlson to take over the 7 p.m. hour just days after the election. One month in, the former Fox & Friends Weekend co-host has brought more than enough energy to the hour, holding hard-hitting, news-making interviews, most notably with Newsweek’s political editor Matt Cooper, and New York Times public editor Liz Spayd.

Tucker Carlson Tonight has also given Fox a ratings boost, posting double-digit ratings increases, and building on its lead-in in the all-important A25-54 news demo. We caught up with Carlson for 5 Questions about his new show, his toughest interview, and the incoming Trump Administration. “Trump’s affect is going to shock people.”

TVN: Tucker Carlson Tonight premiered one month ago today, and ratings are considerably up in the timeslot. Why do you think that is?

Carlson: Well look, we’re only 5 weeks into the show, and people are still very interested in cable news. There’s a lot going on. I don’t think I’m necessarily a brilliant innovator. I think it’s pretty hard to innovate on the cable news model. I don’t consider myself a pioneer or anything. The one thing we have done a little differently is I have tried to get guests who are actually involved in the stories, rather than just commenting on them. That’s satisfying for me personally. I’ve really worked hard to make the show something I would watch.

TVN: Over your TV news career, whether it has been at CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, who has been your most challenging guest?

SharptonCarlsonCarlson: Al Sharpton by far. He appeared on Crossfire when I was co-host, and he is the only guest where I truly felt that he completely out-smarted me. One time, I showed video of him caught on a DEA surveillance tape talking about cocaine deals. Through an amazing act of sophistry, he turned it into an unfair attack on him. It was remarkable. I asked him, “How do you respond to this tape?” He didn’t answer my question, and instead said “Where’s the second tape?” Of course, I realized later there was no second tape. He created the illusion that I was somehow doctoring this, or taking it out of context. It was diabolical and brilliant. He completely outfoxed me. I had never had an experience like that before.

TVN: Pres.-elect Trump has promised a lot for his supporters. What do you think might trip him up in the first 100 days?

Carlson: Gosh, that’s almost impossible to anticipate. The things that trip up normal politicians are not even speed bumps to him, they’re just gravel. I think long term, if there are appearances of business conflicts abroad, which is to say that if his companies are doing deals with foreign countries, that could potentially present a problem. I don’t know of any problems right now, but you can certainly imagine a scenario where that could hurt him. To be totally honest, the main reason why the Obama administration has been able to describe itself as “scandal-free” is because Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch didn’t allow independent counsels to open investigations. I don’t think any other president in my lifetime will ever again allow an independent counsel after what happened during the Clinton years.

Let me say this though: Trump has very little respect for convention, and Washington is a highly conservative town. “Small c,” I mean. It’s mostly a Democratic town, everyone votes for the liberal candidate, but in its temperament, it’s very conservative. People go to bed at 10. No one in my neighborhood is divorced. It has a very 1950s, traditional kind of atmosphere. Trump’s affect is going to shock people. Knowing what D.C. is like, people get really offended if you don’t do what has been done before. The way to think about it is precedent almost carries the force of law. “That’s our policy.” “Well why is that our policy?” “Because it always been.” “Well why?” “Because we have done it that way.” That is the way people think here, and Trump has no regard for that. Now, I’m not arguing against precedent, but there is a mindless quality to it also. Just because we have always pretended that Taiwan is not a separate country, doesn’t mean that it’s not a separate country, or that we should continue pretending that.

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TVN: You stepped down as editor in chief for The Daily Caller not long after your show debuted, but you still maintain an ownership stake in the publication. What was the thinking behind that decision?

Carlson: It was just a way to eliminate any conflicts. There are two parts to it. The first is Tucker Carlson Tonight is very much a full time job which doesn’t allow any time for work on the outside. I’m struggling to even get in a short run during lunch every day.  You have to get up early and go to bed late, and you have to be on top of it. I’m sure as we figure out the systems and get everything orderly, it will get easier, but this takes a lot of time. We have 80 employees at The Daily Caller, and I just didn’t have any extra time. And again, it would have been untrue and unfair, but I didn’t want to be accused of any conflict. You can’t really do two things at once. I turned it over to my deputy, and frankly, I think our readership will go up when I’m gone.

TVN: You have four kids and a show that doesn’t go live until 7 p.m. How does this impact your family life?

Carlson: I’m coming off of 4 years working in New York on the weekends. So now being back in D.C., to be able to wake up next to my wife and spaniels every morning is a gift. I’m just really grateful for that. My first two children are in college, and my third is away at boarding school. We only have one at home, and she is in 8th grade. I’ve loved seeing her every morning and night. For me, this move has actually meant a lot more time with my family and a lot more time in Washington. I know everyone hates Washington, but I love Washington!

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