Is Scooter Libby Tucker Carlson's Own Journolist Scandal?
On Thursday, Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson ratched up his assault on Journolist, the liberal email list managed by the Washington Post's Ezra Klein. In a letter to his readers, Carlson suggested that he selectively made public private emails of reporters and columnists because "What we object to is partisanship, which is by its nature dishonest, a species of intellectual corruption." Of course, he should know it when he sees it. After all, for years Tucker Carlson took to the airwaves to defend convicted Cheney chief-of-staff Scooter Libby without divulging that his father Richard was a key player in the Libby legal defense fund.
That history hasn't prevented Carlson from leading the right-wing jihad against the members of Journolist:
Again and again, we discovered members of Journolist working to coordinate talking points on behalf of Democratic politicians, principally Barack Obama. That is not journalism, and those who engage in it are not journalists. They should stop pretending to be. The news organizations they work for should stop pretending, too.
Apparently, that demand for journalistic ethics doesn't apply to Tucker Carlson and his Daily Caller.
That was clear from the moment Carlson announced his new adventure to create what David Weigel in January deemed the "right's answer to HuffPost." Last summer, he declared his goal was a news site "along the lines of The Huffington Post" with an ideology "not in sync with the current program." And as Howard Kurtz noted:
When he announced the Daily Caller last spring, Carlson was more explicit about its ideology, telling Human Events the site would be "opposed to what's going on" under President Obama -- "a radical increase in federal power... a version of socialism."
But facing pushback over his plan to carry water for the GOP and the conservative movement, Carlson feigned a retreat:
"Our goal is not to get Republicans elected. Our goal is to explain what your government is doing. We're not going to suck up to people in power, the way so many have. There's been an enormous amount of throne-sniffing," he says, a sly grin beneath the mop of brown hair. "It's disgusting."
As it turns out, what was really disgusting was Tucker Carlson's sniffing of his father's throne. When George W. Bush was in power and in trouble over the outing of Valerie Plame, Tucker was quite the suck up, indeed. He just never explained why.
The scandal surrounding the outing of the covert CIA operative and the subsequent conviction of Cheney chief-of-staff Scooter Libby provides case in point. Few voices on television were more strident in Libby's defense than Tucker Carlson. But throughout, he remained silent on his father's leadership of the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Fund.
From the beginning, Tucker Carlson aimed both barrels at Libby prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. In November 2005, he insisted Fitzgerald was "accusing Libby - falsely and in public - of undermining this country's security," adding, "Fitzgerald should apologize, though of course he never will." Reversing his past position in support of independent counsels, Carlson in February 2007 blasted "this lunatic Fitzgerald, running around destroying people's lives for no good reason."
With Libby's conviction and sentencing in 2007, Carlson the son echoed Carlson the father. Richard Carlson, a former U.S. ambassador and past president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, couriered a check to Libby on the day of his indictment. On May 29, 2007, he reacted to a Fitzgerald filing which confirmed that Valerie Plame was indeed a covert agent at the time of her outing:
"I think it's certainly unseemly that he is kicking him while he's down. For Fitzgerald, to get on his high horse, it's disgusting and he should be ashamed of himself."
"CIA clearly didn't really give a shit about keeping her identity secret if she's going to work at f**king Langley...I call bullshit on that, I don't care what they say."
"I'm flabbergasted. George Bush has always prided himself on doing the right thing regardless of the polls or the pundits. Now he is leaving office with a shameful cloud over his head."
Ironically, that cloud metaphor is the same one Patrick Fitzgerald used to describe the lingering stench from Vice President Cheney's office in the wake of the Plamegate affair. And on the same day Cheney also appeared on CNN to proclaim "I believe firmly that Scooter was unjustly accused and prosecuted and deserved a pardon," Tucker Carlson called Jon Stewart a "partisan hack." (No doubt, that had less to do with the Daily Show host's criticism of CNBC's Jim Cramer and more to do with Stewart having called Carlson a "dick.")
As Arianna Huffington pointed out in 2006, the Libby affair was not the first time in his own reporting that Carlson the Son kept hidden the interests of Carlson the Father:
This seems to be a bit of sore spot for Tucker. In a 1997 column, Howard Kurtz wrote about a dust-up over an article Tucker Carlson had written in The New Republic, in which he slammed Grover Norquist as a "cash-addled, morally malleable lobbyist" for his dealings in the Seychelles islands -- but failed to mention that his father, as U.S. ambassador to the Seychelles, had butted heads with Norquist over those dealings.
At the time, Tucker Carlson told Kurtz that there had been no need for him to run a "disclaimer" because "I didn't talk to my dad about the piece."
I wonder if, nine years later, he'll use the same line to explain away his lack of a Libby disclaimer: "I never talked to my dad about the case."
But he is talking about what a few hundred reporters and columnists discussed in their private emails. Adding insult to injury, Carlson quipped, "In addition to being partisan hacks, a lot of these guys turn out to be pedestrian thinkers. Disappointing." Of course, the principled Tucker Carlson also once proclaimed, "News outlets] should not allow reporters to cover things where their interests are at stake."
Interests, say, like his father.
UPDATE: Dave Neiwert provides more background on Carlson's filial piety - and dubious ethics - in this 2006 blog post. Carlson himself responded to Huffington by claiming "her points were absurd, her tone was nasty." Tucker deemed it "irrelevent" that "Libby was my father's personal lawyer long before he joined the Bush administration" and "they're friends." He concluded:
"It's attempted character assassination by a nasty little propagandist. Arianna Huffington ought to be ashamed of herself. I wish I could tell her that to her face."