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The Ethical Woes of Weigel Foe Tucker Carlson

June 26, 2010

The resignation of Washington Post blogger David Weigel is as ironic as it is sad. On Saturday, the Post's ombudsman wrote a piece titled "Blogger loses job; Post loses standing among conservatives" for a paper which regularly features not one but two former Bush speechwriters (Michael Gerson and Marc Thiessen) among its columnists. More ironic still is the casting of Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson as the arbiter of Dave Weigel's journalistic ethics. After all, for years Carlson took to the airwaves to defend convicted Cheney chief-of-staff Scooter Libby without divulging that his father was a key player in the Libby legal defense fund.
While Politico and the Post itself reported the behind-the-scenes maneuvering which ultimately cost Weigel his job, his Washington Post colleague and Journolist creator Ezra Klein described Tucker Carlson's role and the events which led Carlson's Daily Caller to publish Weigel's private emails:

It was ironic, in a way, that it would be the Daily Caller that published e-mails from Journolist. A few weeks ago, its editor, Tucker Carlson, asked if he could join the list. After asking other members, I said no, that the rules had worked so far to protect people, and the members weren't comfortable changing them. He tried to change my mind, and I offered, instead, to partner with Carlson to start a bipartisan list serv. That didn't interest him.

Of course not. If Tucker Carlson has only a passing acquaintance with journalistic ethics, to him "bipartisan" is a total stranger.
That was clear from the moment Carlson announced his new adventure to create what 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."

Just one week later on June 6, 2007, son Tucker joined in, essentially calling Fitzgerald a liar and Plame a perjurer over her clandestine status:

"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."

When President Bush ultimately refused to pardon Scooter, Tucker and Richard Carlson joined Vice President Cheney in expressing their outrage. On January 19th, 2009, Carlson the Elder whined:

"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.")
Describing the Daily Caller's lofty journalistic standards, Carlson joked to Weigel in January:

"If there's a story whose facts are verifiable, and it generates interest, and it comes from Satan himself, I will take it and I will pay him a reporting fee," Carlson said. "But if we take a piece from Satan, that does not mean we're on board with Satan's agenda."

Which, apparently, was Dave Weigel's offense. He diligently reported on Satan. He just wasn't on his side.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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