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Van Susteren Joins Carlson with Conflict of Interest

March 18, 2009

This has been a busy week for journalistic conflicts of interest. Over the weekend, former MSNBC host Tucker Carlson blasted Jon Stewart as a "partisan hack," a charge made without noting either his own 2004 bludgeoning at Stewart's hands or his ceaseless advocacy on behalf of Scooter Libby, a man whose legal defense fund was led by Carlson's father Richard. And now comes word that Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, who landed three softball interviews in six months with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, is married to the man "guiding Palin's political image in Washington."
On Tuesday, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza revealed that Van Susteren's husband John Coale was a key player behind the formation of Palin's political action committee:

Coale, a well-known Washington lawyer and the husband of Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren, drew national media attention when he endorsed Sen. John McCain's presidential bid in protest of the way in which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who he backed in the primary, was treated. Coale, in an interview with the Fix, described himself simply as a "friend" of the Alaska governor but acknowledged that he suggested she start a leadership PAC and helped her navigate through some of the questions surrounding her family that lingered after the campaign. Others familiar with Palin's political team insist that Coale has far more power than he is letting on -- essentially helping to run Sarah PAC. Coale demurred on that front, noting only that he talks to Palin regularly and that she is a "fascinating person" who is "definitely not what the right thinks or the left thinks."

As ThinkProgress suggested this morning, it is no coincidence that Van Susteren "had perhaps the best access to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin of any journalist." Both during and after the 2008 presidential campaign, it was Greta who got the gets:

In September, she hosted a one-hour "documentary" on the GOP vice presidential candidate, titled "Governor Sarah Palin -- An American Woman." She also scored an exclusive interview with Todd Palin, in which she grilled him "on everything from the story behind the name 'First Dude' to how he feels about the name 'First Dude.'"
After the election ended, Palin chose Van Susteren for her first national television interview. Since then, Greta has consistently covered Palin, keeping an eye out for any potential sleights of the governor and gushing over her popularity.

But if Greta Van Susteren has to date refused to mention her husband's connection to Sarah Palin, she's only following the example of Tucker Carlson. For years, Carlson blasted Plamegate U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald without acknowledging his dad Richard's role in raising money for Scooter Libby's legal defense.
From the beginning, Tucker Carlson aimed both barrels at Libby's prosecutor. 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 bullsh*t on that, I don't care what they say."

On Sunday, Tucker Carlson was calling bullsh*t again, this time on "partisan hack" Jon Stewart. But the bullsh*t was Carlson's alone. After all, he didn't merely remain silent regarding his shilling on behalf of his father's pet cause, Scooter Libby. Until CNN Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz confronted him with the 2004 smackdown by Stewart which helped doom his gig on CNN's Crossfire, Tucker Carlson made no mention of his personal ax to grind with the Daily Show host.
Of course, journalism and government will always produce strange bedfellows, as NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Alan Greenspan, CNN's Campbell Brown and Bush aide Dan Senor, Meet the Press host David Gregory and Fannie Mae general counsel Beth Wilkinson, Politico founder Jim VandeHei and former Tom Delay staffer Autumn Hanna VandeHei, and other DC power couples would attest. As the family ties of Greta Van Susteren and Tucker Carlson proved this week, viewers and readers need to be vigilant for creeping bias infiltrating their news coverage.
UPDATE 1: Already in a hole, Tucker Carlson has apparently decided to keep on digging in a piece today at the Daily Beast titled, "How Jon Stewart Went Bad."
UPDATE 2: ThinkProgress noted on Friday that Greta Van Susteren responded to allegations of conflict of interest, saying on her blog that her husband is not a "paid adviser" to Palin but that he has "helped her" in the past. She also denied that Coale played a role in securing interviews for her with Palin.


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

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