How exactly did the twerp in the bow tie, the cocky young conservative with the baby face and the twinkle of mischief in his eye, wind up as the nation’s most influential media propagandist in a despotic disinformation campaign to topple democracy?
What the fuck, Tuck?
As Nia Molinari, today’s guest on the PREVAIL podcast, asked in her piece last week, why did “this trust-fund troglodyte emerged from Plato’s cave of establishment yuppie scum to become the poster child of Fox News apocalyptic propaganda and incendiary white nationalism? Why Tucker Carlson, of all people. . . ? [H]ow in the hell does a prep-school brat who liked to drop acid and go to Grateful Dead concerts become the main mouthpiece for overthrowing our democracy into a dystopian Christo-fascist theocratic autocracy?”
I make no claim to know what goes on inside that bloated head of his—what his true motives might be. But if action is character, as F. Scott Fitzgerald proposed, then it is instructive to look at the life of Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson in reverse, Benjamin Button style. . .
It is the night before Veteran’s Day, 2021. On his primetime Fox News program, Tucker Carlson argues that the U.S. should back Russia, and not Ukraine, in the escalating conflict between the two countries. “Why would we take Ukraine’s side and not Russia’s side?” He insists that choosing Putin’s dictatorship over Zelensky’s democracy is a no-brainer because of “energy reserves.” This is either breathtaking ignorance of the region’s history or straight-up Kremlin propaganda. Or, I suppose, both.
Tucker Carlson Originals, a media company too radical even for Fox News, releases Patriot Purge, a seditious piece of propaganda that seeks to rewrite the history of the January 6 besieging of the Capitol. It is November 1, 2021.
The film argues that January 6 was a “false flag” operation, and that shadowy forces in the federal government, not the insurrectionists, are to blame. “The very same corrupt interests in Washington that pushed the Iraq war under false pretenses are now pushing the lie of a domestic white-terror army,” Tucker says in the first episode of the miniseries. “They’re tying millions of law-abiding Americans to al-Qaida and ISIS. January 6 is being used as a pretext to strip millions of Americans—disfavored Americans—of their core constitutional rights and to defame them as domestic terrorists.” Later, he interviews a former Trump staffer who claims, absurdly, that the “establishment narrative” of J-6—that is, that insurrections besieged the Capitol in an attempt to keep Trump in power—constitutes “MAGA blood libel.”
Snopes sums up what all reputable news outlets report: “The three-episode series makes a number of false claims regarding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and misleads viewers with the conspiratorial idea that the attack was staged by the federal government.”
Two days later, in an appearance on Fox & Friends, Tucker floats the bonkers notion that “Bloodshed,” the landmark Washington Post expose of the events of January 6, was published to counter his film’s version of events. “The idea that the Washington Post spent 75 reporters’ time rebutting the trailer tells you they don’t want you to know what actually happened—they’re hysterical. Ask yourself, why are they hysterical?” Even Brian Kilmeade pushes back on this.
It is September 2, 2021. According to the Daily Beast, Tucker Carson “seemingly advocate[s] for unvaccinated people to obtain fake vaccination cards, claiming it’s ‘not a serious crime’ but instead an ‘act of desperation’ for law-abiding Americans who’ve been ‘forced into a corner.’” This is hardly the first time he espouses views that run counter to public health.
Tucker spends a week in Hungary, broadcasting his show from Budapest. There, he meets with and touts the leadership of the despotic Hungarian president, Viktor Orbán. It is August 2021.
Tucker’s father, Dick Carlson, is on the board of Policy Impact, an outfit that has lobbied in the United States on behalf of Orbán. The New York Times reports that “the firm had no role in arranging Mr. Carlson’s trip this week to Hungary. Fox News said Mr. Carlson’s father ‘is retired and had nothing to do’ with the visit or the meeting with Mr. Orbán. ‘Tucker and his team booked the interview, and the expenses were covered by Fox News,’ the network said in a statement.”
Orbán has been associated with the Russian mob since the early 90s, when he was videotaped taking a bag of money from a lieutenant of Bratva boss Semion Mogilevich. Thus Tucker was indirectly doing the bidding of mobsters when he went to Budapest and trust-washed an autocrat.
In a tackle shop in Montana, Tucker is accosted by a fellow fishing enthusiast. It is July 24, 2021. “You are the worst human known to mankind,” the man tells Tucker to his face. “I want you to know that.”
“Between late December of 2020 and last month, a total of 3,362 people apparently died after getting the COVID vaccine in the United States,” Carlson says on his show. It is May 5, 2021. “That is an average of roughly 30 people every day. So, what does that add up to? By the way, that reporting period ended on April 23, and we don’t have numbers past that.”
This is bullshit. He is getting these garbage statistics from an open-source database known to be a hotbed of vaccine disinformation.
It is March 30, 2021. Matt Gaetz, the MAGA Congressman from Florida, comes on Tucker’s show to proclaim his innocence of allegations of sex trafficking of minors. Gaetz cites a dinner that took place “two years or so ago,” at which Tucker and his “wife” dined with Gaetz and his “friend.” Tucker’s odd reaction suggests that there is more to this story that we are not being told:
Cathy Areu, a reporter and frequent guest on Fox News, files a sexual harassment claim against network talking heads Ed Henry, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson. It is July 20, 2020. According to the court filing, she alleges that, a year and a half earlier,
Carlson asked Areu to remain in the studio until the end of the show after her segment had finished taping. After the show ended, when only Carlson, Areu, and one or two other staffers remained in the studio, Carlson allegedly began changing his clothes in front of Areu and told her that “he would be alone in New York City that night, and that he would be staying alone in his hotel room.” Areu alleges that this statement was a “test” to see if “she [would] be open to his suggestion of a sexual encounter with him.” Instead of responding “the ‘right’ way,” Areu asked Carlson why he wanted to speak with her, then “listed her credentials,” and reminded him that she “ha[d] the number one segment on his show,” which she believed “made her worthy of . . . consideration” for a job with him. After Carlson made a joke about Areu to his two male colleagues who remained in the room—asking “you guys didn’t find her on the street after all?”—Areu left the studio. The next morning, Areu noticed that her taped segment from Carlson’s show had been removed from the Fox News Facebook page.
The lawsuit will be thrown out the following September, despite the judge not finding her claims “legally” or “factually frivolous.” To the contrary: “As an initial matter, some of Areu’s allegations . . . are seemingly undisputed.”
Tucker’s son Buckley Carlson, a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, is hired to work in the congressional office of Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana). It is July of 2019. Banks’s chief of staff claims that he did not know his new hire was the son of the famous conservative broadcaster.
Eighteen moths later, Banks would be one of the “Sedition Caucus” who voted against certifying the election. According to Liz Cheney, Banks sent letters to federal agencies claiming to be on the January 6 Commission; he was not.
Tucker and his brother, also named Buckley, file a lawsuit to contest the will of their biological mother, Lisa McNear Lombardi Vaughn. It is June 4, 2019. She has been dead for eight years.
It is November 30, 2018—the night of the incident between Tucker and the unpaid Fox News contributor Cathy Areau, in which he allegedly implied that she should join him later in his hotel room while undressing in front of her.
Tucker calls the Metro police to report an “Antifa” protest outside his house, in the Kent neighborhood of Northwest D.C. It is November 8, 2018. He claims that the protestors tried to battering-ram their way inside. “They actually cracked the front door,” he tells the media. There was talk, he says, of bringing a pipe bomb inside his home.
While protestors did assemble outside his home, exercising their rights under the First Amendment that Tucker is otherwise so fond of trumpeting, they did not, in fact, go near the door, nor did anyone threaten violence. Indeed, the entire incident was over in ten minutes—less time than one of the extended Grateful Dead jams Tucker enjoyed so much in his youth.
Tucker spun a peaceful protest into a violent attack—exactly the opposite of what he’d later do to the details of January 6.
“Tucker Carlson Tonight,” which debuted two months earlier on Fox News, moves into the 9pm time slot, vacated by Megyn Kelly’s ill-fated move to NBC. It is January 9, 2017—eleven days before the inauguration of Donald John Trump.
The rise of Trump and the rise of Tucker are parallel.
Tucker’s birth mother, Lisa McNear Lombardi, a sculptor, dies of breast cancer in Cazac, Haute-Garonne, France. It is October 14, 2011. In her will, she leaves $1 to each of her two estranged sons. The rest of her estate—worth more than anticipated because of oil and gas royalties on land she owned—is bequeathed to her husband, the artist Michael Vaughn.
The Daily Caller, a rightwing news and opinion site, is founded by Tucker and his college roommate, the political operative Neal Patel, with funding by the investment manager and big-time Republican fundraiser Foster Freiss. It is January 11, 2010.
Conceived as a rightwing equivalent of the Huffington Post, the Daily Caller becomes notorious for publishing the work of extremists. “Throughout the 2016 election and since, the Daily Caller has not only published the work of white nationalists, but some of its writers have routinely whitewashed the Alt-Right, while one editor there is an associate of key Alt-Right figures,” Stephen Piggott and Alex Amend explain at SPLC.
Tucker will sell his stake in the company to Patel in June, 2020.
It is May 2009. Tucker is hired by Fox News as a political commentator.
Tucker writes a piece for the New Republic chronicling his days on the Ron Paul campaign trail. It is the last day of 2007. In the account, he talks about hooking up the “square” libertarian candidate with his buddy, Dennis Hof, a literal pimp.
“I wasn’t planning on showing up at Paul’s press conference with a bordello owner and two hookers,” Tucker writes, “but unexpected things happen on the road.” One of the “hookers,” Brooke Phillips, a star of the “Cathouse” HBO reality series, would be murdered a few years later—shot in the head.
It is September 13, 2006. Tucker and his partner, the Russian professional dancer Elena Grinenko, are the first couple eliminated from the third season of Dancing with the Stars, after an uninspiring cha-cha earns just 12 points combined from the three judges.
Tucker gives up on the bowtie that has been his signature look since he began appearing on television. It is 2006. “I was walking through Penn Station and yet another person screamed obscenities at me, and I thought, ‘You know, this is pointlessly provocative,’” he will tell the L.A. Times years later. “It was one of countless bow tie-inspired confrontations. I’m happy to defend my views. I don’t want to have to defend my neckwear every day. People really hate you when you wear a bow tie. I didn’t really know that because my wife liked it and my father wore one.”
During this period, he is working in New York, and living in suburban New Jersey—in Madison, the same town where I grew up.
It is June 13, 2005. Tucker moves to MSNBC with the cleverly-titled program “Tucker.” Among the regular panelists on his show is a talk radio host named Rachel Maddow. The show is eventually canceled for poor ratings.
The Daily Show host Jon Stewart appears on Crossfire and famously destroys Tucker and his comrades so thoroughly that CNN does not renew his contract. It is October 2004.
Tucker is hired to host a news show on PBS. It is November 2003. This is part of a conscious effort by conservative bigwigs like Newt Gingrich to move public broadcasting more to the right.
After his application is turned down by the CIA—his first choice for employment—Tucker opts for a career journalism. It is the fall of 1991.
Tucker marries his high school sweetheart, Susan Andrews, the daughter of the headmaster at St. George’s School in Rhode Island. It is August 11, 1991. He has just graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut—a school that only accepted him when Susan’s father interceded on his behalf.
In his college yearbook, he says he is a member of the “Dan White Society,” a reference to the murderer of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay official in California.
It is the summer of 1986. The Carlson family—Dick, his wife Patricia, and his two sons Tucker and Buckley—move from Southern California to Washington. President Reagan has nominated Dick to be associate director of the U.S. Information Agency, the federal government’s propaganda outfit. From there, Dick will move to Voice of America. He will be its longest-serving director.
After living as a single father for several years, Dick Carlson marries the heiress Patricia Caroline Swanson, of the Swanson frozen TV dinner Swansons. It is 1979.
Following a long legal battle, a federal judge awards Joseph L. Alioto, formerly the mayor of San Francisco, $350,000 in a libel judgment against the publishers of Look magazine. It is May 3, 1977. The magazine ran a story in 1969 alleging that Alioto had ties to the criminal underworld, a charge he disputed. One of the authors of the story was Dick Carlson.
“In the four libel trials it was shown that Look’s basis for describing these meetings was information obtained by Mr. Carlson from Tommy Lee Thomas, who said he was repeating what he had been told by Mr. Fratianno, once his father‐in‐law,” the New York Times reports. “[W]hen Mr. Carlson asked an F.B.I. agent assigned to organized crime investigation about the meetings described by Mr. Thomas, the agent said he had never heard of them.”
The presiding judge says the allegations were made with “actual malice, i e., with reckless disregard for their truth.”
(“Reckless Disregard for the Truth” may as well be the tagline for “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”)
Lisa McNear Lombardi, wife to Dick Carlson and mother to Tucker and his younger brother Buckley, abandons the family to “live a Bohemian lifestyle” in France. It is 1975. Tucker is six years old. He becomes the second successive generation of Carlson boys to have his birth mother abandon him.
Tucker Carlson is born in San Francisco, California. It is May 16, 1969—two years after the Summer of Love hit his hometown’s Haight-Ashbury district.
A 27-month-old foundling named Richard Boynton is adopted from foster care in Malden, Massachusetts by a Mr. & Mrs. Carlson. It is May of 1943. His name is changed to Richard Carlson. He goes by “Dickie,” and later, “Dick.”
This is Tucker’s father.
Six weeks after his birth on February 10, 1941, Richard “Dickie” Boynton, a sickly baby with rickets and bent legs, is given to a Boston orphanage called the Home for Little Wanderers by his 15-year-old mother, Dorothy Anderson. The father, also named Richard Boynton, is an 18-year-old college student. The infant is taken in by Florence and Carl Moberger, who raise him for the first two and a half years of his life. Their desire is to keep him forever, but the orphanage prefers to place the child with a family that has no other children.
Richard and Dorothy are Tucker Carlson’s biological paternal grandparents.
In 1942 or 43, the elder Richard concocts a plan: he and Dorothy will reclaim their baby from the foster parents. Dorothy goes to visit her son, pretending she is her own sister. She brings her parents; her mother weeps while holding him. But she is 17 years old, and decides against making the commitment to the child, or his father.
Distraught at her decision, Richard Boynton, Sr., commits suicide, shooting himself in the head two blocks from her house.
Three quarters of a century later, Tucker Carlson will name his fourth and youngest child after the mother who abandoned his father: Dorothy.
S2 E12: Dead Pimps & Tucker Carlson’s Long Slide (with Nia Molinari)
Greg Olear talks to PREVAIL contributor Nia Molinari about Rudy Guiliani, Dennis Hof, country club Republicans, and the many faces of Tucker Carlson, the most dangerous man in America. Plus: a new insurance product.
Read her piece on Tucker:
Photo credit: CNN press kit, 2004.