With non-fiction books being released as frequently as movies this time of year, I almost missed Tucker Carlson's Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites. Although this light-weight is only 192 pages and can be read (as it was by me) on a lazy Saturday afternoon, it is packed with insider information and interesting anecdotes presented in a pleasantly non-partisan tone.
Tucker Carlson is one of four co-hosts on CNN's popular debate show, Crossfire, along with liberals James Carville and Paul Begala. Tucker Carlson is the conservative and alternates with Robert Novak as the voice of the right.
Carlson begins with his background and explains how he started working for CNN and began his hosting career as the co-host of The Spin Room, the low-budget debate show that soon went-under giving Carlson the opportunity to move up to Crossfire.
Carlson describes his mind-set and accurately portrays himself as a pundit with an opinion, far from being a blowhard. Put simply, "Ideologues, by contrast (to party apologists), almost never make me mad. No matter how crackpot the opinion, I can respect a deeply held view. I many not believe the earth is flat, but if you sincerely do, I won't hate you for it."
His analysis on Bill O'Reilly was a treat for me because most critical analysis of O'Reilly comes from the hard left. In addiction, I was curious to see what kind of respect a CNN employee would give to O'Reilly who is the highest-rated talk show host in cable news. Carlson's review is for the most part positive, but presents a hypothesis original to most O'Reilly-haters, and it is that O'Reilly has let his ratings get to his head.
On a panel in Washington covering the topic "The Press in War Time," O'Reilly, according to Carlson who was also on the panel, tried to glorify himself when asked what he thought of the media coverage of the fighting in Afghanistan. O'Reilly went off, explaining how he's covered wars before and has faced the dangers. But as Carlson points out, having served as a reporter in the Falklands isn't that impressive to a room full of veterans who've covered much more dangerous wars. Carlson writes, "O'Reilly had just patronized them…It was little like bragging about your National Guard service to a room full of Navy SEALs."
Another surprise victim on Carlson's Politicians/Partisans/Parasites list is the conservative evangelist, Jerry Falwell. In the chapter titled "The Electrical College," Carlson talks about "publicity hounds" and how networks love them because their shows will never be without guests. Falwell happens to be a publicity hound, and seems to like everyone in the media, even Bill Maher who, says Carlson, "opposes everything Falwell ostensibly stands for and believes in." When describing Geraldo Rivera, Falwell gushed, "Geraldo and I are very good friends…" Carlson was later told by Rivera that they never met.
His dirt on President Bush isn't anything to alert the ACLU over, and not as critical (if critical at all) compared to a few Clinton comments he makes, but what can we expect from a conservative whose job is to represent the conservatives on Crossfire? We know he has his biases, but few talk show hosts have personally traveled with the Bush campaign team during the last election, and it only makes Carlson's story that much more credible.
In the summer of 1999, Carlson wrote a piece for Talk magazine on then-governor Bush that wasn't taken very well by his staff, because Carlson noted that Bush used profanity, something that apparently isn't appreciated by voters. Bush's campaign deputy finance chairman, Jack Oliver, called Carlson after the piece was published and screamed profanities. Carlson observed that the Bush team covered up any and all references to Bush using profanities, and many accused Carlson of lying, that Bush never says the "F-word" even though he does all the time according to Carlson.
Carlson never flat-out calls anyone a parasite despite the title of his book, and he never has to. He tells it like it is, and we can decide for ourselves what we think of that person based on Carlson's personal experience.
As for my criticism of the book, there were a few things that caught my attention., and they stand out because the meat of Carlson's material is first-hand experiences and personal anecdotes. Occasionally, Carlson will leave out a name which consequently makes the story a lot less interesting and keeps the reader at an uncomfortable distance. On page 56 he writes, "One night at dinner I sat next to a well-known southern senator who is both (shallow and amusing). I can understand why Carlson would keep the senator's name a secret, as this married senator openly talks to him about sleeping with other women, however if you can name-drop Bill Clinton all day long, as well as Jerry Falwell, Bill O'Reilly and the entire Bush staff, then there's no reason why this "senator" deserves a pass.
There are a few more stories where Carlson leaves out the name of his subject sprinkled throughout the book. One example is a "favorite" of his. "Several years ago, I traveled through the Southwest with a senior member of congress. The congressman in question was and is one of my favorite politicians in Washington. He's witty, smart, decent, and loves dogs." But who is he? And what "famous school" did a friend of his graduate from who now makes "important decisions in his own rather large office in the executive branch of the federal government"?
Another quip that caught me off guard occurred when Carlson assures his opinion of O.J. Simpson when he said, "If O.J. Simpson hadn't murdered his wife, I probably wouldn't be working in television." In the very next paragraph he writes, "I'm not a former prosecutor, or a law professor, or even an attorney. I don't know a great deal about the Simpson case and never did." Yet apparently whatever Carlson did know is enough to be sure and publish in a book: "If O.J. Simpson hadn't murdered his wife…" I'm not defending O.J. Simpson, but authors, even pundits, should be careful of what they write, especially when they're admitting ignorance to the facts.
Overall the book is amusing, full of "and-not-just-because" lines such as the time he was no longer welcome at a restaurant. Faced with the reality that he would no longer be consuming their seafood, he writes, "I felt sick, and not because I like the Palm's crab cakes." In the opening chapter, Carlson describes his concern over not getting the requested Spin Room coffee mugs because he knew the show was coming to its end. "Eight months into the show, despite countless requests and as many subsequent promises, we still didn't have official, CNN-supplied Spin Room coffee mugs. Both Bill and I were bothered by this, and not just because we were strongly in favor of free stuff."
The "mug" comment in the opening chapter is cleverly used to sum up the book, with the message that you never know what's going to happen tomorrow. This is especially true for Carlson and his three fellow co-hosts as Crossfire has been cut from an hour to just thirty minutes, and moved to 4:30 from 7:00; hardly primetime television.
Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News is a must-read for Tucker Carlson fans as well as dedicated viewers of Crossfire. It will give you a better understanding of the man "on the right" and allow you to enjoy the show more because you feel like you know him after reading the book. Whereas many pundits throw mud at their opponents and politicians at the opposite end of the spectrum, Carlson simply tells the story and allows us to decide for ourselves after giving us a rare look inside his/her character.
Another election is coming up and now that Tucker Carlson is more esteemed than he was a few years ago, it will be interesting to see what kind of access he'll have in 2004. I want to hear about the stories that will follow and what he'll have to say a few years from now as his career in the cable news business is anything but certain. But until then, see you in the Crossfire.