These days, the folks at Fox News are outraged by even the possibility of someone getting doxxed. But they didn’t have such high standards back in the early 2000s. In fact, back in 2003, the network posted the unlisted home phone number of a rival TV host on its website until he apologized for saying mean stuff on air. Ironically, that rival host was Tucker Carlson, back when he was at CNN.
Tucker Carlson is now one of the biggest stars on Fox News. But there was once a time when he didn’t have the nicest things to say about the “fair and balanced” network. During a 2003 episode of his CNN show Crossfire, Carlson gave out what he said was his home phone number. In reality, it was number to the Washington bureau of Fox News. To retaliate, Fox News went nuclear and posted Carlson’s unlisted home phone number in Virginia on its website.
Carlson’s family received harassing calls at home, but Fox News was unapologetic, claiming that he “threw the first punch.” Fox told Carlson that they’d only remove his number if he apologized on air.
Writing in the September 23, 2003 edition of the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz (another person who would eventually make the jump from CNN to Fox News) quoted Irena Birganti, a notoriously vindictive Fox News PR person:
After his wife was deluged with obscene calls, Carlson says, he went to Fox’s Capitol Hill bureau Friday to complain, and was told his number would be taken down if he apologized on the air. Fox spokeswoman Irena Briganti says Carlson was “completely irresponsible” and that the bureau was “inundated” with “vicious phone calls. . . . CNN threw the first punch here. Correcting his mistake was good journalism.”
Irena Briganti made quite the name for herself over the years as one of the most loyal and vicious PR people in Roger Ailes’s army. In fact, she was reportedly one of the key reasons that Fox News was such a toxic place to work, enabling the worst in Ailes and personally attacking anyone who might threaten his style of doing business. Ailes, who died in disgrace back in May and is now in hell, demanded sex from countless numbers of female Fox News employees, but still walked away with a $40 million payout.
Carlson eventually apologized to Fox News on Crossfire and the network took his home phone number down from its website, but he told Kurtz that Fox News was worse than the mob.
“They’re a mean, sick group of people. Don’t harass my wife and kids. Even the Mafia doesn’t do that,” Carlson told Kurtz in 2003.
Tucker Carlson, now a disingenuous Trump backer at Fox News, apparently no longer believes that the network is filled with mean and sick people. But there’s something much more strange being cooked up by people who believe Carlson might be Fox News’s saving grace.
Carlson has been making quite a name for himself recently as an anti-war conservative, berating other conservative guests for supporting the Iraq War of 2003. The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart even praised Carlson recently, contributing to a bizarre fog of national amnesia.
In his vicious and ad hominem way, Carlson is doing something extraordinary: He’s challenging the Republican Party’s hawkish orthodoxy in ways anti-war progressives have been begging cable hosts to do for years. For more than a decade, liberals have rightly grumbled that hawks can go on television espousing new wars without being held to account for the last ones. Not on Carlson’s show. When Peters called him an apologist for Vladimir Putin, Carlson replied, “I would hate to go back and read your columns assuring America that taking out Saddam Hussein will make the region calmer, more peaceful, and America safer.” When Boot did the same, Carlson responded that Boot had been so “consistently wrong in the most flagrant and flamboyant way for over a decade” in his support for wars in the Middle East that “maybe you should choose another profession, selling insurance, house painting, something you’re good at.”
Hilariously, Beinart goes on to say that, “Carlson is offering a glimpse into what Fox News would look like as an intellectually interesting network.”
It’s a fascinating rewrite of Carlson’s own history. Which, of course, he only gets away with because America’s collective memory is incredibly short. Tucker Carlson was one of the Iraq War’s biggest cheerleaders, and only came out against the war a year after it started, as even conservatives had to come to terms with the fact that it was an obscene waste of money and human life.
Carlson was so in the bag for Bush that he even called his Crossfire cohost “treasonous” for saying that Tony Blair was the “finest leader in the free world.” Meanwhile, Carlson’s now carrying water for Vladimir Putin, sowing confusion and running interference for the Trump regime by taking time out during his show to address the important issues like whether vaccines are safe.
And all of this rewriting of history is to say nothing of Carlson’s calls for the annihilation of Iran during the Obama administration.
Tucker Carlson is now considered the “intellectual” face of a network that once posted his home phone number online so that people could explicitly harass his family. Which somehow feels just about right.
As America slowly but surely slides into full-on authoritarianism under the Trump regime it would seem helpful to remind ourselves of very recent history on cable news networks like Fox— the channel that helped elect Donald Trump and will continue to dismantle some of the most important institutions in the US, all while claiming that it’s somehow the most patriotic, most fair, and most honest news network in the history of the world.
Fox News is poison. And Trump voters are seemingly excited to slurp up every last drop of that poison with nary a moment’s reflection on what the charlatans at the network have been selling for the past decade and a half. The beliefs of the hosts can change on a dime, as long as it suits their agenda. And it has very real consequences.
In the early 2000s those consequences were vindictive attacks on Tucker Carlson’s family life. Here in the late 2010s, those consequences are seemingly the complete erosion of democratic norms, ironically aided by Carlson himself.