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Tucker Carlson, Trump Truth-Teller

His prophetic mission to Mar-A-Lago is one reason he is the most important journalist in America now
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A couple of weekends ago, Tucker Carlson went to Mar-A-Lago to meet with President Trump, to try to convince him that the coronavirus threat was real, and that he ought to be treating it as a serious thing. I knew about this, and knew that he didn’t really want to go, but that his wife convinced him that it was his patriotic duty to do so. He wanted to keep it all quiet, but the news got out anyway. Now Tucker — the only Fox News personality to be serious about Covid-19 for weeks now — has given an interview about it to Vanity Fair. Excerpts:

So let’s move up to the moment where you decide that it’s incumbent upon you to go talk to Trump about the epidemic.

I felt I had a moral obligation to be useful in whatever small way I could, and, you know, I don’t have any actual authority. I’m just a talk show host. But I felt—and my wife strongly felt—that I had a moral obligation to try and be helpful to in whatever way possible. I’m not an adviser to the person or anyone else other than my children. And I mean that. And you can ask anybody in the White House or out how many times have I gone to the White House to give my opinion on things. Because I don’t do that. And in general I really disapprove of people straying too far outside their lanes and acting like just because they have solid ratings, they have a right to control public policy. I don’t believe that. I think it’s wrong.

I don’t want to be that guy, and I’m not that guy, but I felt under this circumstance that it was something small that I could do. And again, I felt a moral obligation to do it, and I kept it secret because I was embarrassed of it because I thought that it was on some level wrong. [Editor’s note: The story of Carlson warning the president about his slow response to the virus leaked to news outlets, including the New York Times.]

What made you think that the time had arrived for this moment?

I kept reading pieces about how easy it was to transmit the virus and I just became obsessed with reading about it, and there was actually a lot of publicly available information, a lot of it speculative, but it was informed speculation in my view. And it led me to think that this could be a massive problem in the United States. And the first thing I thought when I read this was, What about all the people with non-flu-related life-threatening crises who might be denied care because the hospitals are going to be flooded not simply with coronavirus patients, but with people who believe they have coronavirus?

Did anybody from the White House—you have friends that are advisers in the White House—did any of them express concern to you that maybe Trump wasn’t fully aware of the crisis?

It was very clear to me that after all the things that have been happening recently—the Russia investigation, impeachment, and then the Democratic primaries—that a lot of people on the Republican side in politics, including in the White House, had been thinking about the world in ideological terms and in political terms. I mean, why wouldn’t they? And because of that it was really hard for a lot of people to transition. We spent three and a half years arguing about whether the president was a Russian agent, and he got impeached, and they were in that way of thinking, and it’s just hard to transition there. And maybe that’s part of the cost of doing that shit, you know what I mean?

What you’re saying to me is that because of the political lens on at that moment, they were in denial. The president was in denial about what was happening around him.

I think that in general, the news media have given people no reason to trust that they know what they’re talking about—

C’mon. Don’t blame the media.

Oh, I’m definitely blaming the media and very much including Vanity Fair, and I hope you put that in there. And I also think, and obviously I think this or I wouldn’t have gone there in the first place, that it’s part of the role of leaders to look beyond the media and to look at the data that’s coming in from the intel agencies—who have also been discredited and justly so—but still, look at the numbers and look at the reports coming in and to make cool and rational judgments about what that means.

There’s a ton of noise right now. I understand why it’s the temptation to dismiss it, but you can’t dismiss it because, however distorted it may be, fundamentally this is real. It’s an illness. You’re not allowed to sort of fudge on epidemics. You have to be straightforward.

And moreover, if you want to convey strength, and in a time of crisis, you need to do that, you have to convey strength—honesty can be strength. I’m being blunt with you. Strong people have no problem admitting when they’ve screwed up. They have no problem being direct. If I’m totally blunt with you, you know it, you can tell. We know deception when we hear it. So if you want to reassure people, follow your own instincts, go with what you know is true, and if you’re wrong in some ways, people always forgive you being wrong.

What they won’t forgive is you being dishonest or weak. They won’t. And dishonesty, by the way, is always an indicator of weakness. That’s what it is.

One more:

Are you critical of is handling right now of this pandemic? Do you think he’s done a good job? Yesterday Trump was asked how he rated his own handling of the pandemic on a scale of 1 to 10, and he gave himself a 10.

I’ve been really critical of the administration’s response to this, repeatedly every night on my show. I think the mistake that people make, and I’ve felt this for three and a half years, is making everything about Trump. It’s all about Trump. And so really at a certain point, it’s like, no, it’s all about your emotional problems. I’ve lived in Washington since I was a child. My dad ran a federal agency [Richard Warner Carlson was an assistant director of the United States Information Agency under Ronald Reagan]. I know how the government works and there are many layers to this. It’s not all about one guy’s mercurial personality, and anyone who thinks it [is] is a child and should get out of the fucking news business, right? And I look around and it’s all children. It’s all people like Jim Acosta, Oh, Trump’s a racist—who cares? There’s a freaking pandemic, dude. Just stop whining about whether he calls it the Chinese coronavirus or not. Like, this is insane. Look, there are many roles that people play in American life and in the news media, but my role, I don’t want to make every show about Trump. Not because I’m covering for Trump, but because I don’t think it’s that interesting and I don’t think it’s actually the truth. And the truth is this: We have all kinds of systemic failures here, big time. And no one wants to say that because actually they’re covering for the people who created those problems in the first place. Do you know what I mean? So I would love to hear somebody on why does it fall to Bernie Sanders to make the obvious points about corporate America’s role in all this? Bernie Sanders is a completely mediocre guy who doesn’t even really mean it—but why is he the only one who’s saying some things that are true? That’s what the media should be doing, but they’re not. Because they’re so focused on Trump. Trump is tweeting too much. Well of course he’s tweeting too much! Okay, I got it, maybe don’t read his tweets. All right. But like, there’s a lot else going on, right? That’s my opinion.

Read it all. He’s not being falsely humble by saying he didn’t want to go, because he didn’t think it was his place to do things like that. He told me about it before he went. He’s being totally honest. When the history of this event is written, we are going to find that we owe a lot to Tucker Carlson. You may not like the guy, but you should be very glad that he is where he is at the moment. He’s one of the most important people in the country right now, and I’m not exaggerating.

I watched the president’s press conference today (Tuesday), and like Monday’s presser, he was a very different man than we’re used to seeing. I wish, though, that reporters would stop asking him baiting questions about his own performance. We know that he is incapable of being anything other than vain about that, and dishonest. Today he claimed that he was concerned all along about the pandemic — a bald-faced lie. But really, what is the point now of pushing Trump on these points? It is in the public interest to encourage him to be someone he doesn’t know how to be. Someone, can’t remember who, said to me today that Trump is an actor, and he now seems to understand the script. If true, it’s in the interest of all of us that he keeps on speaking the script that people like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx tell him to say.

Whether you’re a conservative or not, you really should be watching Tucker Carlson Tonight these days.

On the question of influential people who won’t speak the truth to Trump, here’s an interesting bit from a Kevin D. Williamson blog post today:

And if you happen to be a journalist or commentator who is holding your fire on one politician or another because you are afraid that you might tilt some voter the wrong way by saying what you actually think — by telling the truth as best you can — then you are in the wrong line of work.

You’re probably overestimating your influence, too. But that is not what this is really about: This is about pledging allegiance.

One of the tragedies of our current mob-populist model of politics is that elevating presidents and presidential candidates to the status of tribal totem makes it virtually impossible to take intelligent countermeasures against them. …

A few weeks ago, I spent some time with some Republicans of the sort upon whom Christianity “sits as a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.” They made the usual noises — “We don’t approve of the tweets, and the dishonesty, and the boorishness,” though they were awfully circumspect on the question of how such disapproval might be registered, and were, of course, a good deal less circumspect on the question of Mitt Romney, whose eternal damnation they gleefully anticipated. The ordinary, traditional questions of democratic politics — How do I get this politician to do what I want? — were of no interest to them at all, their only concern being fealty to the idol and casting out the infidels.

UPDATE: You know which Fox personality isn’t in this montage? Tucker Carlson — because he was telling the truth about the coronavirus from early February:

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