Tucker Carlson had two goals for his forthcoming book Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: to write a book that people would actually want to read, and to tell the truth. The first goal is relative; it depends on your interests. If you are interested in cable news, you will be interested in this book. If you aren?t interested in cable news or Tucker Carlson than you might not have a strong interest in the subject. The second goal, however, seems accomplished. PP&P (Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites) is nothing if not straightforward and truthful and that is what gives it its peculiar charm and humor. There is nothing particularly profound or deeply insightful about it. Instead it is just an inside look at the wild and woolly world of cable news. Carlson has nothing to prove, no pretension to be more important than anyone else. It as if he says to the reader: ?I have this real interesting job let me tell you about it.? If you are fascinated by the media, by politics, by the constant spin and counter spin of cable news, then you will want to read Carlson?s lighthearted romp through his experiences in the business.
Carlson?s entry into cable news came by chance. In October 2000, Carlson happened to be home when a producer from CNN called. They were looking to do immediate reaction to the Cheney-Lieberman VP debate with a show called The Spin Room. The thought was that the campaigns were going to be spinning the debate why not have a show that looked to do the same thing but on live TV. Carlson and Bill Press were given a meager set and a time slot after each of the presidential debates. The network provided chairs and the cameras and not much else. In fact, on that first show even the scripts were incomplete. Carlson?s teleprompter simply read ?Ad Lib Here.? Carlson learned very early that live TV rarely goes as planned. Carlson goes on to relate the travails of dealing with the networks failure to provide a decent set or coffee mugs or even a decent producer. On the positive side, the co-hosts of The Spin Room had practically free reign to discuss whatever they wanted to without interference from Atlanta.. The inability to get mugs, however, had a deeper meaning. The show was summarily cancelled after eight months.
Carlson moved on to the show Crossfire but the haphazard and seemingly random decisions continued. Carlson continues to relate his attempts to understand what was going on in the minds of those managing cable news programs. Carlson ultimately decides that the advice he got from Larry King is the best approach. What Carlson calls King?s Law of Detachment permeates the rest of the book. King offered the following advice: ?The trick is to care, but not too much. Give a shit ? but not really.? Carlson has tried to live by these words ever since and here is why:
In an environment like this, it?s best not to link your sense of self too closely to the success of whatever show you happen to be working on. It could all end tomorrow, and likely will.
What follows is a series of vignettes and stories about life in the cable news world. Carlson relates his adventures with people such as James Carville, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Jerry Falwell, Monica Lewinsky?s therapist, and countless politicians and media personalities. What it comes down to is that Carlson can respect people that have strongly held beliefs, even if he disagrees with those beliefs, but he can?t stand phonies or hacks. He uses the people who gathered daily to spin President Clinton?s problems everyday as an example of bright and well educated people allowing themselves to be used for purely partisan purposes. Carlson is puzzled why people act in this way:
I?m not a shrink so I don?t understand the psychology. I do know that I have as much contempt for these people as their own bosses do, and when they come on my show, I?m apt to lose my temper.
Ideologues, by contrast, almost never make me mad. No matter how crackpot the opinion, I can respect a deeply held view. I may not believe that the earth is flat, but if you sincerely do, I won?t hate you for it. We?ve had a lot of true believers on Crossfire. I don?t think I have yelled at one. Secretly, I admire many of them.
Along the way Carlson tells some interesting stories. He relates how he had a little too much to drink before calling in for a public radio interview. The hosts were not nearly as interested in the fact that he was in the same room where presidential advisor Dick Morris got caught with a hooker, as they were in getting him off the air. He discusses his interaction with Monica Lewinsky?s therapist who couldn?t resist the need to talk as well as a psychologist and Ross Perot supporter whose professional qualifications seemed in doubt. He talks about his experience with the John McCain presidential campaign, about the bus driver who became a good luck charm but who had a drinking problem (Carlson: ?Ultimately, I came to see Greg [the bus driver] as a living metaphor for the McCain campaign: reckless, drunken, slightly demented.?).
Carlson, of course, touches on the variety of scandals that erupt in Washington: Lewinsky, Gary Condit, Dick Morris, and Trent Lott. But the book ends with Carlson relating his own harrowing brush with scandal. Carlson was accused of raping on mentally ill fan in Louisville Kentucky despite the fact that he had never been to Louisville or met this person. Carlson is able to avoid legal action with the help of able lawyer but the experience changed his perspective. After having been through the accusations himself, Carlson goes out of his way to be open-minded; to keep open the possibility that what everybody assumes is wrong.
I won?t relate all the funny stories or quips that make up the bulk of this book because that is what is so much fun about reading it. It doesn?t really contain any deep philosophical insights or trenchant media criticism. Rather it really is, like the subtitle says, just on person?s adventures in cable news. Tucker Carlson is a curious person with the lucky job of asking people questions live on TV. If you want to know what this is like, read the book. I will leave you with Carlson?s own semi-serious career justification:
After food, water, and sex, the strongest human desire ma be for someone interesting to talk to. It?s what drove me to journalism, and what keeps me there. When you work on a talk show, the parade of characters never cease. Sometimes they make up stories, or brag about themselves, or try to shout you down. I enjoy interviewing them anyway. It is definitely more fun than playing Scrabble with shut-ins.