Tucker Carlson is an instantly recognizable face, thanks to his time on Fox News. And because the Tucker Carlson Tonight host certainly isn’t shy about giving his opinions on and off screen – sometimes provoking a little controversy as he goes – you may think you have the full measure of the man. Though, there’s more that you may have missed about the political commentator – and some of Carlson’s story could very well surprise you.
His role, as he sees it
For starters, Carlson paints himself as something of a romantic hero. In 2018 he told the Columbia Journalism Review, “My role is really simple: I want to tell the truth as I see it. I want to be as honest as I can. I don’t think of myself as representing any group of people anywhere.”
A formative start
And perhaps that desire for truth-telling originates somewhere in Carlson’s childhood. In any case, his father, Richard Warner Carlson, had worked in journalism before becoming Voice of America’s director. Then, later in life, Richard had become a diplomat, heading up the mission to the Seychelles. Carlson, meanwhile, was born as the first son of Richard and his former wife, Lisa McNear.
Abandoned by mom
But that family unit would eventually dissolve. Carlson had asserted, for example, that his mother had disappeared from the picture in pursuit of a more nonconformist lifestyle when he had just been a small boy. Eventually, McNear would go on to spend her days in South Carolina and southern France, during which she allegedly only touched base with Carlson intermittently. She went on to remarry, too, getting hitched to the artist Michael Vaughn.
A new start
Carlson wasn’t the only child in the family, though, as by that point McNear had given birth to another son: Buckley Peck Carlson. Then, in 1976, Carlson’s mom and dad finalized their divorce after nine years of marriage. And after that, Richard ended up with custody of the two young boys, whom he set out to raise alone.
Instilling his values
Richard took a certain position on bringing up his sons, too. According to reports, he once said, “I want [the boys] to be self-disciplined to the degree that I think is necessary to find satisfaction... You measure a person on how far they go, on how far they’ve sprung. My parents, the Carlsons – they instilled a modesty in me that, at times, gets in my way.”
Becoming an heir
Then, a few years later, in 1979, the boys had a new stepmom: Patricia Swanson. She was an heiress of the Swanson fortune, built on the back of the range of frozen meals that her father and uncle had originated. And Swanson would go on to officially adopt Richard’s sons.
Dramatic lifestyle change
The family would relocate, too, to La Jolla, California. The future Fox News Host went to La Jolla Country Day School and lived right next to the beach. His father also had homes in Vermont and Nevada and owned islands in Nova Scotia and Maine.
Meeting his match
Then, when he got to high school, Carlson went away to board at St. George’s School in Middleton, Rhode Island. He didn’t just receive an education at the institution but also met his future wife there. Yes, St. George’s School is where Carlson and Susan Andrews had their initial encounter, and a lasting romance eventually blossomed between them. Carlson also ultimately studied for a history degree at Trinity College, which is located in Hartford, Connecticut.
Starting a family
That said, the then-fledgling journalist did eventually return to St. George’s. He wed Andrews, you see, in the school’s chapel – the very place where the two had first met – with the couple remaining together ever since. And Carlson and Andrews have returned to welcome four children – the first being Lillie, who entered the world in 1995.
Finding his footing
Carlson’s professional life has gone from strength to strength, too. After a failed attempt at joining the CIA, he earned a position as a fact-checker at the conservative publication Policy Review – the first in a long line of jobs in print media. However, when he initially found his way onto television, it was apparently by accident.
A shot at national TV
Specifically, Dan Rather’s people had hired Carlson as an expert on O.J. Simpson after they had called his office and found him to be the only journalist around at the time. And as Carlson was subsequently asked to appear on 48 Hours, he wasn’t about to let his ignorance about Simpson stop him from taking his chance at breaking into national TV.
Showing off his signature style
Perhaps that was the right decision, as Carlson would prove he had the chops for the small screen. After acting as co-host of The Spin Room, he shared the helm of Crossfire on CNN, where he would appear every other night as the right-wing half of a presenting duo and ultimately gain a reputation for his combative style. Unfortunately, the show ultimately struggled in the ratings and was switched to a less desirable afternoon position in the schedule.
Nevertheless, Carlson earned further notoriety in 2004, when liberal comic Jon Stewart expressed dissatisfaction with the other man’s approach to political debate. The Daily Show host gave Carlson both barrels when he appeared on Crossfire and attacked the journalist for boiling issues down to simple partisan points. Stewart said, “[This approach is] hurting America. Here is what I wanted to tell you guys: stop. You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.”
A mutual split?
Carlson’s time at CNN would end soon after, as in January 2005, he was told he was no longer needed at the network. But the host would claim that he had already been on his way out of the door, later explaining to Patricia Duff that CNN had been “a frustrating place to work.”
Getting right back up
However, Carlson didn’t stay off the nation’s screens for long, as his show The Situation with Tucker Carlson debuted on MSNBC in June 2005. That show – later named simply Tucker – took him to the Middle East, where he gave broadcasts on the 2006 Lebanon War. Carlson also presented a wrap-up show on the 2006 Winter Olympics and could often be seen on Verdict with Dan Abrams.
But Carlson’s tenure at MSNBC would end in 2008. Poor ratings saw the network cancel Tucker, and – perhaps in a sign of the times at MSNBC – the show’s spaces in the evening schedule were eventually filled by series that featured liberal commentators Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow.
Ideologically, then, Fox News was perhaps a better fit for Carlson, and he found a spot as a contributor on the network in May 2009. At first, he appeared on panels and as a stand-in for Sean Hannity on his self-titled show. He additionally turned his hand to production, creating a special about schools that he also hosted.
Starting his own publication
In 2010, however, Carlson turned his hand back to journalism with the launch of the news website The Daily Caller. There, he acted as editor-in-chief, also providing op-eds from time to time. And within a month, The Daily Caller had made enough impact to gain a place in the White House press pool.
A conflict of interest
Carlson insisted, too, that The Daily Caller would not be politically rigid but would instead be interested in serious news stories. In a 2010 interview with The Washington Post, he explained, “We’re not enforcing any kind of ideological orthodoxy on anyone.” After Carlson decided not to run a piece by columnist Mickey Kraus that found fault with Fox News’ immigration coverage, he decided to quit the site.
Diving back into TV
At least Carlson still had his TV career to fall back on, and he stepped up from guest hosting Fox & Friends to become a regular weekend co-host instead of Dave Briggs. Then, in April 2013, he appeared alongside Clayton Morris and Alisyn Camerota during weekend mornings. But as it happens, the commentator would soon move on to even bigger things.
Tucker Carlson Tonight
Yes, in November 2016, Carlson’s show Tucker Carlson Tonight began, and straight away, it proved a ratings hit. The series’ first episode attracted 3.7 million viewers – more than On the Record, which it had replaced. And according to Business Insider, such impressive figures were enough to make Tucker Carlson Tonight’s debut “the network’s most-watched telecast of the year in the time slot.”
One of the most-watched people on air
Given that big launch, it’s perhaps no surprise to hear that Carlson’s show was a success. On the network, its ratings made it second only to The O’Reilly Factor, whose slot it took when the Bill O’Reilly series was axed. And Tucker Carlson Tonight remained in the top three most-watched cable news shows through 2019, consistently scoring just below the three million viewer mark.
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Carlson, as advertisers headed for the exits in 2018 and 2019 following the host’s comments that immigration into the U.S. had left the nation “poorer, dirtier and more divided.” And while Fox News subsequently claimed that space buyers had shifted to other shows, Carlson’s commercial breaks began to thin, with close to 50 advertisers publicly disavowing his show – and claims that many more had quit on the quiet.
Carlson's divisive "hoax"
Carlson would attract further heat in 2019 when he argued that white supremacy was a “hoax” in the U.S. In August of that year, he said on his show, “If you were to assemble a list – a hierarchy of concerns [and] problems this country has – where would white supremacy be on the list? Right up there with Russia, probably. It’s actually not a real problem in America.”
Carlson’s comments didn’t go down well with other media faces. CNN’s Brian Stelter described the claims as “nonsensical,” while Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan claimed they were just “wrong.” A campaign to have Carlson canned from Fox News also started. And it seemed there was opposition to the star on Fox News, as fellow host Shepard Smith would assert in response, “White nationalism is without question a very serious problem in America.”
Media outlets push back
To try to discern the truth of the matter, in August 2019, The New York Times talked to the Southern Poverty Law Center about the number of white supremacists in the U.S. Spokesman Bob Hopkinson explained, however, that it was “extremely difficult” to give exact figures. He added, “Groups are either extremely private about membership numbers, or they exaggerate them. What we do know is that there are more than 300,000 people registered as users on the oldest hate site, Stormfront.”
A change in tone
And the ongoing controversies in which Carlson has found himself have led to harsh criticism from some quarters. For instance, Crooked Media founder and Pod Save America host Jon Lovett tweeted in January 2018, “Tucker Carlson’s transition from conservative serious-ish writer to blustery CNN guy to Daily Caller troll to race-baiting Fox News host is like ice core data on what led to this moment in our politics.”
Fans speak out
However, it should be noted that not everyone criticizes Carlson’s tough approach. One fan, Colleen H., explained to the Columbia Journalism Review, “I like the way he has his guests on, and they can’t say anything but the truth. He asks them a simple question, and they go round and round the truth. He stays right on top of the subject at hand, if his guests don’t… They only have so long to answer.”
And Carlson is, after all, a man of strong opinions. Curiously, one is that he isn’t fond of Oprah Winfrey. Carlson gave up on her show after his son was born because, as he claimed on Fox in 2014, it had been “too anti-male.” In addition, the host said Oprah “was constantly attacking men.” He continued, “Keep your girls away from rap, keep your boys away from Oprah, and everybody will be fine.”
A closet Dead head
But it’s not all hate, as Carlson does have a love that isn’t widely known. You see, he’s a massive fan of hippy legends the Grateful Dead, and he supposedly takes time out to listen to the band – which he’s seen over 50 times – every day. In 2005, he told The New York Sun, “Following the Grateful Dead was one of the last structured-but-wild things you could do in America – at least when I was in high school and college.”
Appreciating their approach
Carlson continued, “I always liked how apolitical the band was – at least, in public. [Singer Jerry] Garcia’s position seemed to be, ‘We’re just musicians. We’re not here to tell you what to do or how to think.’ He was opposed to lectures – giving or receiving them. He was the opposite of the self-righteous liberals who ran the schools I went to.”
Defending the bow tie
Perhaps better known is Carlson’s long-time affinity for the bow tie, which he first donned at St. George’s School in 1984. And he was seen in examples of the neckwear for more than 20 years until he finally caved to pressure from his producers. In April 2006, Carlson told MSNBC viewers, “I like bow ties, and I certainly spent a lot of time defending them. But, from now on, I’m going without.”
Quitting unhealthy habits
However, the bow tie isn’t the only thing that Carlson has quit. He’s also a reformed heavy drinker, giving up booze in 2002. At that time, he had simply decided that he’d ceased to enjoy the experience of consuming alcohol – either while drunk or when getting over it the next day. He’d already stopped smoking a few years beforehand, too.
Chewing it over
Yet, while Carlson has made cigarettes a thing of the past, he still has a nicotine gum habit. In fact, his jaw only takes a rest from chewing the gum when he’s on camera or taking a meal – during which he typically refrains from eating too much carb-heavy food.
Denying the allegations
One thing Carlson has claimed not to have enjoyed, however, was the attention that he received from an unnamed woman with whom he wasn’t acquainted. In his 2003 book Politicians, Partisans and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News, the host asserted that the individual in question had been mentally ill. He also said that she had claimed he’d raped her – a grave allegation which, naturally, he denied.
He registered as a democrat
Elsewhere, Carlson’s reputation as an outspoken conservative may seem at odds with his party registration. Yes, the Fox News pundit officially enrolled as a Democrat – although he has a good explanation. In 2017 Carlson told Business Insider that he had wanted to vote in Washington, D.C.’s mayoral election, and that meant belonging to a party that he “sincerely [despises]... It’s really a force for bad in this country.”
Carlson also explained why he bothered submitting his ballot: "I always vote for the more corrupt candidate over the idealist. Always. The person who will just like be happy taking payoffs from developers and leave me alone… Every four years, there’s some guy who’s like, ‘I’m going to make your life better!’ I vote against that person every single time.”
But it appears that Carlson doesn’t entirely hate the idea of improving people’s lives. For one, he backs the D.C. charity Horton’s Kids, which helps disadvantaged young people in the city. The suggestion that he should get behind the non-profit came from CNN’s Jake Tapper, who also advocates for the organization.
A surprise pop culture appearance
And in 2006, Carlson made another surprising move when he appeared on season three of Dancing with the Stars alongside pro Elena Grinenko. However, despite daily rehearsals, the journalist did not prove a natural, and he got booted from the show after the first vote.
As it turns out, a lot is happening for Tucker Carlson away from the camera. But after his recent firing from Fox News in the wake of the Dominion voter fraud settlement, it seems that Carlson's next career moves are unknown. Given his track record, we don't expect to see Carlson off the air for too long. If the journalist is anything, he has undoubtedly proved himself resilient.