Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 7/14/2005 [Archive]

Tucker Carlson Talks

Tucker Carlson's new 9 p.m. MSNBC talk show, "The Situation with Tucker Carlson," is little more than a month old, but it already has been trashed by The New York Times. The Times' TV critic, who obviously didn't appreciate "The Situation's" fast-and-furious pace or the illiberal politics of its libertarian-leaning conservative host, called for the show to be canceled after two weeks. More objective viewers, however, would give Carlson credit for developing a smart, politically balanced and often funny hour of civilized TV debate and commentary on the big news and issues of the day. I talked to the affable former co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" by telephone from his MSNBC offices in Secaucus, N.J.

Q: Why should we watch your new show as opposed to the other cable news/talk/shout shows?

A: It's more interesting, funnier and probably more informative.

Q: Is it too good-natured?

A: Is it too good-natured? Is it not nasty enough? (laughs) It's just not nasty enough? It's just not unpleasant enough? Yeah. It's one of our major problems.

Q: How do you define your politics?

A: I would say probably closer to Pat Buchanan than anyone else. I would say I am a traditional conservative. I am completely opposed to the war in Iraq.

Q: You were for the war until you went to Iraq. Then you came back enraged.

A: I was enraged because it sort of brought me back to first principles -- my own. And it reminded me that the only good reason to go to war is in self-defense -- or to protect the physical integrity of your country. Look, I have grave concerns about government's ability to do things well. I don't trust the post office to deliver the mail and all of a sudden you get conservatives trusting government to create a brand new society in a place that has remained unchanged for thousands of years.

Q: Talk about social engineering. I thought conservatives were supposed to be against that stuff.

A: Exactly right! The idea that I get called "liberal." I can't think of a subject on which I'm liberal. ... I'm much more libertarian on drugs than maybe some conservatives. I'm not for the death penalty. It makes me uncomfortable to give the government authority to kill people, except in self-defense, because I think that power has been misused. I'm adamantly against abortion. I don't see why people say I'm liberal or a moderate. I don't feel that way at all. People assume that President Bush speaks for all conservatives. That's absurd.

Q: Who would you like to see be nominated to fill the Supreme Court vacancy?

A: (Antonin) Scalia, by far, is my favorite justice -- so someone like Scalia. The president said that the nominee's opinion on Roe v. Wade will have no bearing or won't be the deciding factor. I don't know why not. It's wrong. It's outdated. It's undemocratic to have the Supreme Court decide for every state what their abortion policies ought to be. I'd like to see a genuine conservative get the job. The president is under all this pressure from the right to appoint someone other than (Attorney General) Al Gonzales and I'm glad.

Q: Tuesday night on your show you sided with Moammar Gadhafi on Africa's permanent poverty problem.

A: Yeah. I did side with Gadhafi on Africa. Africa has been hurt rather than helped by handouts from the West. You lose your dignity when you live on charity. Objectively, Africa is, by almost every measure, worse off now than it was in 1960. So how has independence helped ordinary Africans? It hasn't. I think it's basically a welfare continent with some exceptions -- Nigeria, South Africa, maybe Botswana. Most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are very poor and heavily dependent on Western aid, and that's bad. One of Gadhafi's points was "Stop begging handouts from the West," and I think he's absolutely right. And his other point -- that aid is bad because it comes coupled with requirements that you liberalize your government -- I disagree with. The problem with Africa is bad leadership, obviously. It's not the West. It's not white people. It's African leaders -- and they're terrible.

Q: Now, the Valerie Plame CIA case. Judith Miller of The New York Times went to jail to protect her source. But Matt Cooper of Time is going to testify before the grand jury, and Time turned over his notes in the first place. Is this a dangerous capitulation by journalism?

A: I think it's scary. Apparently, Matt Cooper was released by his source to name him to the grand jury. That's fair. But I think the whole thing is insane. This is an example of why an independent counsel is a scary thing. ... I think the whole thing is scary and overblown. If I were Judith Miller, I would have split for Paraguay. I wouldn't hang around and go to jail. I don't think you have a reason to abide by unjust laws.

Q: How did the liberals at PBS treat you during the year you had the "Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered" show?

A: They were really nice to me. They were always really nice to me. Nobody ever told me what to say or what to think. They were appalled by my opinions sometimes, but they didn't say much.

Q: How do you gauge the conservative-liberal balance or imbalance at PBS?

A: Well, it's overwhelmingly liberal, obviously. The measure that matters to me is, "Do they let me say what I want to say?" And they did.

Q: What's it going to take, ratings-wise, for MSNBC to keep you around?

A: I have no idea. I haven't felt any ratings pressure at all. I think they understand the show has rolled out at the beginning of the summer. They've had all sorts of different kinds of programming in that 9 o'clock spot for a long time. They understand that it's going to take time for people to find the show, and they seem patient enough to wait for that. And I'm grateful.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at bsteigerwald@tribweb.com. © Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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