Fox News primetime star Tucker Carlson publicly thanked his network this week for supporting him through a months long advertiser boycott and a blizzard of bad headlines in recent days, but back in 2003, the host took a very different view, calling his colleagues “a mean sick group of people” with whom he doubted he would ever work for.
As reported by the Washington Post and many others at the time, the storm got going in 2003 when Carlson worked for CNN as co-host of the network’s debating show “Crossfire.” In a playful segment about telemarketers, a viewer asked Carlson if he would give out his own phone number on air. The host obliged — but the number he then recited turned out not to be his, but was instead that of the Fox News Washington bureau.
The network promptly retaliated by posting Carlson’s own phone number to their website. The move (which today would commonly be known as doxxing) resulted in a storm of harassing calls to Carlson’s wife and family. Fox News subsequently ignored Carlson’s demand to remove the number and said they would only do so if the host apologized on air for his error, which he later did.
“They’re a mean, sick group of people,” Carlson told the Post at the time. “Don’t harass my wife and kids. Even the Mafia doesn’t do that.” The Washington Post reporter who wrote the story, Howard Kurtz, now also works for Fox News as host of the show’s media-news program “Media Buzz.”
“CNN threw the first punch here. Correcting this mistake was good journalism,” a Fox News spokeswoman said at the time.
Tucker Carlson through the years
Tucker Carlson through the years
Tucker Carlson of the Weekly Standard during a CNN National Town Meeting on the Media discussing coverage of the White House sex scandal, Arlington, Virginia, January 28, 1998. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
Tucker Carlson at The Creative Coalitions' 'Freedon of the Press During Wartime' panel discussion at Chadwick Restaurant in Beverly Hills, Ca. Thursday, June 20, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect
Carl Bernstein, William Baldwin, Charles Koones, Tucker Carlson, Michael Isikoff and Peter Bart at The Creative Coalitions' 'Freedon of the Press During Wartime' panel discussion at Chadwick Restaurant in Beverly Hills, Ca. Thursday, June 20, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect
WASHINGTON - JUNE 4: (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER OUT)(L-R) U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, an unidentified member of his security detail, Democratic presidential candidate Reverend Al Sharpton, and CNN Crossfire host Tucker Carlson attend a CNN pre-party for the White House Radio and TV Correspondents Association annual dinner June 4, 2003 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 15: Politicians Partisans and Parasites (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call/Getty Images)
Tucker Carlson of Crossfire (Photo by Linda Spillers/WireImage for Bragman Nyman Cafarelli)
CENTURY CITY, CA - JULY 8: Talk show host Tucker Carlson attends the Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Westin Century Plaza Hotel on July 8, 2004 in Century City, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images).
UNITED STATES - JULY 27: CNN's Tucker Carlson, makes a phone call in a hallway in the Fleet Center, on the night Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., was nominated as the vice presidential candidate,at Democratic National Convention 2004, in Boston. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - AUGUST 31: (L-R) Producer Lawrence O'Donnell, moderator Tucker Carlson and Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas take part in an Art$, Education and the 21st Century Economy panel discussion at Carolines August 31, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images)
Tucker Carlson (Photo by Lawrence Lucier/FilmMagic)
Tucker Carlson and Patricia Duff during The 2005 Do Something BRICK Awards - Inside Arrivals at Capitale in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Robin Platzer/FilmMagic)
WASHINGTON - APRIL 29: (U.S. TABS & HOLLYWOOD REPORTER OUT) Tucker Carlson and Christopher Buckley attend the Creative Coalition and The Atlantic Media Company reception April 29, 2006 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Nancy Ostertag/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 18: DANCING WITH THE STARS - Tucker Carlson, (right) MSNBC news anchor -- and often controversial -- conservative political TV pundit and columnist, will be partnered with professional dancer Elena Grinenko (left), who makes her series debut this season on ABC Television Network's 'Dancing with the Stars.' (Photo by James Sorensen/ABC via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 01: DANCING WITH THE STARS - Tucker Carlson, MSNBC news anchor -- and often controversial -- conservative political TV pundit and columnist, rehearses partnered with professional dancer Elena Grinenko, who makes her series debut this season on ABC Television Network's 'Dancing with the Stars.' (Photo by Talley Lach/ABC via Getty Images)
Tucker Carlson & Harry Hamlin (Photo by Ron Wolfson/WireImage for TMG (The Marketing Group))
Nick Kosovich, Vivica A. Fox, Tucker Carlson & Rashel Pouri (Photo by Ron Wolfson/WireImage for TMG (The Marketing Group))
TV Personality Tucker Carlson at the Field & Stream Magazine's Heroes of Conservation Awards Gala September 20, 2007 at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. (Photo by Mark Von Holden/WireImage)
WASHINGTON - APRIL 26: Tucker Carlson arrives for an after-party hosted by Bloomberg following the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 26, 2008 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 1: Tucker Carlson, Ariana Huffington, guest, guest and guest pose for a photo September 1, 2008 at the Nicollet Island Inn in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Scott A. Schneider/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 02: Tucker Carlson, a correspondent for General Electric Co.'s MSNBC unit, speaks during Rally for the Republic, an event in support of Ron Paul, a Republican representative from Texas who lost to Senator John McCain of Arizona in winning the Republican presidential nomination, at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008. The protest convention was held on day two of the Republican National Convention (RNC), which took place in nearby St. Paul. (Photo by Keith Bedford/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 7:
Tucker Carlson, a conservative pundit, at the office of the new website, the Daily Caller, on January 6, 2010, in Washington, DC. The site, at which Carlson is the editor-in-cheif, has been branded as a 'conservative Huffington Post.' (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 09: Tucker Carlson of CNN, checks his messages on North Capitol Street, NW, Feb. 09, 2010. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - The Huffington PostÃs Arianna Huffington and Fox News Contributor Tucker Carlson join the ÃMorning MixÃ to discuss current events on 'Good Morning America,' 9.9.10, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Donna Svennevik/ABC via Getty Images) TUCKER CARLSON, ARIANNA HUFFINGTON
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 4: FOX News meteorologist Rick Reichmuth (L) and FOX & Friends Weekend co-host Tucker Carlson attend 'FOX & Friends Christmas Special' 2013 at FOX Studios on December 4, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: (L-R) 'FOX & Friends' co-hosts Steve Doocy as Captain America, Kimberly Guilfoyle as Wonder Woman, Tucker Carlson as The Incredible Hulk and Maria Molina as Bat Girl attend 'FOX & Friends'' 2014 Halloween Celebration at FOX Plaza on October 31, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: (L-R) Tucker Carlson, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, actress Bella Thorne and Brian Kilmeade pose onstage during 'Fox & Friends' at FOX Studios on April 2, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 02: (L-R) Tucker Carlson, Billy Ray Cyrus, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade appear on a cooking segment of 'Fox & Friends' at FOX Studios on June 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 01: Musician Trace Adkins (2nd L) talks with co-hosts Tucker Carlson (L), Clayton Morris (2nd R) and Ainsley Earhard during 'FOX & Friends' All American Concert Series outside of FOX Studios on July 1, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
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And while Carlson routinely inveighs against CNN to millions of people every night from Fox News primetime and disparages their senior media reporter, Brian Stelter, as a “eunuch,” he had nothing but praise for the network when he was there and publicly doubted he would ever work at Fox News.
“It’s hard to imagine,” Carlson told Salon in 2003 after being asked by the website if he might ever consider jumping ship to Fox. “If you’re in Peshawar, they’re not watching Fox News Channel, they’re watching CNN. I know it sounds trite, but I love the fact that CNN is engaged with the world. CNN USA, our domestic network, doesn’t carry a lot of foreign news. But it’s a great organization.”
In the same interview Carlson also broadly attacked Fox News and their use of “straw men” to promote right-wing ideas.
Well, what I think the problem is in general and, not just with Fox, but the genre, is that it encourages you to use a straw man. So, for example, you see hosts bring on, “This is Jeffrey Mohammed X, and he’s the president of the Association to Kill White Motherfuckers,” and he’ll be presented as a spokesman for black America. And then the host will say, “Well, how can you support lynching white people? That’s just wrong!”
Carlson went on to leave Crossfire in 2005 (shortly after a very memorable on-air confrontation with then-“Daily Show” host Jon Stewart). Before joining Fox News he spent 2005-2008 at MSNBC where he frequently faced off against a young Rachel Maddow. He joined Fox News as a contributor in 2009 and became a full time host in 2016, replacing Bill O’Reilly and largely holding on to his predecessor’s longtime primetime ratings dominance.