Tucker Carlson is the founder and publisher of the conservative commentary and news site, The Daily Caller. In this post, I recently discussed Carlson’s ethical obtuseness in pulling a column by a Daily Caller contributor because it criticized Fox News, where Carlson has a gig as a weekend host of the network’s embarrassing happy conservative talk morning news show. I wrote,
The conflicts of interest on display here, the insensitivity to them, and the lack of any pretense of journalistic fairness or integrity is staggering. Carlson has placed The Daily Caller in the same, discredited ethics no-man’s land of Media Matters, Move-on.org, the Daily Kos and other sites that blatantly distort the news and their commentary on it for specific, ideological and personal agendas, and a personal agenda is the most unethical and cynical conflict of all. Carlson likes his Fox paycheck, apparently. Well, then, his ethical obligation is to have an independent journalist edit his website. In the alternative, he needs to refuse to work for Fox unless the network agrees to allow him full reign to say and write what he believes on his website, and to allow others to do so as well.
Apparently Carlson doesn’t read Ethics Alarms—I am shocked and disappointed—and moreover, has the imagination and ethics problem-solving skills of a banana slug. Mediaite reports that he was discussing his ethics problem with RealClearPolitics, and admitted that he was totally flummoxed about what to do, poor dear:
“I have two rules,” Carlson said, “One is you can’t criticize the families of the people who work here, and the other is you can’t go after Fox” because he works there. Sigh. “Yes, it’s a conflict, for sure…but I don’t know what to do about it.”
Professionals in every field have been dealing with conflicts of interest for centuries. There are books, courses, lectures, experts and, ahem, blogs that lay out exactly how conflicts should be addressed, but this journalist is completely helpless because he runs a news and commentary source and is on the payroll of yet another, larger news outlet that more or less makes media news every day. Since the source he runs covers stories and is expected to deliver objective, honest, complete information regarding the other, he is helpless! HELPLESS, I TELL YOU! He’s trapped like a rat in an ethics maze!
Ridiculous. My post of two weeks ago provided some solutions to the not-all-that-difficult problem, but let me be even clearer. Here’s how to address your conflict, Tucker. These all work; just pick one.
1. Stop working for Fox.
2. Have someone else run the Daily Caller, and just be a silent, non-interfering owner…like almost every other owner of any trustworthy journalism outlet.
3. Eliminate your stupid rule about not criticizing Fox, which deserves criticism pretty much on a daily basis—every time it allows Bill O’Reilly on the air, for example.
4. Make your employment at Fox News contingent on the understanding that the Daily Caller will still be independent, and if Fox makes an ass of itself, the DC will say so.
5. Talk to Greta Van Susteran, who has her own website and frequently criticizes Fox or other Fox pundits. Talk to Howard Kurtz, who works for Fox News and has a Fox News show and a column on the Fox News website where he often criticizes Fox News….in fact, its his job. (He also criticizes you.)
Now there’s one caveat, Tucker: all of these require integrity, which you appear to lack.
It isn’t that Tucker Carlson doesn’t know what to do about his conflict of interest, you see. He knows: he just doesn’t want to do anything about it. Thus he is resorting to one of the most transparent, cowardly and ethically lazy of the rationalizations, #25. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!”…
“When people say they had to behave unethically because they had no choice, it is almost always a lie. What they mean is that they didn’t like the choices they had, and taking the unethical option involved less sacrifice, less controversy, less criticism, less effort…in short, less courage, than doing the right thing. Ethics often requires pain; if making the ethical choice was easy, there would be no need to practice being ethical. You may decide that doing the right thing is too costly or requires more personal misery than you can bear—a lost job, a ruined reputation, financial capacity, punishment for breaking with tradition or rules—sometimes that is a reasonable choice. But you still had a choice, and you are still accountable for the choice you made.”
In his interview with RealClearPolitics, Carlson also says, “I don’t lie at all…Unlike everyone else, I’m not a bullshitter.”
Bullshit. He says there is no way to deal with his conflict, and there are many ways. He says he “has no choice,” and he has many choices. He’s posing as a truth-teller, because he’s honest about having no integrity.
UPDATE: Fox News says that it never told Carlson the Daily Caller couldn’t criticize it.