How Tucker Carlson ‘Plays Both Sides,’ Ripping Media on TV While Being a ‘Supersecret Source’ Off Camera

New York Times media columnist Ben Smith details the Fox News host’s complicated, contradictory relationship with reporters

tucker carlson
Fox News

Tucker Carlson may say he hates the “liberal media” with a passion when he’s in front of the camera on Fox News, but a new column from New York Times media reporter Ben Smith says Tucker spends a lot of time off-camera gossiping with the same people he claims to detest.

Media writer Michael Wolff described Carlson as “a primary supersecret source” inside “Trump’s Washington.” Wolff told the New York Times, “I know this because I know what he has told me, and I can track his exquisite, too-good-not-to-be-true gossip through unsourced reports and as it often emerges into accepted wisdom.”

“It’s so unknown in the general public how much he plays both sides,” another reporter for a “prominent” outlet told Smith, saying that Carlson has been a frequent source for the outlet.

Carlson and Fox News did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on the column.

Smith called Tucker’s relationship with liberal media an “open secret” in Washington.

“Mr. Carlson, a proud traitor to the elite political class, spends his time when he’s not denouncing the liberal media trading gossip with them,” Smith said. “He’s the go-to guy for sometimes-unflattering stories about Donald J. Trump and for coverage of the internal politics of Fox News (not to mention stories about Mr. Carlson himself).”

Besides Smith, who said in the column he texts with Tucker regularly, Carlson has maneuvered his way into the source networks of several prominent media columnists. That list includes CNN’s Brian Stelter, who hosts “Reliable Sources” and told Smith “you can see Tucker’s fingerprints all over the hardcover” edition of his book “Hoax” — which came out last year and is an investigation into how Fox News allowed Trump to spread misinformation all throughout his presidency.

Stelter told Smith that he “couldn’t stomach” talking to Tucker for the recently updated version of the book, though.

The fact that Tucker Carlson spends time fraternizing with the reporters on the other side of the political aisle — and ones he openly shreds on television night after night — isn’t that unusual. Irena Briganti, the head of public relations for Fox News, told the Times it’s “not really surprising for anyone who works in media to talk to the press.”

But Smith suggests that Carlson has also used his back-channel communications to serve his agenda — in some cases to make other conservative figures, including Donald Trump, look bad. He pointed to a passage in Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender’s book “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost” in which Carlson tells Trump that he performed poorly in his first presidential debate with Joe Biden last fall — including verbatim quotes that could have only come from one of the two people on the call.

Carlson routinely criticizes the media, especially left-wing or liberal-adjacent outlets. Recently, his favorite targets include MSNBC’s Joy Reid and even Stelter himself, who he once called a “eunuch” on live TV.

He’s previously said he’s “disgusted” with his fellow media figures, and told Outkick (a sports site owned by Fox) recently, “The media is basically Praetorian Guard for the ruling class, the bodyguards for Jeff Bezos. That’s the opposite of what we should have. I really hate them for it, I’ll be honest.”

The tactic of identifying someone as a political operative (even if they’re not) and attacking them on live TV is an effective way to deflect or shut down their criticism, and that’s something Smith noted Carlson does with increasing frequency. Sometimes, arguing that he’s the one under attack helps shift events in Carlson’s favor, Smith noted. In one case, Carlson mentioned two freelance journalists from Maine on-air and all but shut down a story they were reporting about him, claiming they were “following” him and caused protestors to show up at his home in Maine.

But while Tucker is delighted to go after left-wing media figures, he will also eagerly turn the tables when it suits him, Smith’s column notes.

Smith’s column implied that Tucker Carlson seeks out these double-sided relationships because they insulate him from critical coverage — which, while it certainly exists, could also be more prevalent. An unnamed “Washington journalist” told the Times, “if you open yourself up as a resource to mainstream media reporters, you don’t even have to ask them to go soft on you.”


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