Carlson was born in San Francisco, California. His great-great grandfather Cesar Lombardi immigrated to New York from Switzerland in 1860. He is the elder son of Richard Warner Carlson, a former "gonzo reporter" who became the director of the Voice of America, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the U.S. ambassador to the Seychelles. Carlson's paternal grandparents were Richard Boynton and Dorothy Anderson, teenagers who placed his father in an orphanage where he was adopted when he was two years old by the Carlsons. Richard Carlson's adoptive father was a wool broker.
Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson (born May 16, 1969) is an American conservative television presenter and political commentator who has hosted the nightly political talk show Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News since 2016.
Beginning the week of June 8–14, 2020, Tucker Carlson Tonight became the highest-rated cable news show in the U.S., with an average of 4 million viewers, beating out the shows hosted by fellow Fox News pundits Hannity and Ingraham. This came in the wake of Carlson's remarks criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement, which had caused some companies to pull their advertising from the show, including The Walt Disney Company, T-Mobile and Papa John's.
In 1976, Carlson's parents divorced after the nine-year marriage reportedly "turned sour." Carlson's father was granted custody of Tucker and his brother. Carlson's mother left the family when he was six, wanting to pursue a "bohemian" lifestyle.
In 1979, Carlson's father married divorcée Patricia Caroline Swanson, an heiress to Swanson Enterprises. Swanson is the daughter of Gilbert Carl Swanson and the niece of Senator J. William Fulbright.
Carlson is married to Susan Carlson (née Andrews). They met while in high school at St. George's School and were married in 1991 in the high school chapel. They have four children. Carlson is an Episcopalian and "loves the liturgy, though [he] abhors the liberals who run the denomination."
Carlson was briefly enrolled at Collège du Léman, a boarding school in Switzerland, but says he was "kicked out". He attained his secondary education at St. George's School, a boarding school in Middletown, Rhode Island. He then went to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he graduated in 1991 with a BA in history. After college, Carlson tried to join the Central Intelligence Agency, but his application was denied, after which he decided to pursue a career in journalism with the encouragement of his father.
Carlson began his journalism career as a fact-checker for Policy Review, a national conservative journal then published by The Heritage Foundation and since acquired by the Hoover Institution. He later worked as a reporter at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas, before joining The Weekly Standard news magazine in 1995. Carlson's interview with then-Governor George W. Bush for Talk magazine quoted Bush mocking Karla Faye Tucker, who was executed in Bush's state of Texas, and frequently using the f-word.
In 2000, Carlson co-hosted the short-lived show The Spin Room on CNN. In 2001, he was appointed co-host of Crossfire, in which Carlson and Robert Novak represented the political right (alternating on different nights), while James Carville and Paul Begala, also alternating as hosts, represented the left. During the same period, he also hosted a weekly public affairs program on PBS, Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered.
Carlson quit drinking alcohol in 2002, "having decided that neither the pleasant nights nor the unpleasant mornings were improving his life." Years earlier, he had quit smoking and replaced cigarettes with nicotine gum, which he buys in bulk from New Zealand and "chews constantly."
In 2003, speaking about John McCain and his failed 2000 presidential bid, Carlson stated:
In October 2004, comedian Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, appeared on Crossfire, ostensibly to promote his book America (The Book), but instead launching into a critique of Crossfire, saying that the show was harmful to political discourse in the United States. Carlson, who represented the right-wing side on that episode, was singled out by Stewart for criticism, with Carlson in turn criticizing Stewart for being biased toward the left. Carlson later recalled that Stewart had stayed at CNN for hours after the show to discuss the issues he had raised on the air. "It was heartfelt," Carlson said, "[Stewart] needed to do this." In 2017, The New York Times referred to Stewart's "on-air dressing-down" of Carlson as an "ignominious career [moment]" for Carlson. In the view of the NYT, Stewart's criticism led to the cancellation of the show.
In January 2005, CNN announced that it was ending its relationship with Carlson and would soon cancel Crossfire. CNN chief Jonathan Klein told Carlson on January 4, 2005, that the network had decided not to renew his contract. Carlson has said that he had already resigned from CNN and Crossfire long before Stewart was booked as a guest, telling host Patricia Duff:
Carlson's early evening show, Tucker (originally titled The Situation With Tucker Carlson), premiered on June 13, 2005, on MSNBC. He also hosted a late-afternoon weekday wrap-up for the network during the 2006 Winter Olympics, during which he attempted to learn how to play various Olympic sports. In July 2006, he reported live for Tucker from Haifa, Israel, during the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. While in the Middle East, he also hosted MSNBC Special Report: Mideast Crisis. He appeared regularly on Verdict with Dan Abrams as a panelist in political discussions.
Carlson was a contestant on season 3 of the reality show Dancing with the Stars, which aired in 2006; he was paired with professional dancer Elena Grinenko. Carlson took four-hour-a-day ballroom dance classes in preparation for the competition. In an interview a month before the show began, he lamented that he would miss classes during a two-week-long MSNBC assignment in Lebanon, noting that "It's hard for me to remember the moves." Carlson said he accepted ABC's invitation to perform because "I don't do things that I'm not good at very often. I'm psyched to get to do that." Carlson was the first contestant eliminated, on September 13, 2006.
Tucker was canceled by the network on March 10, 2008, due to low ratings, and the final episode aired on March 14, 2008. Brian Stelter, writing for The New York Times, wrote that "during Mr. Carlson's tenure, MSNBC's evening programming moved gradually to the left. His former time slots, 6 and 9 p.m., were then occupied by two liberals, Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow." Carlson said the network had changed a lot and "they didn't have a role for me."
In 2009, Carlson became a senior fellow at libertarian think tank the Cato Institute. As of 2017, he is no longer affiliated with the organization.
In May 2009, Fox News announced that Carlson was being hired as a Fox News contributor. He was a frequent guest panelist on Fox's late-night satire show Red Eye w/Greg Gutfeld, made frequent appearances on the All-Star Panel segment of Special Report with Bret Baier, was a substitute host of Hannity in Sean Hannity's absence, and produced a Fox News special entitled Fighting for Our Children's Minds.
Carlson became a print journalist in the 1990s, writing for The Weekly Standard. He was a CNN commentator from 2000 to 2005, and co-host of the network's prime-time news debate program Crossfire from 2001 to 2005. He would later host the nightly program Tucker on MSNBC from 2005 to 2008. He has been a political analyst for Fox News since 2009, appearing as guest or guest host on various programs before the launch of his current show. In 2010, Carlson co-founded and served as the initial editor-in-chief of the conservative news and opinion website The Daily Caller, until selling his ownership stake and leaving in 2020. He has written two books: a memoir titled Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites (2003) and a political book titled Ship of Fools (2018).
On January 11, 2010, Carlson and Neil Patel (a former aide to Dick Cheney) launched a political news website titled The Daily Caller. Carlson served as editor-in-chief, and occasionally wrote opinion pieces with Patel. The website was funded by the conservative activist Foster Freiss. By February, The Daily Caller was part of the White House rotating press pool.
In February 2012, The Daily Caller published an "investigative series" of articles co-authored by Carlson, purporting to be an insiders' exposé of Media Matters for America (MMfA), the liberal watchdog group that monitors and scrutinizes conservative media outlets, and its founder David Brock. Reuters media critic and libertarian Jack Shafer, while commenting "I've never thought much of Media Matters' style of watchdogging or Brock's journalism," nevertheless sharply criticized The Daily Caller piece for relying on conjecture, absence of evidence, and inclusion of "anonymously sourced crap", adding that "Daily Caller is attacking Media Matters with bad journalism and lame propaganda."
In April 2013, Carlson replaced Dave Briggs as a co-host of Fox & Friends Weekend, joining Alisyn Camerota and Clayton Morris on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
When Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president, condemned then-candidate Donald Trump after he evaded questions about former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke's support, saying it was a "disqualifying and disgusting response," Carlson criticized Romney and dismissed his speech by suggesting "Obama could have written" it. In a guest appearance with Alex Jones in 2015, he described the Obama administration: "They categorize people by race in a way that, you know, you can't even imagine – 30 years ago you would have said, 'Wait a second, that's like Nazi stuff'".
Carlson was replaced by Vince Coglianese as editor-in-chief in 2016 after he began hosting Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News. In June 2020, Carlson sold his one-third stake in The Daily Caller to Patel.
Since the beginning of Tucker Carlson Tonight in 2016, Carlson has been considered a major figure in modern Republican politics according to Politico. His name has been tossed into consideration for a potential run for the presidency in 2024, though Carlson has previously denied such intentions. In July 2020, Axios said there were similarities between Carlson's nightly monologues and particular speeches made by Trump. On November 6, 2020, Steve Schmidt of the Lincoln Project speculated that Tucker Carlson "is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2024".
On November 14, 2016, Carlson began hosting Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News. The premiere episode of the show, which replaced On the Record, was the network's most watched telecast of the year in the time slot with 3.7 million viewers.
Prior to 2020, Carlson was a registered member of the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C. In 2017, Carlson said his registration as a Democrat was to gain the right to vote in the primaries for mayoral elections in the district, "a one-party state", and that he "always votes for the more corrupt candidate over the idealist" in order to favor the status quo and stem progressivism. In 2020, Carlson registered as a Republican in his new residency of Florida.
Tucker Carlson Tonight aired at 7 p.m. ET each weeknight until January 9, 2017, when Carlson's show replaced Megyn Kelly at the 9 p.m. ET time slot after she left Fox News. In January 2017, Forbes reported that the show had "scored consistently high ratings, averaging 2.8 million viewers per night and ranking as the number two cable news program behind The O'Reilly Factor in December." In March 2017, Tucker Carlson Tonight was the most watched cable program in the 9 p.m. time slot.
On April 19, 2017, Fox News announced that Tucker Carlson Tonight would air at 8 p.m. following the cancellation of The O'Reilly Factor. Tucker Carlson Tonight was the third-highest-rated cable news show as of March 2018.
In May 2017, Carlson, represented by the literary and creative agency Javelin, signed an eight-figure, two-book deal with Simon & Schuster's conservative imprint, Threshold Editions. His first book in the series, Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution, was released in October 2018, and debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times Best Seller list.
In July 2017, Carlson said that "[w]e actually don't face any domestic threat from Iran." He asked Max Boot to "tell me how many Americans in the United States have been murdered by terrorists backed by Iran since 9/11?" According to The New York Times, Carlson played an influential role in dissuading Trump from launching military strikes against Iran in response to the shooting down of an American drone in June 2019. Carlson reportedly told Trump that if he listened to his hawkish advisors and went ahead with the strikes, he would not win re-election.
Carlson is a Deadhead (a fan of the rock band the Grateful Dead), and said in a 2005 interview that he had attended more than 50 of their concerts. He was good friends with Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof and attended his funeral in 2018.
He has opposed demographic changes in the United States, writing in March 2018 about Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where over a 15-year period the percentage of Hispanics shifted from a small minority to a majority. Carlson believed it was "more change than human beings are designed to digest." In 2018, Carlson suggested that mass immigration makes the United States "dirtier", "poorer" and "more divided." In response to criticism of this, he has said that "we're not intimidated" and "we plan to try to say what's true until the last day. And the truth is, unregulated mass immigration has badly hurt this country's natural landscape."
In 2018, a group of antifa activists associated with the "Smash Racism D.C." group protested outside Carlson's Washington, D.C., home. Carlson's driveway was vandalized with a spray-painted anarchist symbol. Police responded within minutes and the protesters were dispersed.
Carlson opposes overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In April 2018, Carlson questioned whether Assad was responsible for the Douma chemical attack that had occurred a few days earlier and killed dozens. In November 2019, Carlson repeated this claim and queried whether the attack had actually happened at all.
In a July 2018 interview about Russian involvement in U.S. elections, Carlson said Mexico has interfered in U.S. elections "more successfully" than Russia by "packing our electorate" through mass immigration. This assertion was disputed by journalist Philip Bump, who wrote that the number of Mexicans in the U.S. had decreased since 2009 and asked rhetorically: "What good has it done Mexico to have a number of its citizens move to the United States and gain the right to vote?".
In August 2018, Carlson ran a segment in which he alleged that the South African government was targeting white farmers during its ongoing land reform efforts due to anti-white racism. He interviewed Marian Tupy, an analyst at the Cato Institute, who likened South African farmers facing land seizures to white farmers in Zimbabwe who lost their farms in a controversial land reform policy under the President Robert Mugabe. He accused South African President Cyril Ramaphosa of changing the country's constitution to allegedly enable land theft from whites because "they are the wrong skin color."
In October 2018, Tucker Carlson Tonight was the second-highest rated cable news show in prime time, after The Sean Hannity Show with Sean Hannity, with 3.2 million nightly viewers. By the end of 2018, the show had begun to be boycotted by at least 20 advertisers after Carlson said U.S. immigration makes the country "poorer, dirtier and more divided". According to Fox News, the advertisers only moved their ad buys to other programs.
In 2019, in his monologue on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson said America's "ruling class" are, in effect, the "mercenaries" behind the decline of the American middle class:
By January 2019, his show dropped to third with 2.8 million nightly viewers, down six percent from the previous year. The show had lost at least 26 advertisers. There were calls to fire Carlson from Fox News in March 2019 after Media Matters resurfaced remarks on women he had made over several years to the radio show Bubba the Love Sponge, but his ratings rose 8 percent that week despite the boycotts. By August 2019, Media Matters calculated that some companies had fulfilled their media buy contracts and advertising inventory for the time slot and had now begun their purchases for other time slots on Fox News. At the close of 2019, Carlson's Nielsen ratings among all viewers 25–54 placed him second only to Fox's The Sean Hannity Show among cable news shows.
In January 2019, Carlson used a Washington Post op-ed by Mitt Romney to criticize what he described as the "mainstream Republican" worldview, consisting of "unwavering support for a finance-based economy and an internationalist foreign policy," which he argued was also supported by the bulk of Democrats. He cited parallels, in regard to economic and social problems which had befallen inner cities and rural areas, despite cultural and demographic differences between their respective populations, as evidence that the "culture of poverty," which had been cited by conservatives as the cause of urban decline, "wasn't the whole story:"
In call-in segments Carlson made from 2006 to 2008 on the radio show Bubba the Love Sponge, Carlson said Iraq was not worth invading because it was a country made up of "semi-literate primitive monkeys" who "don't use toilet paper or forks." He also criticized "lunatic Muslims who are behaving like animals," and said that any presidential candidate who vowed to "kill as many of them as [they] can" would be "elected king." Recordings of these segments were released online in March 2019 by the progressive Media Matters for America. The Washington Post labeled these comments racist.
In May 2019, Carlson defended Trump's decision to place tariffs on Mexico unless Mexico stopped illegal immigration to the United States. Carlson said, "When the United States is attacked by a hostile foreign power it must strike back, and make no mistake Mexico is a hostile foreign power."
In May 2019, after Robert Mueller gave a statement saying the Special Counsel investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 election did not exonerate President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice, Carlson called Mueller "sleazy and dishonest."
Of illegal immigration, Carlson said in May 2019, "The flood of illegal workers into the United States has damaged our communities, ruined our schools, burdened our healthcare system and fractured our national unity." In December 2019, he falsely claimed that immigrants were responsible for making the Potomac River "dirtier and dirtier."
When President Trump met the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the country's border with the South in June 2019, Carlson told Fox & Friends said "there's no defending the North Korean regime, it’s the last real Stalinist regime in the world. It’s a disgusting place obviously", but "you've got to be honest about what it means to lead a country, it means killing people." Carlson went on to argue that although "not on the scale that the North Koreans do, but a lot of countries commit atrocities, including a number that [the United States] are closely allied with."
Carlson concluded Tucker Carlson Tonight on July 9, 2019, with a 3-minute monologue about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), calling her ungrateful to the United States, where she had been granted asylum, and calling her "living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country." His monologue was described by The Guardian as "racially loaded" and "full of anti-immigrant rhetoric." Congresswoman Omar responded on Twitter, saying that "advertisers should not be underwriting this kind of dangerous, hateful rhetoric." In its July 10 article on the incident, The Daily Beast commented that, mainly because of "right-wing attacks that have then been amplified by members of Congress and the president," Omar has been receiving death threats since she was elected to Congress. According to the article, while Carlson "has devoted numerous segments" of his show to criticizing her, this time Carlson "took his anti-Omar stance even further."
At the beginning of December 2019, Carlson stated "the irony, of course, is that Putin, for all his faults, does not hate America as much as many of these people do" meaning liberals. "They really dislike our country. And they call other people traitors because they’re mouthing the talking points of Putin." He was criticized by Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador during the Obama administration, "You are wrong Mr. Carlson. Putin does hate America," urging him to "Stop attacking Americans & defending Putin."
By October 2020, Tucker Carlson Tonight averaged 5.3 million viewers, with the show's monthly average becoming the highest of any cable news program in history at that point. In the 25–54 demographic, the show maintained an average viewership of just over 1 million, with 670,000 being between the ages of 18–49. Carlson's program saw a dip in viewership following the aftermath of the 2020 election, losing out to Anderson Cooper 360° in the 25–54 demographic which Carlson had maintained a hold of the prior month. This coincided with Carlson's distancing himself of Trump's post-election legal fights, in which Carlson said the election was "not fair" but acknowledged it still wouldn't produce a Trump victory. In 2020, Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Sean Hannity Show became the first cable news programs to finish a full year with viewership in excess of 4 million.
Carlson has criticized government officials and other media for not taking the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States seriously enough, while blaming China for causing the pandemic. On March 9, 2020, Carlson opened his show by saying, "People you trust, people you probably voted for, have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem.… But they're wrong. It's definitely not just the flu." Two anonymous sources in the White House told The Washington Post that Carlson's statements had caused President Donald Trump to reconsider his position. Carlson also told Vanity Fair that he spoke to Trump and encouraged him to take the coronavirus outbreak seriously.
In June 2020, Carlson cast doubts on the intentions of Black Lives Matter protestors in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, stating: "This may be a lot of things, this moment we're living through, but it is definitely not about black lives, and remember that when they come for you, and at this rate, they will." Although Fox News stated that Carlson was referring to Democratic leaders and not protesters, Carlson's comments on Black Lives Matter were met with rebuke. Advertisers including The Walt Disney Company, Papa John's, Poshmark, and T-Mobile stopped advertising on Carlson's program. In other comments, Carlson argued that the unrest following Floyd's killing stemmed from a desire for ideological domination, rather than genuine opposition to police brutality.
In July 2020, Carlson's head writer, Blake Neff, resigned after CNN Business reported that he had been using a pseudonym to post remarks described as racist, sexist, and homophobic on AutoAdmit, a message board known for its lack of moderation of offensive and defamatory content. The incident drew renewed scrutiny to Carlson's program, already under pressure from sponsors because of Carlson's remarks about Black Lives Matter. Neff had also previously been a writer on The Daily Caller. Carlson condemned Neff's posts on the second episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight that aired after the posts were initially reported.
In September 2020, a federal judge, in dismissing a defamation lawsuit regarding statements Carlson made on Tucker Carlson Tonight, cited her acceptance of Fox News' defense that, given that the "general tenor" of the show is to "challenge political correctness and media bias," Carlson is not "stating actual facts" on its show, but instead employs "exaggeration" and "non-literal commentary". The judge also agreed with Fox News' defense that reasonable viewers would have "skepticism" over statements Carlson makes on its show.