Tucker Carlson, 43, is editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, a three-year-old political news site. He’s also a Fox News commentator and has been a newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, and an anchor and host on CNN and MSNBC. Before a student audience at Patrick Henry College he talked about editing what’s become a hot publication in Washington.
You prefer the New York Post to The New York Times. The New York Post does not presuppose that you have an obligation to read it. The New York Times arrives on your doorstep and shouts at you, “Are you a decent person? Are you a good citizen? Are you smart? Then you will read me.” The Post has no such presuppositions. The Post knows you are busy. You don’t need to read it. Editors and writers convince you to read it. I’m always lecturing my employees: People don’t have to read The Daily Caller. People are super-busy. They have families to raise. You have to convince them that your stories are worth their time.
How do you decide which stories to run? We have an editorial meeting every day at 2:30. It’s a compulsory meeting. They hate it, but tough. The main purpose of the meeting is to entertain me: I own this business with my college roommate, and I want to be entertained. I call on the reporters: What are you working on? Entertain me. If you can’t get me excited, there’s no chance to move our readers.
What are you trying to change in journalism? We embrace the basic conventions. On a basic level, we think spelling matters. We think ages and dates matter. What sets us apart is that we don’t, at least on our best days, buy into the same dumb story lines, the nine narratives that the press by and large covers.
What are the top three? Private enterprise is bad. Big companies are evil. White people are racist. I want reporters who come at the news with a fresher take. I don’t hire just conservatives. You can’t! If we limited our hiring to just conservatives, we’d only have four people. Conservatives don’t want to go into journalism, by and large. They want to go make some money, and they also don’t want to run bookstores or open restaurants—which is why bookstores and restaurant are always run by liberals, too.
Why don’t conservatives want to go into journalism? Probably because it has a discredited odor. And for all the talk of diversity in news rooms, there’s no diversity. Everybody—black, white, Hispanic—went to Princeton. They all grew up on the coast. They’re all secular. They never owned a gun. They never go to church. Everyone has the same attitudes. So in the end, skin color is immaterial.
What’s your role as editor-in-chief? I’m not here to change the world. I’m not here to win a victory for conservatism. I am conservative, very, and even more as I get older. But my job is not to wage a political battle. Tons of people do that in the Congress. They don’t need my help. My job is to cover the stories that aren’t being covered by the rest of the lazy, ideologically liberal press. And that’s a pretty easy job, actually, because there is a ton of stuff to cover.
Do your 30-or-so reporters come from Princeton? We do have two from Princeton, and I really like them both. But I don’t care where you went to school. I make a point of hiring people who didn’t go to college. I shouldn’t have gone to college. I learned nothing. I was drunk the whole time! I would have been much better off working in a newsroom as an apprentice, or working in a bank, or having real life experiences, rather than just waiting around to become an adult. So we have people who didn’t go to college, or dropped out. I don’t care. It’s a meritocracy. What I care about are your stories: Are they good or aren’t they?
You want curious people? Absolutely: curious and highly aggressive people. I want people with bad table manners, and we’ve got them. Trust me. I want people who do not care what other people think, by and large. Why? Because they have just one job, as far as I’m concerned, which is to ask difficult questions to people in authority, who by definition are not interested in answering questions. It turns out that a certain personality type is really good for question-asking. So we screen for that very carefully as we hire. Very, very, carefully.
What’s your pitch to those you want to hire? I give them all the same lecture, which is: Life is short, you will die. And at the end, you won’t remember a single easy job you ever had. The only job you will recall is the job that asked everything of you—and this is one of those jobs. You may not love it at every moment. We will pay you a terrible, ridiculous, laughable salary. But we will give you all the Pop-Tarts you can eat, and you can sleep in the office if you want. And we are going to work you like an animal. We are the Viet Cong. We are going to march 50 miles in truck tire sandals on a bowl of rice, and we’ll sleep in a tree and get up the next morning, and do it again. This is an all-in commitment. And I’d say about 70 percent of the people I interview are looking for the exit. They want to escape. About 8 percent start vibrating like a tuning fork. It’s like a dog whistle, they can hear it. They want in. Those are the people we hire. And so far it has worked.
When you interview potential reporters for jobs, what sort of questions do you ask them? First, what do you read? I want to know what people read. We’re in the words business, so I want to hire people who love to use words and have a rich reading life. “I read The Washington Post” is not good enough: What books do you read?
Personal qualities? Enthusiasm goes a long way with me. We have a very high tolerance for weirdness, so we hire a lot of people unemployable outside of journalism. Journalism is like the French Foreign Legion: You can just show up and get a new passport. As long as you can do the work, nobody cares where you came from.
Watch Marvin Olasky's complete interview with Tucker Carlson: