Tucker Carlson, the conservative pundit and co-host of CNN's Crossfire, launched his new PBS show, Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered, on June 18. His first guest was former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. Although neither Carlson nor Starr had read former President Bill Clinton's memoir, My Life, the announcer introduced the segment as follows:
This week on Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered, the Bill Clinton book -- The hard sell and the debate. The former president on Monica and prosecutor Ken Starr. We'll have Ken Starr's rebuttal in an exclusive interview.
Carlson did have on hand some comments Clinton made recently in regard to Starr's investigations in the 1990s. To preface his first question to Starr, Carlson quoted Clinton speaking about Starr's investigation of allegations regarding Monica Lewinsky:
He [Clinton] said that your [Starr's] investigation was "an abuse of power." "The whole battle," he said, "was a badge of honor. I don't see it as a stain because it was illegitimate."
Instead of asking Starr about Clinton's allegations of "an abuse of power," Carlson simply asked, "'Badge of honor.' What do you make of that?" This type of open-ended question was typical of the interview, during which Starr was given wide berth to present his views on various subjects. Other such questions included: "Do you regret your role in this investigation?" and "What will Clinton's legacy be?" In spite of the announcer's promise, Carlson never pressed Starr to provide a rebuttal to the allegations Clinton made in My Life.
The exceptions to Carlson's primarily nonconfrontational questioning were his two attempts to get Starr to explain exactly what he believed Clinton had done wrong. "In the minds of a lot of people, it's not so clear what Clinton did wrong," Carlson said to Starr; then Carlson suggested, "Maybe you should write a book and explain what he did wrong." Starr was either unable or unwilling to provide a direct answer. Following is Starr's response:
Well, I don't want to reduce it to a bumper sticker and I think the Referral is there, and I don't think that the facts in the Report -- I guess it's been called the Starr Report, I simply call it the Referral -- you know the facts are there and people can see the facts and I don't think the facts have seriously been called into question. I know there are issues of motivations and the like. But, the facts are the facts and in my worldview you shall know the truth and you deal with the truth and I think it shall set you free. We shouldn't hide the truth, we should have the truth come out.
According to Clinton's legal team, the 445-page Referral, commonly known as the Starr Report, referred to Whitewater (the failed Arkansas land deal about which controversies had originally prompted the appointment of an independent counsel) precisely twice. It never mentioned two other major targets of Starr's multiyear investigations, which were popularly known as "Travelgate" and "Filegate." The issue of sex was referred to more than 500 times.
Starr revealed that he and his family refer to his experience being an independent counsel as "the recent unpleasantness"; during Carlson's interview, Starr used the words "unpleasant" or "unpleasantness" a total of five times when discussing that period.
The show's second main segment consisted of a roundtable discussion with National Review Online contributing editor Deroy Murdock and The Nation's editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel. In this segment, Carlson described Starr as a "pretty nice guy." When Murdock asserted that the Lewinsky scandal was "for better or for worse what Bill Clinton will be remembered for," Carlson responded, "I certainly hope so, I just can't talk enough ... [about Lewinsky]." Carlson had promised in his introductory monologue, "I'll tell you exactly what I think."
In the show's final segment, Carlson interviewed psychoanalyst Dr. Justin A. Frank, author of the book Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President, which was released on June 15 by ReganBooks (an imprint of Rupert Murdoch's publishing house HarperCollins). According its official website, Frank's book builds a "comprehensive psychological profile of President Bush" that "sheds startling new light on an administration whose record of violence and cruelty seems increasingly dependent on the unstable psyche of the man at its center." During this interview, Carlson -- while not unfriendly -- was more aggressive and direct in his questioning than he had been in his interview with Starr.
After summarizing Frank's views about Bush, Carlson asked, "Do you talk about all your patients that way?" and then expressed skepticism about Frank's methodology: "You haven't met him, or analyzed him in person." Carlson also asserted, "People have a pretty cynical view of shrinks already I think in this country." Carlson then asked, "Don't you think this will make people more cynical -- sort of this 'Dear Abby' pop psychoanalysis?"
As Media Matters for America previously reported, Carlson has doctored quotes from former Vice President Al Gore; told lies about the memorial service for the late Senator Paul Wellstone; and made disparaging remarks about feminists and about the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.