After almost six months of broadcasting at GW, CNN Crossfire host Tucker Carlson says he is extremely pleased with the nightly student audience. The conservative pundit weighed in on Crossfire’s presence at GW as well as President George W. Bush’s foreign policy when the Hatchet sat down with him last week.
Hatchet: How has attendance been? Has having students in the audience every night been a positive experience?
Tucker Carlson: Well, a potential concern would be if we couldn’t fill it up, because nothing looks worse than an empty room. But that has never been a problem. Every night it has been full or near full. So my sense is a lot of the audience is from GW, but there are also a lot from out of town, the tourists.
H: As far as the studio itself goes, how have you liked being in the MPA auditorium?
TC: Oh, I love it. Are you kidding? It’s almost like doing a play. If you’ve ever been in a television studio, you know how depressing they are. It’s completely windowless, there’s no clock, it’s very much like a casino, actually. It’s designed to give you no hint of the outside world. Basically, your audience is the cameraman. And as great as cameramen are, that’s a limited and unchanging audience. The audience increases the energy dramatically.
H: Do you see that students ask a lot of questions? Has that been tapering off, or are students still involved in the show?
TC: Oh, yeah, sure. The last segment we threw it open to questions, and there are always a lot of questions we can take.
H: Obviously, students in the audience increase the show’s energy level, but how have they affected the ratings?
TC: The ratings have gone consistently up since when we first started. Anyone who tells you he knows why ratings go up or down is lying, because nobody knows. And if people knew, then every show would have a huge audience. It’s far more art than science. The whole question of why people watch what they watch, when they watch is extremely complicated. It’s like molecular biology; the sum is known, but we don’t really know what’s inside atoms at the end. But the ratings have been great, and the bottom line is we’re pleased with the ratings.
H: So how long would you like to see the show stay at GW?
TC: Indefinitely. As long as GW will have us. It is fairly important, in my opinion, to be in a good mood before you sit and do an hour of performing. So, to work at a place that is light and airy and cheery is a huge advantage. It’s filled with friendly, happy people.
H: Last year, a U.S. News & World Report brief said congressional Republicans were avoiding the show because of liberal hosts and liberal GW student questions. Do the student questions you get reflect that?
TC: I like it. I’d much rather be asked questions by hostile, suspicious liberals than, you know, my friendly conservatives. I’m not sure I’d rather have dinner with them. But I like a little contention; I like some edge. I like to be challenged. That’s what I do for a living.
H: How are the GW students who intern with Crossfire, and how are they benefiting from this program?
TC: They are fantastic. We only have a small number. So far they’ve refused to paint my house, but I’m working on it. I’m not in huge contact with that part of the show, but I would recommend it. Television as a business has a reputation for being a little rough. But I know that we’re the exception to that. It’s friendly. Every single person on our staff is friendly. It’s a good place to start. I think we have some of the smartest producers I’m aware of.
H: On to more serious things, as far as the current situation with Iraq, how do you feel about the way President Bush has been handling it and what do think he will actually do?
The core question is – is Iraq an imminent threat to national security? The administration believes that it is. So the question then is, do you believe the administration? If not, then why not? Why would the administration make up this threat? I don’t see why the United States would pretend the U.S is in imminent threat from Iraq if it wasn’t. That said, I think two things. One, I’d like to see a more vigorous debate on the specifics of the threat. We at “Crossfire” have a pretty good debate going almost every night. And second, I would say if there was to be a real debate, the Democrats have to get involved. And they haven’t. I’m not saying that just as a way to stick a knife into Democrats, or to be critical of the Democratic party. I say it because I mean it, I think it’s really important that people debate it. I mean, this is really important. We’re going to war.
H: Do you think that really will happen?
TC: We’re on the road to war. I think we’re definitely moving toward it, inexorably. So it’s not enough for critics to stand back and say give me the evidence. There are principles here, such as the idea that you can launch a pre-emptive strike without being struck first, that needs to be batted around. And that happens through debate. I would like to see a “Crossfire”-like debate take place in Congress. Part of it is because the midterm elections are coming up in 50 days, but that’s not a good enough reason. I’m certainly not anxious to see American troops get killed, at all. I’m not a war-monger at all. I think sometimes they have to get killed, but I want to be certain this is one of those times.
H: So do you think Bush is using momentum from our success in Afghanistan to go into Iraq when maybe things haven’t changed in 11 years?
TC: Well, the Bush administration is arguing that things have changed, that the threat is nearer and more present. Unfortunately, the debate gets sidetracked on issues like the role of the U.N., which is ridiculous. The U.N. passed its first resolution demanding that Iraq dismantle weapons of mass destruction in 1991. And nothing has happened. The debate should focus on, is the threat real and imminent? Are our allies with us is a question. Well, at some point, the word ally is defined by whether they’re with us or not. I just want to hear more. The default position of government in every country at every time is secrecy. It doesn’t matter what government it is, they don’t want to tell you anything. It’s the job of the press and it’s the job of the opposing party to get the information out. I think the Bush administration owes more information to the public. If you articulate a really clear reason why Americans need to fight, then America is behind you.