Tucker Carlson’s Biggest Mistake

A new biography of Tucker Carlson offers a very interesting look at the intellectual odyssey of the most popular commentator in the U.S. if not the world. Particularly interesting is his turnabout on the pandemic response.

Today he is a mighty critic of lockdowns and forced vaccination. But it was not always so.

In fact, his voice was massively influential both in inspiring the lockdowns and warming conservatives up to the idea of panic.

Most devastatingly, in the first week of March, one week before the lockdowns, Tucker flew to Mar-a-Lago — his first time there — to meet with Trump and tell him that he was completely wrong that this pandemic required no extraordinary response. Instead he needed to act now.

The book explains:

The strength of Tucker’s bond with Trump was apparent on March 7, 2020, when he went to Mar-a-Lago to press his rising concerns about COVID-19 to the president personally. At the time almost all other conservative commentators were downplaying the threat of the virus — and their liberal counterparts, in a frenzy over the first Trump impeachment, were likewise giving it short shrift — but Tucker’s sources were telling him that Beijing was lying, the devastation in China was massive and what was coming here was going to be catastrophic.

“I told him,” Carlson acknowledges now of his meeting with the president, “he could easily lose the election over COVID.” A couple of days later, he was sounding the warning in equally blunt terms to his audience. “People you trust, people you probably voted for, have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem,” he said. “‘It’s just partisan politics,’ they say. ‘Calm down. In the end this was just like the flu and people die from that every year. Coronavirus will pass.”

Such people, he continued, were “wrong,” what was coming would be “major,” and “It’s definitely not just like the flu… The Chinese coronavirus will get worse; its effects will be far more disruptive than they are right now. That is not a guess; it is inevitable no matter what they’re telling you. Let’s hope everyone stops lying about that, and soon.”

Trump Flips

The timeline of events confirms Tucker’s influence on Trump but Trump surely had others leaning on him as well. Following the meeting, Trump was not fully persuaded and tweeted out on March 9 that this would come and go like the flu.

The very next day, he had flipped in the other direction.

How much influence did Tucker have? Some and maybe much over Trump. Just as important was the way in which his show itself drove conservatives to the point of panic. Following lockdowns, and within weeks, he reversed himself.

A major part of the next two years of his show was dedicated to debunking all that he had contributed in February and half of March. The book reports that Tucker Carlson regards his panic over the virus as the “greatest public mistake he ever made.”

It’s not as if Tucker himself made up the idea that COVID was going to be Ebola but widespread. As this book reports, “Tucker’s sources were telling him” that this would be true.

Tucker himself elaborated on the events in an interview for Vanity Fair that appeared on March 17, 2020. He explains:

Well, in January is when we first started covering it on the show. And you know, there’ve been a number of epidemics to come out of China — the 1957 flu epidemic, which killed 100,000 people in this country. And so when these reports began to emerge, we covered it…

And then I happened to be speaking a couple of days later to someone who works in the U.S. government, a nonpolitical person with access to a lot of intelligence. He said the Chinese are lying about the extent of this. They won’t let international health inspectors in. They’re blocking WHO and this could infect millions of people, a high percentage of them. And this was a highly informed person, very informed, and again, a nonpolitical person with no reason to lie about it in either direction.

So that really got my attention.

It was at this point that he decided to tell Trump what he had heard:

I felt I had a moral obligation to be useful in whatever small way I could, and, you know, I don’t have any actual authority. I’m just a talk show host. But I felt — and my wife strongly felt — that I had a moral obligation to try and be helpful in whatever way possible. I’m not an adviser to the [president] or anyone else other than my children.

And I mean that. And you can ask anybody in the White House or out how many times have I gone to the White House to give my opinion on things. Because I don’t do that. And in general I really disapprove of people straying too far outside their lanes and acting like just because they have solid ratings, they have a right to control public policy. I don’t believe that. I think it’s wrong.

I don’t want to be that guy, and I’m not that guy, but I felt under this circumstance that it was something small that I could do. And again, I felt a moral obligation to do it, and I kept it secret because I was embarrassed of it because I thought that it was on some level wrong.

It Had to Be Bipartisan

And think about the timing of this fair and affectionate interview itself. It is from a very hostile venue but they let Tucker have his say, with no smears. That itself is suspicious. And this interview appeared the day following the lockdown edicts.

It was obviously important to someone that Tucker Carlson, the hero of the right, bless this panic that led to the dismantling of the economic and social order.

At that point in the timeline, Tucker was still dedicated to his story. He even had COVID at the time. He would not go near his children. “Nope. I’m not gonna. I’m waving at them through glass right now.”

We should not underestimate Tucker’s influence on all of this. The lockdowns — the wrecking of American liberty — certainly needed bipartisan and broad ideological support. If this became a left-right issue, it simply could not work.

Therefore someone or something believed it was extremely important that Tucker needed to be convinced. And it worked.

Tucker has never revealed his source. He has never said who this person is: “someone who works in the U.S. government, a nonpolitical person with access to a lot of intelligence.” It was clearly someone he trusted and perhaps someone everyone in his circles trusted. And why has Tucker not revealed the source?

Most likely because it was someone with high-level security clearances who then swore him to eternal secrecy. As a man of principle, he has done that.

Was It This Guy?

There is one major figure who fits this description, more than anyone else. It is Matthew Pottinger, a member of the National Security Council and a person with high-level security contacts. His role in the pandemic response is very well documented.

Most famously, it was he who pulled Deborah Birx out of her work on AIDS to head Trump’s virus commission. Pottinger is a well-known figure in the D.C. cocktail circuit and widely trusted by the “China hawks” in Washington. His security clearances gave him access and credibility.

In September 2019, Pottinger was named deputy national security adviser, second only to National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. From late January and following, he worked to spread alarm about the virus. He says that he spoke to medical doctors in China who told him that this was nothing like SARS-1 and had more in common with 1918.

He went on to argue for lockdowns, universal masking and even the use of remdesivir though he had no background at all in medicine or pharmaceuticals.

The most comprehensive study in print on Matthew Pottinger’s role is written by Michael Senger. He sums up:

Pottinger may have simply been overly trusting of his sources, thinking they were the little people in China trying to help their American friends. But why did Pottinger push so hard for sweeping Chinese policies like mask mandates that were far outside his field of expertise? Why did he so often breach protocol? Why seek out and appoint Deborah Birx?

It’s all very interesting but we should not underestimate the importance of this turn of events and the likely role of Pottinger in convincing Tucker of the case for tremendous alarm and panic. Without that, Trump might not have caved and the base would have rallied around him.

Instead, we got a response that effectively deleted the Bill of Rights, ruined economic and civil liberty, wrecked the Trump presidency and triggered a new era in American life in which intelligence agencies and the administrative state under Biden have completely swamped the Founders’ vision of a self-governing people.

To Tucker’s great credit, he sees this as his great mistake. Many people will never admit they’re wrong. But there is still more to know on how precisely this happened and why.

The Daily Reckoning