Statement | Haberman book: Carlson pressured Trump White House to pardon Roger Stone

We knew Fox News host Tucker Carlson was an effective propagandist, based on his years of attacking Donald Trump’s attackers. Now we learn what a force he can be as a lobbyist.

In early 2020, Carlson met with Trump adviser Jared Kushner to secure clemency for his friend Roger Stone, the famous political dirty trickster whose resume as an operative dates back to Richard M. Nixon. The revelation comes from the new book by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.”

The episode highlights one of the ingrained dangers of the media industry: People who work in it get awfully close to power, and avoiding the temptations of that proximity requires integrity. As well as executives who actually care about journalistic principles, a dynamic not found at Fox News.

Most of the Carlson-Stone story is very much of public record. As the Erik Wemple blog explained at length in 2020, the two have been close for years. The mutual back-scratching surfaces in printed material and video clips. “Like many in the upper echelons of media, business and government, this leader stood in fear and trembling before the legend of Roger Stone,” Carlson wrote in the introduction to a book authored by Stone in 2018. “And for good reason: Roger Stone is a troublemaker – yes, not just a troublemaker, but perhaps the leading troublemaker of our time, the Michael Jordan of the election campaign. This is either terrifying or delightful, depending on your level of density. I love it. TV executives don’t. That’s the difference.” Stone has been an occasional guest on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

And “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has been there for Stone. When the FBI raided Stone’s home in Florida in January 2019, Carlson condemned the tactic and criticized CNN for getting video of the action early in the morning. The network, he claimed, was in cahoots with officials from Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, who had been looking into Stone’s activities. “CNN acted as the PR arm of the Mueller investigation, as they have done before,” the host said. (Indeed, the presence of CNN reporters that morning was due to an inkling of their reporting.) Stone was subsequently indicted—on counts that included witness tampering and making false statements—found guilty on all counts and sentenced to more than three years in prison .

The whole affair was short-circuited by Carlson, who just couldn’t stand and let the legal system take its course. When it emerged that the Mueller report had not established a Trump-Russia conspiracy, Carlson howled about Stone’s situation: “Where are the pardons here?” asked Carlson in March 2019. “I mean, is it time for the executive branch to send a really clear message that we’re going to stop the destruction of innocent people by completely out-of-control bureaucrats?”

After Stone’s conviction, Carlson revealed some inside reports about a possible pardon, citing Kushner as a gatekeeper. “We’re hearing that certain people around the president — possibly his son-in-law, maybe not — are telling him no, you can’t pardon Roger Stone, even though the president has come out and said publicly, I think this was a travesty. “

That little clue might explain why, in Haberman’s book, Carlson seeks an audience with Kushner. At the meeting, Carlson told Kushner that if Trump did not act, he would “press the issue publicly,” according to “Confidence Man.” As noted above, Carlson had already done just that, but in mid-February 2020, in the days leading up to Stone’s sentencing, Carlson did several segments on the topic. “You know what the average rapist does in this country? We checked today — four years. You know what the average armed robber gets? Three years. The average thug who violently assaults someone? Less than a year and a half,” he riffed Carlson on February 11. “But the left, including CNN, demands that Roger Stone die in prison. This man needs a pardon.”

The next night he persisted. “If the Russian collusion story was a hoax, and of course it most certainly was, why should Roger Stone go to prison for his role in it?” he asked. “If Roger Stone serves a single day behind bars, Russia’s lie will be validated as true.” It continued: “Prosecutors want Roger Stone to serve nine years, not because he hurt anyone or hurt this country. He didn’t. But because they hate him,” Carlson said on Feb. 13.

In other words, the transcripts reflect that Carlson made good on the consequences he had dangled before Kushner — if Trump didn’t act, he would make a public fuss. Journalists do not, or should not, engage in this kind of personal advocacy; their role is to determine what happens and to report the results, the better to inform the viewers. Still, viewers weren’t Carlson’s priority. Stone was.

We asked both Fox News and Carlson himself about the report in Haberman’s book. Neither responded to emails.

You know who’s on record to despise the kind of strong-arm tactics that Carlson deployed against the White House in this case? Tucker Carlson. In December 2018, he accused former Playboy model Karen McDougal of “blackmail” in her dealings with Trump in the previous presidential election. The accusation was false, and McDougal filed a libel suit against Carlson. The complaint was dismissed because a federal judge ruled that “Tucker Carlson Tonight” should not be taken seriously.

But someone apparently took him seriously. In December 2020, the White House announced Stone’s pardon. In an appearance on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” shortly after the news broke, Stone said, “Well, Tucker, thank you for your excellent analysis and reporting on this issue.”

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