The Washington Post‘s brash Twitter voice Dave Weigel is urging journalists to avoid the death trap he claims is Fox News’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
Wait — shouldn’t political journalists be willing to discuss the media if they expect others to spill their guts on politics?
Nope, not according to Weigel.
@BuzzFeedBen I'm not kidding. Why keep volunteering for the dunk tank?
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) May 4, 2017
Weigel’s stern warning came in response to BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith‘s appearance on Carlson’s program Wednesday night in which he was asked to discuss “diversity” in his newsroom. Smith wasn’t phenomenal. There were moments he looked foolish — like the one in which he was asked about a reporter he once employed who goes by the nickname “Baked Alaska.”
Business Insider recently ran story on “Baked Alaska” — Tim Gionet — who said he used the word “spirit animal” in the BuzFeed newsroom and was scolded for it. Smith insisted on FNC that the incident never likely happened and that “Baked Alaska” went on to write something derogatory about Jews.
On Thursday, Gionet returned the favor and leaked screenshots to Patrick Howley‘s Big League Politics, in the form of an internal BuzzFeed conversation calling for President Trump‘s assassination.
Things also grew dicey when Carlson asked Smith how many people on his staff voted for Trump. Smith had no idea, but said he didn’t make it a practice to ask his employees how they voted. He did say he added some diversity to his newsroom by hiring a reporter in Cleveland (as someone who grew up in a nearby town, I can assure you that Cleveland is not some injection of diversity to any newsroom.)
While Smith didn’t excel on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” he didn’t bomb either. He wasn’t a deer in the headlights like a certain thug-voiced Washington Post media writer named Erik Wemple, who got so mad at Carlson that he hilariously began calling him “Mister Carlson.”
The top of Smith’s segment began on an awkward note with the two men engaging in niceties that exposed a sort of disrespect between them. Smith had a subtle, bitchy tone. Carlson, who thrives on uncomfortable moments, was genuinely puzzled but amused by Smith’s compliment that Carlson had become a “meme.” He introduced Smith’s BuzzFeed as “click-bait kingpin BuzzFeed com.” Behind Carlson, a large screen contained the question, “IS BuzzFeed BIASED?”
CARLSON: Hey, Ben, thanks for coming on.
SMITH: Thanks for having me, Tucker. Congrats on the show, the book, the meme-ification.
CARLSON: [Laughing] I don’t know what that means, but I will accept your congratulations.
SMITH: I don’t know what the kingpin thing meant either, so we’re good.
The tension between Carlson and Smith is longstanding. In 2010, just eight months after The Daily Caller was co-founded by Carlson, Smith said the pub was “struggling” and therefore attacking outlets like National Review. He has also called The Daily Caller “pathetic.” Carlson hasn’t been a huge fan of Smith. He has called Smith a “fanboy” of the Democrats. And there’s this: “It’s no surprise that a left wing hack like Ben Smith is, once again, being used as a mouthpiece by the DNC,” Carlson told FishbowlDC back in 2012.
When asked to expound on his public warning, Weigel obliged.
“My own rule for TV has become: I’ll do it if it’s on an issue or story I’ve been covering,” he told The Mirror. “I do a lot less TV than I used to, and don’t miss it. A Tucker booker did call me a few months ago about a segment; IIRC [If I recall correctly] I turned it down for a combo of that reason and because I had concert tickets that night.”
And what concert was that?
“I think Japandroids,” he replied.
I asked Weigel, “If guests know their material, shouldn’t they not fear going on?”
He said, “Sure, if guests know the subject and material, go ahead. But as an outside observer, I thought it was weird for Ben to spend his time debating the proposition that there should be newsroom affirmative action for Trump voters.”
When asked if Carlson’s program should be feared, avoided or both, Weigel gave a nod to The Weekly Standard‘s Andrew Ferguson quote from The New Yorker profile of Tucker’s show: “He’s on a network that I think is kind of disreputable, and I think he’s better than that,” Ferguson says. “To me, it’s just cringe-making. You get some poor little columnist from the Daily Oregonian who said Trump was Hitler, and you beat the shit out of him for ten minutes.”
Smith is hardly a “poor little columnist from the Daily Oregonian.”
Still, the BuzzFeed boss concluded the FNC segment with a bewildered expression that seemed to ask, ‘What the hell just happened?’