Like any great arch rivalry, it started out as friendship: Brian Stelter said Tuesday that he was a “big fan” of Tucker Carlson in the “Crossfire” days – though he stopped responding to the ousted Fox News host’s texts as the messages got increasingly toxic.
Stelter, who was ousted from CNN upon the cancellation of “Reliable Sources” last year, appeared Tuesday on Steve Krakauer’s “Fourth Watch” podcast to promote his new book, “Network of Lies: The Epic Saga of Fox News, Donald Trump, and the Battle for American Democracy.”
Krakauer referenced Carlson as the “main character” of Stelter’s book, and asked about their earlier relationship. Back then, Stelter was running TV Newser and once received a $100 tip from the bowtied, younger version of Carlson, who also brought Stelter onto his MSNBC show as a guest.
“I probably shouldn’t say this but … I was a big fan of Tucker Carlson in his ‘Crossfire’ days,” Stelter said. “He had this unpredictable libertarian streak. He was not your average conservative commentator on cable news. He was young, he brought a young energy – you gotta remember, on ‘Crossfire,’ you had a bunch of people in their 60s, then here comes Tucker, barely 30.”
He said Carlson was “very charming back in his CNN and MSNBC days, and I think he bought a lot of good will among a lot of people who now say, ‘Who is this guy? We don’t recognize this guy.'”
Stelter said Carlson’s tone began to change when he joined Fox and “gained a primetime show … and his star started to rise very suddenly, my view is that changed him. He was chasing a radicalized audience, and trying to deliver what they wanted every day.”
"I probably shouldn't say this, but I was a big fan of Tucker Carlson…"@BrianStelter on his relationship with Tucker over the past 20 years, Tucker's Fox exit, the last time he talked to him, Dominion texts, and more. Download FULL @FourthWatch pod:https://t.co/KyDm6y64z0 pic.twitter.com/QPSiitSuZn
— Steve Krakauer (@SteveKrak) November 14, 2023
Krakauer noted that the Stelter-Carlson relationship has long since soured – Carlson recently was quoted as calling Stelter a “sad little moron” – and asked Stelter what he thought of the (never proven) theory that the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit was the reason Fox gave him the boot.
Stelter replied: “No. 1, I would pull out a quote [from] when he was appearing in Hungary back in August, he said: ‘This is the third time I’ve been fired as an adult. I would really recommend it to anybody. It’s great to get fired, because it keeps you from becoming a truly horrible person … getting fired reminds you, no, you’re just like everybody else.”
Stelter admitted that he instantly related.
“That really resonated with me as someone who was canceled at CNN in 2022,” he said. “I had this amazing stretch of my life since then, but I thought it was interesting that Tucker, who at times has seemed to plot revenge against Fox, whose fingerprints seem to be on many anti-Fox stories … [said] getting fired was good for me. I think that was interesting and should get more attention.”
As for the Dominion theory – which multiple people with direct knowledge of the situation have told TheWrap is complete bogus – Stelter doesn’t believe it, either.
“I don’t buy the Dominion thing for one second, it just doesn’t make any sense,” Stelter said. “Dominion liked Tucker as a witness, they wanted Tucker on the sand – to help their case! Beause Tucker bashed Sidney Powell in Novermber 2020.”
Stelter went as far as to say Carlson “did this country a favor, by the way, by going on the air and saying, ‘We like Sidney Powell, we want to see her evidence, but she wont’ show it to us, so we’re skeptical.'”
Stelter said Tucker even worked to “engineer” Powell’s eventual fall from grace.
“This is like the Fox dark arts in effect,” Stelter said. “There is a story planted with the Washington Examiner, saying Sidney Powell has lost the trust of the Trump family … and by Sunday night, Trump has disavowed Sidney Powell. … I’m serious, he did the country a favor, because he removed one of those big liars about the big lie.”
Though the Dominion situation wasn’t directly responsible, Stelter suggested it was likely a contributing factor to Carlson’s firing: “It was like any big breakup – it wasn’t one thing, it was 20 different things.”
But he denied that Carlson was a source for his book.
“I have not interviewed him in years,” he said, adding that he stopped answering his texts in 2020 as his messages turned “hateful.”
Watch the heart of the interview in the clip embedded above.