On Halloween, Vanity Fair released an article by former CNN host Brian Stelter that the magazine touted as an exclusive account of Tucker Carlson’s exit from cable news. Only the excerpt from Stelter’s upcoming book, Network of Lies, wasn’t an exclusive at all. In fact, Stelter lifted several passages directly from Chadwick Moore’s biography, Tucker, which hit shelves last August.
With a cursory nod to Moore as Carlson’s “friendly biographer” buried deep in the piece and far away from the text he copies nearly verbatim, Stelter had to know that his sloppy plagiarism would suffer few consequences. There was no chance his target audience would deign to crack open a book about the life of someone who serves as their shorthand for America’s ills.
Moore found himself left to defend his intellectual property alone because, as his book so methodically lays out, we live in a world of parallel media. And it’s a shame, because Tucker is the most insightful and complex political book released this year, one that has organically reached an audience without the arsenal of legacy PR experts Stelter can safely rely on during his book tour.
A former contributing editor to Out and The Advocate, Moore alienated the friends in his rarified NYC circles when he came out all over again–this time as a gay conservative in a viral 2017 editorial for The New York Post. Despite a byline that once graced the pages of Playboy and The New York Times, Moore suddenly found himself jobless and nearly ruined in the aftermath until Carlson’s producers called with a surprise invitation to appear on a segment. Impressed by Carlson’s genuine concern for the future of his guests who took great risks to come on the program, Moore found his experiences a far cry from the carefully crafted narratives that have shaped the cable host’s public persona.
Though Moore eventually became a frequent guest on Tucker Carlson Tonight, his book never aims for a squeaky clean depiction of Tucker as a tony protector of tradition. Citing Tucker’s lifelong devotion to Hunter S. Thompson (he keeps an unfinished pack of Dunhill’s in his desk drawer that the gonzo journalist once randomly gave him at a dinner), Moore depicts his subject as a well-read potty-mouthed renegade fascinated by the power of language and dedicated to defending individual autonomy. More to the point, he argues that what separates Tucker from other prominent Right personalities like the late Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity is his dedication to aesthetics, painting Carlson as a sock-and-deodorant hating woodsman with a Russian literature habit who abhors modernist architecture and doesn’t own a television.
Throughout Tucker, Moore makes exhaustive overtures to loop the cable news host’s most vocal critics into his portrait of Carlson, though his inquiries largely go unanswered. The lone exception is Rachel Maddow, Carlson’s former sparring partner on his late aughts MSNBC show (and eventual replacement), who Moore remarks, was at least polite enough to send a note declining the offer. In contrast, the droves of everyday people Tucker stays in contact with from fans in the service industry to beat cops regale Moore with stories about the real Carlson. But, most ask to use pseudonyms out of fear for the jobs and businesses even a cursory association with the media giant could threaten.
Much of the silence Moore encountered during his research process likely has to do with his central position: the standard depictions of Tucker Carlson as an authoritarian, woman-hating white supremacist are intentional fabrications. They aim to disguise that the media elite had long accepted Carslon as a peer who came up at the turn of the 20th century as a beloved man of letters while gracing the pages of Esquire and The New Republic in addition to The Weekly Standard. They valued him as controlled opposition until they realized that Carlson was never someone they could control.
The carriers of Vanity Fair tote bags may think Carlson and his followers are mouth-breathing rubes; yet, as Moore proves, Carlson could easily read (and write) his opponents under the table. Thus, the real danger is that his broad swath of fans, including the Democrats and twenty-something men only Tucker has attracted to Fox News, may do the same one day under his tutelage.
Moore found himself in a fortuitous situation while shadowing Carlson at his home studios in Maine and Florida as the Fox News fallout happened. Yet, he is confident enough in the story he is telling never to exploit it. After reading Tucker, one realizes it’s a foregone conclusion that such a larger-than-life persona could never last in the world of cable news. Moore crafts a brisk and bawdy story of the rise and constant pivots of one of media’s most compelling figures. Readers may not find it as endlessly quotable as Brian Stelter clearly has, but it’s bound to change perceptions if only those who could benefit from it the most would put in the time.