January 27, 2006

Frey - Get a real life! (Tucker Carlson)

As every American with a television is now aware, Oprah Winfrey beat the crap out of  James Frey on her show today. The author simpered and fidgeted as his former patron made him confess to telling lies in his book, A Million Little Pieces. Oprah's a natural for righteous indignation. Frey's a born masochist. Together they created some of the most uncomfortable yet compelling television I've ever seen. It was a delight, until the final moments.

That's when Frey recited the obligatory litany of penance, the part of the service where the sinner shows evidence of Learning and Growing.  "If I come out of this experience with anything," he lisped, "it's being a better person and learning from my mistakes and making sure that I don't repeat them."

I froze when I heard the words. Call me an alarmist, but that sentence seemed to leave open the possibility of a second chapter in Frey's literary career. A truly repentant man would have pledged never to write again. Frey didn't. Instead he vowed not to be so dumb the next time. It's easy to imagine him publishing yet another memoir, this one about the trials of his humiliation. We might be stuck with James Frey for a long time to come.

No one should be surprised by this. Disgraced celebrities hardly ever go away. They live on at the far end of the cable spectrum like ghosts, haunting and titillating us simultaneously. If Joey Buttafuoco can keep coming back, why can't James Frey?

Here's why: Joey Buttafuoco has led a pretty interesting life. James Frey hasn't. That's Frey's terrible secret, the one he lied to cover up. Frey is an utterly ordinary person, an upper-middleclass stoner who went to rehab. You knew him in college. The real James Frey had almost nothing to write a memoir about. That's why he made it up.

That needs to change. As long as James Frey is going to insist on publishing more memoirs -- and he will -- it's his moral responsibility to do something worth memorializing. For this Frey needs to leave the Upper West Side and get to work. Move to Fallujah. Join the Foreign Legion. Get a job in a coal mine. Become a blackjack dealer on a riverboat. Survive a skydiving accident. Commit a crime and go to prison, this time for real. Anything, as long as it's interesting. Don't come back until you've got a story to tell.

Keep those e-mails coming to Tucker@msnbc.com

Watch The Situation with Tucker Carlson each weeknight at 11 p.m. ET

January 25, 2006

We cheer for America - it's our duty (Tucker Carlson)

You've got to give Joel Stein credit for courage. It takes a lot of brass to begin an op-ed, "I don't support our troops," as Stein did in the LA Times. It's pretty easy to be offended by what Stein wrote, and many people were. But before you write him off as a crank, consider what Stein said:
                       
"We shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea." This is the crux of Stein's argument, and it's not easy to dismiss. If you oppose the war, how exactly can you support the troops? Isn't that like opposing armed robbery but supporting bank robbers? It has the aroma of moral nonsense. As Stein puts it, "being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken."

Plus, Stein argues, someone's got to be held responsible for the war, and it might as well be the troops. Most Americans aren't going to blame themselves. Congress claims it was misled. The obvious culprit is George W. Bush. But, writes Stein, "blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not."

There is some truth in this, and Stein ought to get credit for saying what  many on the left doubtless feel but are too cowardly to articulate. But here's the deeper truth: There are only two sides in this war: Them and us. Thousands of us have been killed by them. Many more likely will be. Only one side will win. It should be us.

Why? Not because this is a just or wise war. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but that's not the point. We cheer for America not because America is right, but because we're Americans. When a Marine is shot in Baghdad, all of us have been attacked. It's elemental, atavistic, tribal. We're in this together, even if we don't want to be.

So, yes, support our troops, no matter what you think of the war. Taking America's side in matters of life and death is our duty -- more than that, it ought to be our instinct. What does it mean to support our troops? Making sure they're well supplied in the field and treated with respect when they return home is a start. But there's more. Root for them. Fervently hope they win. Despise their enemies, who are also ours. Take America's side. It's that simple, and illogical, and true.

Keep those e-mails coming to Tucker@msnbc.com

Watch The Situation with Tucker Carlson each weeknight at 11 p.m. ET

January 23, 2006

Vampire politics (Willie Geist, Situation Senior Producer)

Jonathon Sharkey isn't the first politician to be accused of being an evil bloodsucker. He might, however, be the first to accuse himself of that. Better known to his base as "The Impaler", Sharkey is a self-proclaimed vampire, Satanist, and semi-professional wrestler. If he gets his way (and vampires typically do), he'll also be the next governor of Minnesota.

In a shrewd political maneuver clearly intended to raise his national profile for an inevitable third-party presidential run, Sharkey discussed his campaign platform with Tucker on "The Situation" this week. He proved himself to be not some wacko with fangs and a cape (well, he does have cape), but rather a common-sense vampire with real solutions for the real problems facing Minnesotans. Sure, some shortsighted voters will have trouble overlooking the fact that Sharkey feeds on human blood, but let's be real here, is that really the most disgusting thing a candidate for public office has ever done? Bill Clinton (allegedly) hooked up with Paula Jones, for God's sake. Now that's offensive. Video: Voting for the Vampire?

If you're a junkie for Minnesota politics like I am, you know the 2006 gubernatorial election will be decided by voters' answer to one central question: do you or do you not favor the public impalement of drug dealers, terrorists and other violent criminals? If you answered "yes" to what really amounts to a rhetorical question (what right-thinking person could oppose it?), then there is finally a candidate who speaks for you. Sharkey has pledged to bring a little taste of 15th Century Transylvania right there to The Land of 10,000 Lakes. Convicted criminals will be impaled in front of the statehouse. That's right, stakes will be driven through them. How's that for a law-and-order candidate?

When your governor has a name like "The Impaler", you can be pretty sure impalement is more than just another empty campaign promise. If, however, Sharkey runs into any unforeseen legal obstacles with the whole impaling business, he pledged on our show to send Sicilian crime families after the drug dealers. He might have some trouble locating Sicilian crime families in the greater Twin Cities area, but let's cross that bridge when we get to it.

As you laugh to yourself about the idea of a Satanist vampire sitting in the Minnesota governor's mansion, remember one thing: a professional wrestler nicknamed "The Body" kept that seat warm not too long ago. Jonathon "The Impaler" Sharkey has my formal endorsement. I'm getting on the bandwagon while there's still room. See you on "The Situation"!

Keep those e-mails coming to Tucker@msnbc.com

Watch The Situation with Tucker Carlson each weeknight at 11 p.m. ET

January 16, 2006

Where's Tucker (Willie Geist, Situation Senior Producer)

Many of you have called and e-mailed wondering where Tucker was on Thursday night when “Hardball” aired in our time slot. The company line is that Tucker became very ill and had to leave work just before the start of our show. If you buy that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. The truth is, we don’t know where he was. My guess is he cashed his paycheck and went down to the dog track. That man loves to bet the puppies. The other distinct possibility is that he went to catch a late showing of “Brokeback Mountain”. Either way, we’d like a word with him.

Actually, Tucker was extremely sick. For the record, it’s the first time in his professional career he’s missed a day because of illness. We’re still trying to confirm that with some of his previous employers, but for the time being we’re going to take his word for it. Tucker will be back spreading the libertarian gospel on Monday.

My biggest regret about not doing the show on Thursday is that we didn’t get to bring you the amazing story of the New York family that has filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Japanese hibachi steakhouse Benihana. When you hear Benihana and wrongful death, you have to assume flying ginsu knives or an exploding onion volcano are involved. Not in this case.

This lawsuit proves the old adage, “It’s all fun and games until someone suffers a major neck injury while dodging a flying shrimp”. The attorney for the family of Jerry Colaitis says Colaitis jerked his head out of the way when one of Benihana’s theatrical chefs tossed a sizzling shrimp in his direction. Colaitis died nearly a year later, but the family says the shrimp incident led to his death. Benihana denies that.

I certainly don’t want to trivialize Mr. Colaitis’ death, but can you think of a more disappointing way to go? I don’t mean to tell Jerry his business, but if I were him I’d make something up when I got to The Pearly Gates. Just tell St. Peter you died while pushing a group of schoolchildren out of the way of a train. Something. Anything but the shrimp thing. I can only hope the words “sizzling” and “shrimp” do not appear anywhere in my obituary. We’ll see you back on “The Situation” on Monday.

Keep those e-mails coming to Tucker@msnbc.com

Watch The Situation with Tucker Carlson each weeknight at 11 p.m. ET

January 10, 2006

Questions for Alito (Tucker Carlson)

The New York Times turned its over op-ed page Monday morning to a group of legal experts who listed questions they'd like to throw at Judge Sam Alito during his confirmation hearings this week. A few hours later, the online magazine Slate did the same thing. Never one to miss a trend, I'm piling on. Here are three questions I'd like Alito to answer:

1) Why should the Senate give you this job when you won't even speculate on the decisions you'd make should you get it? By bipartisan consensus, nominees to the Supreme Court are not expected to comment on decisions that recently have or may come before the court. Yet the whole point of holding hearings is so that the public will have a chance to determine what sort of conclusions a potential Supreme Court justice might reach. As Sen. Russ Feingold pointed out today, the only person who's not allowed to comment on Sandra Day O'Connor's tenure as a supreme court justice is the man nominated to take her place. It's easy to see how this tradition helps a White House looking to avoid a political fight. It's harder to see how the public benefits. We have the right to know whether the president has nominated a Souter or a Scalia. The easiest way would be to just ask him.

2) Since we've decided it's acceptable to ask questions about specific cases, what about Roe v. Wade? Does the constitution guarantee the right to abortion? If so, where in the document is that guarantee? Nowhere, you say? Good answer. You're confirmed.

3) Finally, under what circumstances should the court reverse a precedent? You often hear people (usually senators) claim that this or that decision (usually Roe) shouldn't be tampered with because it is "settled law." As if Supreme Court decisions are inviolable simply by virtue of having been made. To which the obvious answer is: Plessy v. Ferguson. Of course some decisions ought to be overturned. The question is, for what reason? Because public opinion has changed? Because American society has evolved? It would be nice to know what the criteria are.

And one more thing, completely unrelated to Sam Alito: Probably a dozen times in the past couple of months, I've heard people talk about a book called A Million Little Pieces. Usually on airplanes, a stranger, usually a woman, has recommended I read James Frey's toe-curling account of his drug and alcohol addiction. So far I haven't gotten around to it.

But I did find time this afternoon to read the authoritative debunking of Frey's bestselling, Oprah-approved book. Called "A Million Little Lies," it is the most comprehensively devastating investigation I have ever read of an author's work. By the end of it, you'll be convinced that Frey fabricated key sections of his book, and for the most self-serving reasons. It's a long story, well worth the time. You'll find it at: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/. Or tune in to the show. We'll be following the story in detail this week.

Keep those e-mails coming to Tucker@msnbc.com

Watch The Situation with Tucker Carlson each weeknight at 11 p.m. ET

January 4, 2006

What really smells about Abramoff scandal (Tucker Carlson)

Lou Sheldon was the first person I ever officially interviewed. I was 22 and working at a quarterly magazine in Washington. My editor had just assigned me a story about religious revival in the inner city. The idea was, black churches might be better equipped to help the urban poor than government aid agencies. Someone suggested I talk to the Reverend Lou Sheldon, the head of a group called the Traditional Values Coalition. Apparently he was an expert on the subject. So I called him.

Sheldon came to my office for the interview. We sat across from each other in my cubicle and I threw a series of questions at him. He answered each one impatiently, then stopped me. "You want to know what the single biggest problem facing inner-city black neighborhoods is?" Yes, I nodded, readying my pen and pad. Sheldon paused. "Homosexuality," he said.

As a general matter, I try to give people like Lou Sheldon the benefit of the doubt. Just because you oppose the practice of homosexuality (and most of the world's six billion people still do oppose to it) doesn't mean you're a bigot. Some people have principled religious objections. I wanted to keep an open mind.

But I couldn't. Homosexuality was the biggest problem in the inner cities? Bigger than crime? And unemployment? And poverty? And broken families? And AIDS? And for that matter, graffiti? Nope, there was no way around it. What the Reverend Lou had said was bizarre. And creepy too.

So it was with not all that much surprise that I read Lou Sheldon's name again recently, in a story about disgraced lobbyist and admitted felon Jack Abramoff. According to the Washington Post, Sheldon allegedly took money from an Abramoff client called eLottery and in return pressured members of Congress to defeat an anti-gambling bill. Sheldon was joined in this by former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, another longtime Abramoff friend.

The usual good government types will point to the Abramoff scandal as yet another reason we need tougher campaign finance laws and more stringent ethics rules in Washington. Maybe they're right. But there's a deeper kind of corruption here.

Why were supposedly honest ideological conservatives like Sheldon and Reed and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist involved with Jack Abramoff in the first place? Keep in mind that Abramoff's business wasn't just gambling, which by itself should have been enough to scare off professional moralizers like Sheldon. Jack Abramoff was a lobbyist for Indian gambling. Over the years Abramoff and his now-indicted partner took more than $80 million from a half a dozen tribes in return for their efforts to keep Indian gambling revenues tax free.

Step back and think about this for a second. Indian tribes get a special pass from the federal government to run a high-margin monopoly simply because they are Indian tribes, which is to say, simply because of their ethnicity. This is the worst, least fair form of affirmative action, and it should be anathema to conservatives. Conservatives are supposed to support the idea of a meritocracy, a country where hard work not heredity is the key to success and everyone is equal before the law. Conservatives should despise Indian gambling on principal.

And some still do. But others got rich from it, and now they're likely headed to jail. I'll be cheering as they're sentenced. Weirdos and charlatans and self-interested hacks like Lou Sheldon and Grover Norquist have long discredited the conservative ideas they purport to represent. Their political allies in Washington and Congress may be tempted to defend them. I hope they don't. We'll all be better off when they're gone.

Keep those e-mails coming to Tucker@msnbc.com

Watch The Situation with Tucker Carlson each weeknight at 11 p.m. ET

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