BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Richard Carlson, what does a man who was an ambassador, a man who ran the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a man who ran the Voice of America, doing writing a piece in The Weekly Standard about a gossip columnist?
RICHARD CARLSON, VICE CHAIRMAN, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, it’s because I have a checkered past, a happy checkered past from my point of view.
I work for Luella Parsons. And gee, 40 years ago, I spent a year, almost a year with her, in Los Angeles. And I read the Page Six Scandal, that is the whole story about Burkle, the grocery store magnet, trapping, quite rightly, I thought, the writer from Page Six, the gossip column in New York, trying to get money out of him. That’s what it appeared to me.
Anyway, so I sat down on a Monday afternoon or so, started to write a reminiscence trying to capture what life was like in the media, at least one small aspect of the media, 40 years ago or so and just sort of offer it up as a comparison between then and now and they’re interesting comparisons, I think.
I had a, I was 21 when I went to work for Luella Parsons. I worked there part time, and I had a couple of other jobs at the same time, trying to become a reporter, which I did and was a reporter for many years.
And I was always thought there was a certain colorful aspect to life in Los Angeles in the early 1960’s. It was worth putting on paper. So I sat down and did it.
LAMB: Going to come back to that right away. But first, when were you head of the Voice of America?
CARLSON: I was – I came to the Voice of America as the Acting Director in 1984. I went through senate confirmation hearings, became the Director General in ’85 and I stayed until the summer of ’91.
LAMB: And when were you head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?
CARLSON: I went to the Seychelles in the first Bush administration…
LAMB: As ambassador.
CARLSON: …as the ambassador. And then I came back, I was contacted by the White House and asked if I would have any interest in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which actually is a job that’s not controlled by any White House, but all White House’s have some, different administrations have some influence there.
I was interested in it. I had journalistic experience, even aside from Luella Parsons. So I came back in the late summer of ’92 and took over the Corporation. And I was at CPB, which is the parent to NPR and PBS for five years, from then on, until ’97, 1998.
LAMB: Before we go back to Luella Parsons, what are you doing right now?
CARLSON: I’m Vice Chairman of the counter-terrorism think tank. It’s called Foundation for the Defense of Democracy. It’s becoming sort of well known, I think, because we’re somewhat of a daily player in the war of words and the war of ideas relative to terrorism.
We’re here in Washington. We do have an office in Brussels. We run a lot of programs that are in support of pluralism and democracy and opposed to terrorism, of course. Let me shorten it to the acronym, FDD.
FDD was started right after 9/11. A group of people got together. It’s bipartisan. It’s nonpartisan. We have democrats and republicans on the advisory board and on the board itself. And it was set up to do something about the threat of terrorism. And I think its been effective in doing something.
LAMB: And what’s your relationship to Tucker Carlson?
CARLSON: Tucker Carlson is one of my two sons. Tucker Carlson, who’s on MSNBC, and actually quite a good writer, I think, is my oldest son. I have a son named Buckley Carlson who lives in Washington. Buckley’s a writer and a pollster.
He works with Frank Luntz (ph). He also works for me. He’s the Producer of a radio show that I do on WMAL.
LAMB: Well, we’ll go back. This may sound like it’s the lighter side of everything we’ve talked about so far. But the Luella Parsons story, how does it relate? First of all, who was she?
CARLSON: Luella Parsons was a, she really originated the movie gossip column. She wrote a book about how to perform in silent motion pictures back in around 1919. She was an enormously powerful person in the world of movies and in Hollywood up until, well, up until her death. But her column in the last year or two was written actually by another person, Dorothy Manners (ph).
But Luella Parsons, and then ultimately Hetta Hopper, were the two prime gossip columnists in America and had a great influence and wielded enormous power in that world, in the world of celebrity in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s.
LAMB: And what year did she die?
CARLSON: She died in – I went to her funeral. She died in, I think it was ’72. It was in the early ’70s, anyway. I was gone. I worked for her in the early ’60s. She retired the year after I left Los Angeles, which was in the fall of ’63. I became a reporter at UPI in San Francisco.
Ms. Parsons died about 10 years later, nine or 10 years later.
LAMB: When you – in the first part of your article you say, ”I don’t know Jared Paul Stern.” Why did you start your piece that way?
CARLSON: Well, because I was going to be talking about the scandal a bit and about life in, around a celebrity gossip column. And Jared Paul Stern is now the former Page Six contributor who had…
LAMB: For the New York Post.
CARLSON: …at the New York Post, who had gotten me this contretemps publicly because he was tape recorded sounding like he was extorting money from a person who was interested in not appearing in a negative way in a column.
So I thought, I wasn’t shocked by it. I don’t know Jared Paul Stern. So the idea that I wasn’t surprised by it is no reflection on him one way or the other. But I wasn’t surprised because that whole world lends itself, I think, to the participants wanting to be rich and the participants wanting to be like the people they cover.
They cover all of this excess in one form or another. And it’s not surprising that they might try and dip in a little bit themselves. Apparently Stern didn’t make much money. I’m under that impression.
LAMB: But there is a political connection because I just, last Sunday the New York Times put on the front page a story about Mr. Burkle, who you mentioned earlier, and he’s a close friend of Bill Clinton’s and has been funding a lot of the things that Bill Clinton does in his retirement from the presidency.
And so that leads to the question of how powerful are gossip columns in the world of politics?
CARLSON: Well, I think they’re pretty powerful. I mean, Page Six is – I read Page Six. I read it not every day but most, oh, three or four times a week. And I read the New York Daily News, as well. Lloyd Grove, who used to be the gossip columnist here in Washington at the Washington Post, now writes a column in the New York Daily News.
They can say things that journalists often can’t say. And often those things are true. Not all of them, but often they are. And so you look for, I guess, the small pyramid that comprises people who are involved in public life. It’s a wonderful opportunity to find out what’s not being printed on the front page in the New York Times and what actually is happening relative to those people.
So people are drawn to gossip, and for understandable reasons, in my opinion.
LAMB: How did you end up working for Luella Parsons? And how big a deal was she when you went to work for her?
CARLSON: Well, Luella Parsons was actually quite a big deal and had been though she was on the wane. Her column had dropped. I’m not sure that – at one time she had about 1,100 newspapers.
She probably had 850 or so when I worked for her, though it’s so long ago I’m not quite sure. I know she was very famous when I worked for her.
I had gone to Los Angeles to become a copy boy at the Los Angeles Times. I wanted to be a reporter. I had spent the previous summer as a cop in Ocean City, Maryland, at age 21. I became very friendly with a reporter, Cassie Mackin. Some people in Washington may remember here, Catherine Mackin. She’s now dead.
Anyway, she encouraged me to be a reporter. I was interested in that. I had been off and on for a number of years. Went to Los Angeles. She helped me get a job at the L.A. Times at sort of a reportorial training program, a very loose one and, as an editorial assistant.
And then because the Times’ mirror building had the United Press International offices in it, just down the hall, as a matter of fact, I got a job part time with something called UPI Foreign Film Bureau which wrote, and I described this in the article, they wrote what they described as, ”Could have been stories (ph) about Hollywood stars,” meaning they were not necessarily true but they could have been true.
Sounds kind of horrible now, but that’s the way it was. So I worked there two mornings a week. I got a job, actually, within a short period of time working there two mornings a week. And then I got a job through sort of a complex arrangement.
But I was very friendly with Lance Grisson (ph) who, with whom I – who is Tucker’s godfather, actually. He was a childhood friend of mine, a boyhood friend of mine, and his mother was an actress, Rosalyn Russell (ph), quite well known in those days.
She introduced me to Ms. Parsons who was looking for someone to help catalog memorabilia that she had collected over this lengthy and actually very interesting career because she covered boxing, she had done a lot of really quite interesting – she was a good friend of Baton Asterson (ph), all those weird, it was a weird connection to an era much before mine that appealed to me.
And she was looking for someone to sit in her basement and catalog this memorabilia, Hoot Gibson’s (ph) hat, you know, Tex Ritter’s chaps, all these weird things. So I took that job and within a short period of time she had me doing leg work for her, just running out to the studios and picking up information and typing things on her, not a typewriter, actually, a teletype that she had upstairs in her house.
This was in her house at 619 North Maple Drive in Beverly Hills. And I worked there for almost a year before I was hired by UPI to go up north.
But anyway, I worked there a few days a week. I got a motorcycle and I raced out every – anyway, spent a lot of interesting time there, I’d say. I had dinner there. She was a widow. She had a boyfriend, Jimmy McCue (ph), who was a songwriter. And I did…
LAMB: You stated in the article – what did he write? Do you remember?
CARLSON: Yes, Sunny Side of the Street, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby. He had – he did, his partner, Dorothy, I didn’t know her, Dorothy, well-known…
LAMB: Giliama (ph)?
CARLSON: …no. Dorothy something, I’ve forgotten her name. She was a well-known lyricist. And she and Jimmy McCue (ph) did shows like The Blackbird Review of 1928 and 1929 on Broadway.
When I met Mr. McCue (ph) he was in his 60s and, pardon me, had an interesting career as well. And I would go to dinner with the two of them sometimes, on Mondays and Tuesday nights because their cook was off on Monday and Tuesday nights. And that was, those were the days that I worked there.
LAMB: Go back – I haven’t heard Cassie Mackin’s name for a long time. She was NBC and died young.
CARLSON: She was ABC White House Correspondent when she died. She had worked with NBC before that. When I met her, which was in the summer of 1962, she was working for the Hearst newspaper from Baltimore. It’s folded, long folded.
But I think it was called The American. I’m not quite sure of that. I’m not from around here. But anyway, I met her at Ocean City, Maryland. She was assigned to cover the social situation in Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City and I was a cop for the summer.
And anyway, we became very good friends. So at the end of the summer – and I was involved in sort of minor contretemps that were in the newspaper. And Cassie Mackin said to me, ”You know, you should really, what are you going to do in the fall?”
And I said, ”I’m going to go back to Old Miss where I had been a student, University of Mississippi.” She said, ”You ought to do something else. You ought to be a reporter.”
Well, I actually went back to Old Miss and the James Meredith riots happened that fall. You may remember this. It was quite a big event. And I stayed through the riots. And then my roommate and I, he was from Chicago, drove out to California. I called Cassie Mackin, and I was kind of very interested in the riots themselves but I had no outlet to write about them. I was just a student there, albeit a 21-year-old student.
So I went to Los Angeles and she introduced me to a woman at the Los Angeles Times by telephone. And she hired me as a copy boy. And I enrolled in UCLA but I really was interested in, simply interested in being a reporter.
LAMB: It was McDonald’s.
CARLSON: I’m sorry. The largest shareholder in McDonald’s because of her husband. And the Joan Kroc I knew, you know, played piano in a bar in Milwaukee and was kind of an interesting character who was propelled by marriage and circumstances into this enormous stratified rich life.
And so I wrote about her from that perspective. There were a lot of things that I knew about her. I knew her daughter. My wife and I had been friendly with her daughter. And so I wrote a piece. It was subjective, not unkind, but I thought a little more interesting than what you necessarily read in her obit because the obit’s are invariably written often by people who don’t know the subject.
So anyway, I’d been around so long that I – but I think you could say it was a classic gossip column. It was honest but it was gossip. It was just stuff you wouldn’t read otherwise.
LAMB: You know, she gave, what, $250 million to NPR.
CARLSON: Maybe more, I’m not sure. Some enormous amount of money.
LAMB: How did that happen?
CARLSON: Well, I think they courted her. I don’t actually know but I was under the impression that Kevin Close (ph) and NPR very intelligently courted her as people who lead large institutions who are looking for no due.
University Presence (ph), for instance, spend a lot of, you know, saddling up to rich folks, often rich widows like Joan Kroc and finding some commonality so when they pass on they will send the money across the town. And that’s what, I think that’s what happened.
LAMB: Why did you and Bill Regardie stop your column in The Hill?
CARLSON: Well, it was not the right choice, actually. It was – we had an editor who was a great guy. It was – well, I won’t get into that. But he was a great guy, but I think it was costing him too much money.
They paid us for it. And they needed the money. And that’s highly competitive with Roll Call. That was the reason they gave us. I think that was the reason because it was actually a pretty sprightly column and I think well received.
So anyway, we could have continued doing it for nothing but, you know, we did it sort of for nothing anyway in the sense that we made about $40,000 a year from it. That’s not nothing but it’s not a lot. And we paid for our own lunches so we had no expenses. We must have spent that between the two of us, I’m sure, at The Palm, usually, where we picked up lots of stories.
LAMB: How would you define yourself?
CARLSON: Well, I think – well, politically I’m sort of a libertarian. I was a republic appointee. I think of myself as self-educated. That’s what I kind of always wanted to be. I read enormously, starting when I was five or six years old, always interested in a lot of things.
And I would like to think that when I’m gone one of my kids, at least, would have inscribed on my head stone, ”He was an interesting guy,” or something like that. That’s the way I think of myself.
LAMB: How did Tucker get interested in journalism?
CARLSON: Well, I think he says it was because of me. I’m not, I don’t know the answer to this and I never really asked him. When he was young, he was very inquiring and very, he’s a very smart guy and also a very nice guy, I must say. He and my other son, Buckley, are kind-hearted and good fathers. They’re both fathers, good parents, good husbands and nice to everyone, very democratic in the good sense of that term.
Tucker is strongly motivated. He’s interested in everything. He knows everything. Even when he – he read War and Peace when he was like eight or nine years old. He was really, he devoured every book in our house. And we had a lot of books.
And I was involved on the periphery of politics and journalism always. And if we had a lot of different people over, he paid a lot of attention, I think, and went on – I never thought he was going to be a reporter or a writer. I never encouraged him to do that.
I never – I actually attempted not to encourage him politically, either. I decided those are the things that should be left up to them. And I didn’t realize that Tucker had an interest in being a writer.
He told me later he always had an interest, but I didn’t know that. I had no idea. I thought he might be a teacher at one time. He had evidenced interest in that. He was married young at 21. It would have been – if he had been someone else I would have thought that was not a good idea.
But he was marrying the headmaster’s daughter from the prep school he went to. They had been friends since they were 15. They were very mature, and they knew what they wanted. They had been, had a wildly successful marriage, anybody who knows them. They’ve been married for 15 years almost, and they have four children.
And Tucker always seemed to know what he wanted. He immediately, almost immediately, got a job at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as an editorial writer, which was an unusual job for somebody who’s like 22, I think he was 22, and was a success at that and was a Pulitzer nominee within a year. He was finalist, actually, for editorial writing that year and has gone on to considerable success.
And he’s a very equitable guy. He’s very well balanced, it seems. And so is my son, Buckley. He’s the same way. They’re very close. Buckley’s really good, he’s a good man with words. And he does focus groups. He does a lot of polling. He does, he’s interested in the nuances of language and so on and exercises that.
And then he produces the radio show that we do. We do that show together, Danger Zone.
LAMB: Is that heard nationally, by the way?
CARLSON: No, it’s not. It is – well, we always say that you can hear it on the Internet. By that I mean you can go to our Web site, which is www.defenddemocracy.org, and the show is archived there and you can download and listen to any show from the past.
It’s on once a week. It’s an hour – I don’t mean to do a sell on your program about it. It’s a pretty good show. It’s about terrorism. It’s different. There was no show that I know of like it. We’ve been approached by a station in Arizona. It’s on WMAL here in Washington, which is heard in northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington.
But we were approached by a station in Arizona asking if we would be interested. So we’re talking to them right now and hope to do something to spread it a bit.
LAMB: Go back to Luella Parsons. You were in Hollywood in that area, and you worked for her for one year, 1963, I believe.
CARLSON: ’62 to ’63, yes.
LAMB: What were the rules of gossip?
CARLSON: Well, it’s funny. I worked, as I mentioned, I worked for UPI Foreign Film Bureau, as well. I was an assistant there. We had three people who wrote stories. And Henry Gree (ph), the boss, they wrote stories and then I wrote stories.
The only rule that they seemed to have was do not libel anyone. That was because they could have been stories. They were actually rewritten gossip pieces stolen, basically, from other columnists. Occasionally there were telephone interviews but not very often.
They were mostly stories that would not get you in trouble, and they were printed, the best part, from UPI’s point of view, was that they were printed abroad. And they were printed often in foreign languages.
And the world was not as small then as it is now. Now you can say something in Jakarta, you can give a speech in Oslo, and that will get back to somebody in Connecticut in a day. But it was not the case then.
And so the stories that we wrote were sort of harmless Hollywood stories. They were printed in 60, 70 magazines abroad but those magazines and those clips often didn’t come back to haunt anyone at all.
I think the rule with UPI Foreign Film Bureau was just don’t, you can lie if you want but don’t, you know, don’t tell such whoppers that are going to get you in trouble.
With Luella Parsons there were no ground rules other than the ones that were understood and established. And in her case, she was interested in being reliable. She didn’t make things up, that’s for sure. That column had been around for a long time.
It was highly accountable to the movie industry itself. But her likes and her personal wins and her dislikes would form some real basis. And that kind of power is corrupting. And any columnist around worth the salt, whether it’s Herb Kane (ph), columns have changed a lot, but Herb Kane (ph) was a great columnist in San Francisco.
His personal desires and the people he liked and the people he wanted to be nice to were treated completely differently than the ones he didn’t like and who he’d either snipe at or not mention at all, which was probably just as bad from the point of view of some public people.
But I think probably the rules are if you’re going to fudge the truth, don’t get caught doing it. That’s for sure.
LAMB: Now, you write about the fact that people beat a path to her door on her birthday.
CARLSON: They did. And I think I was making the point, well, a sort of social cultural point about the differences between then and now. But I think the freebie aspect of life in the celebrity lane is probably pretty much the same. I don’t know much about it.
When Bill Regardie and I were at, writing this column once a week for The Hill, we made ourselves completely available for free lunch and minor corrupting perks but nobody ever offered them to us. So I can’t tell you what it’s like.
But I know in my heart that if you work for Page Six in New York with the New York Post or any other powerful column, that a lot of free dinners and lunches and things like that come your way.
I read in the paper, I don’t know this personally, that Richard Johnson, who I do know personally…
LAMB: He runs Page Six.
CARLSON: …he runs Page Six, he gets lots of perks. He had apparently recently someone had given him a bachelor party. He was getting married and was given a very expensive bachelor party in Mexico. He had been given a chauffeured limousine to use when he went out to the Academy Awards, things like that.
That’s not surprising at all. I don’t know if it’s corrupting but I think it’s just part of that, it’s part of that world and it’s an appealing thing if you’re the recipient of those kinds of perks, I would imagine.
LAMB: Who showed up at Luella Parson’s door?
CARLSON: Well, Luella would get these presents. There are a lot stories about Luella getting presents, most of which were apocryphal, sort of, though I was aware of one of them. This was the story.
And I heard her say this that it was – well, it was believed in Los Angeles, and her enemies would spread the story, that her car once had been filled with Christmas presents or presents of some kind from the studios where she was powerful.
And she parked it and someone stole all the presents out of the car. And then Luella called the studios and the movie stars who gave the presents and demanded that they replace the presents that were stolen.
And she – and that story was printed and had been printed before, before I arrived there, and it was printed when I was there in a magazine article. And I remember – and Luella walked into the office in her home and was furious and said – by the way, I never called her Luella, either. Ms. Parsons walked in her home and waved this magazine around and then said, ”Do you know why this story is not true?”
And then she answered her own question. And she said, ”It’s not true because I would never go and pick up and the presents myself,” because the story was that she had gone and gone and picked up these presents. They would deliver them, and that’s true. And they did deliver them.
And I was there for her birthday in August of 1963, right before I left for San Francisco. I actually left that night for San Francisco to start work at the UPI office there. And so I went to party at her house and I helped, in fact, make a list of all of the presents that came.
And there were many, many presents that came in, over 100, that were delivered and delivered in a few cases by, I mentioned, Chuck Connors from the Rifleman, who was famous then, anyway, on a television show, and he brought a present, but I can’t recall what it was.
But we were there and we had advance word that Elvis Presley was coming. So I opened the door when Elvis Presley arrived with Colonel Parker and three or four of his cousins, I guess, these, his entourage. And they were carrying a Conestoga wagon made out of wood with a canvas top and it was filled with silver dollars.
In those days, the fuller (ph) price of silver had risen. This was 1963. The silver dollars were all 1880s and 1890s and 1910 and so on. But it weighed probably a couple hundred pounds. And they brought it in the living room and I added that to the yellow legal tablet of gifts.
She kept a list of the gifts, as I mentioned in the article. I’m sure she kept that list for thank you notes but she probably also kept it for other reasons. I’ll bet you she kept track of who was nice to her, I imagine. I’m probably projecting because if I were Luella Parsons or if I were a powerful gossip columnist and you were living the way she lived, which was a lot of free dinners and free treatment and so on, you keep track of your friends.
And then you turn around and you’re mean to your enemies, if you can be.
LAMB: Let’s jump to New York just for a moment. It’s all, at the moment, alleged that this young fellow, Jared Paul Stern, had tried to shakedown Mr. Burkle. Nothing’s been proven, I gather.
But is there much of this today, gifts for, or favors for coverage in newspapers, magazines and television?
CARLSON: Well, I’m not aware of it personally. I am aware, though, that it’s very common for magazines to make deals with celebrities. And I do think this is very dishonest. I think it’s worse than receiving free dinners at The Brown Derby or something, which Ms. Parsons used to do.
And that is to run Vanity Fair, is an example, that were kind of a sophisticated celebrity suck-up magazine, and agree with a person who’s going to appear on the cover that will only pose you in a certain way, that it will airbrush some of the fat out to make you look better, that we will not ask certain questions about certain areas that you’ve demanded that we not ask about. And those agreements, I believe, take place all the time, that the limits put on by public relations people and by the stars themselves who want to keep close track of the manipulation of their image and to see that it’s only favorable.
But that happens a lot. And I think it’s a disservice to the reader. And I don’t like that kind of journalism.
LAMB: When you were running the Voice of America, what kind of rules did you have about the way people at the Voice could cover news?
CARLSON: We had a lot of rules. And we were, we operated as a normal, what I think of as a main stream news organization with journalistic principles. I have to say that there’s an awful lot of jumping up and down about journalistic principles in America.
And the self-congratulatory nature of journalism and the people who get put out to pasture and spend their lives stroking their chins talking about ethics and all of that’s a little out of hand, in my view.
But the Voice of America was one of the better-run, not because I ran it, but traditionally one of the better-run news operations around. It really did strive for fairness and objectivity and balance. And the federal government played no role whatsoever in determining the slant or policy spin. There was no such thing.
There were editorials that represented as editorials, but, which reflected the views of the United States government. And there was always controversy about that. But I felt that was a good thing because there were an awful lot of, there were millions of listeners who wanted to know exactly what the U.S. government’s position was at a certain time.
But it didn’t infect the news at all.
LAMB: Your years again at the Voice?
CARLSON: I was there during the last six years of the Cold War, until the summer of ’91.
LAMB: You got cross-wise with Bruce Gill (ph)…
CARLSON: I did.
LAMB: …who ran the USIA.
CARLSON: Yes. That’s correct.
LAMB: Over what?
CARLSON: Well, the Voice of America was the largest single element of the USIA. And I was an Assistant Director of USIA, as well, the U.S. Information Agency, now dissolved, and unfortunately when we, even the most (ph) are not around, was a great mistake, I think, on the part of Madeleine Albright and Jesse Helms, who were the two partisan figures who ended up destroying the USIA.
But at that time, USIA would use the Voice of America as its cash cow. The Voice of America was something to get your hands around. It was easier to understand the Voice of America and what it did in terms of bringing information to captive nations and to the Soviet, former Soviet Union and so on as opposed to some of the public diplomacy programs that were quite good but not as easily understood at USIA.
So we had, the Voice had a lot of, had a lot of incipient power. And the Voice of America director was appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate then. It is no longer the case. Consequently the VOA director doesn’t have the autonomy that he had then.
And I got into it with Bruce Gill (ph), the head of USIA, because he initially tried to cut a lot of language services that I felt and I think just about everybody felt who understood the broadcasting should not be cut…
LAMB: Like what?
CARLSON: …at the time. Thai was one of them. And the Thai language service was important. Vietnamese, they were Laotian, they were going to cut back on some of the Laotian broadcasts. They were look for ways to save money.
So we – anyway, that was the beginning of it. Then Bruce Gill (ph) spent a lot of time interfering. And I stopped that. And I stopped, and I have to say, it was an effective fashion. What I did was I was forced, ultimately, by USIA to cut these language services.
So I called a meeting of all the Voice of America employees, which there were a couple thousand, and 1,200 or so packed into an auditorium. And then I announced the cuts that were going to be made. And then there were people from the New York Times who had come and various newspapers sitting in the front row.
And then I had all of the service members who made up the Thai service, for instance, stand up. And I read their names and their years of service and told them they were going to be fired. And so it was the drama of the situation immediately caused Bruce Gill (ph), the people who were across the street from me at USIA, to run and change their minds about cutting that service.
It was a classic Washington hardball move on my part, I admit. It got me the enmity of the USIA director. I was nice to him after that but he had a lot of personal problems. I don’t want to spend time attacking him, but he attempted to sort of interfere with the news operation at the Voice. Not sort of, he did attempt to do that in a couple of bad ways.
We were protected by a public law that prevented us or prevented other elements of the U.S. government, CIA, for instance, and state department, however well-meaning those organizations are, from calling me up and saying, ”We’d rather you didn’t cover this story this week because we don’t think it’s in our policy interest to do that.”
The belief is, was, and is now, that that’s a poor way to run a news organization. And you can’t, you lose credibility by allowing that kind of interference. And there’s a public law to prevent it.
LAMB: Is the Voice less free today than it was when you were there?
CARLSON: No, I don’t think it is but I think it’s run quite differently. It has a board now that manages it. It does have a director, but the director is more a program director than – it’s all been so restructured because of the end of the Cold War.
LAMB: But the director doesn’t have the kind of independence that you did because he’s not…
CARLSON: He does not, no. He does not.
LAMB: Before I forget it, I remember reading that you were an adoptee.
CARLSON: Yes. That’s true.
LAMB: Tell us that story.
CARLSON: Well, I came from an orphanage in Boston. And it was called a Home for Little Wanderers. It – there’s a number of my friends that would accusing me of making that up but that actually is what it was called. And that’s actually what it’s called now. It still exists.
I was the spokesman. I was under their care for two and a half years. My father committed suicide when I was a baby. My mother gave me up to the orphanage. I was adopted by the Carlsons when I was two and half, around two and a half, two years and about five months.
And my name originally was Richard Boynton (ph). It’s now Richard Carlson. I was the speaker at the annual meeting for The Home for Little Wanderers when I was at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
It was an orphanage that started like many other orphanages after the Civil War, 1865, 1866. There were so many disseminated families in America and so many children who were living on the streets and so on they began this place.
It’s decanting (ph) it’s looks. It’s still, it’s physically, it’s gotten a little better. But the original buildings are still there. I actually don’t remember anything about it because I was two and a half years old.
But it was a good thing for me. I gave a speech on the subject of them. I think it was – I became very independent person in part because of that. And so if I were going to – when I said my epitaph would be nice if it said, ”He was an interesting guy,” I like to think that The Home for Little Wanderers made some large contribution to that.
LAMB: Did you ever know your mother?
CARLSON: Yes, as a matter of fact I did. My mother died, my real mother. Her name was Dorothy Anderson Boynton (ph). She died about three months ago. I actually had only seen her once in my life. I saw her in 1977.
And I had tracked her down, I didn’t know her, I didn’t know anything about the circumstances of all this. I didn’t know who my father was. I didn’t know how he died. I didn’t know that he did die.
But I undertook – I was an investigative reporter at one time. And I ran an investigative unit for ABC on the west coast for a number of years when I was working in television. And one of the things that I did on the side was attempt to find out my own background.
And I was successful in that. I located Dorothy, my real mother, in ’77, ’76, and then I went back and saw her in ’77. And I have a brother who lives in Virginia and I had never met him, either. I didn’t know he existed.
He was born to her, a different father, a half brother, born to her about 10 years after me. And she had given me away. And she named him the same name she named me. So I have a brother who I just had dinner with recently, whose name is Dick, Richard.
LAMB: Richard Boynton (ph)?
CARLSON: Yes. He has a different father. His name is Richard Johns (ph) and he lives in, well, I didn’t go to his house, Lexington or somewhere near there in Virginia.
LAMB: Go back to the Voice of America. Was that your first politically appointed job?
CARLSON: I actually had been appointed by Reagan. I was appointed by Reagan to the Peace Corps Advisory Council, which was in a senate confirmation post a couple of years before that.
I was living in La Hoya, California in the early ’80s. I had gone into the banking business. I was in the banking business for seven years looking for stability. I had gone from parapathetic (ph) television journalist into the banking business.
I did that. I then, we took a small savings and loan, turned it into a federal savings bank because it had something to do with the stockholder situation with it, myself and a guy named Gordon Luce (ph) and some others but Gordon and I principally and was successful with it.
I then retired in 1981 and ran for mayor of San Diego when I was in my 40’s, I guess. I ran for mayor of San Diego and I was defeated. I was very friendly with Pete Wilson. Pete Wilson had been the mayor and then he became a senator. He became later the governor but he was the senator then.
And he and Gordon Luce (ph), who was a member of the Republican Reagan cabinet at one time and very friendly with him, had kind of encouraged me to get into politics on its periphery. I did and I ran for office.
But I was on the state republican central committee in California for a while. I’m just much of a party person. So I wasn’t all that interested in it. But anyway, I did make a lot of friends. And Pete Wilson encouraged me after I was defeated for mayor in San Diego to come back to Washington and pushed me with the administration, to some extent, and Gordon Luce did, too.
And then I was offered a job in Washington as the spokesman, the head of the public liaison, Director of the Office of Public Liaison of the U.S. Information Agency. I came back, my wife and I – my wife’s uncle was Bill Fulbright on the democratic side. My mother-in-law is Bill Fulbright’s sister.
And we came back to Washington. We were friendly with Senator Fulbright by dint of him being my wife’s uncle, and we came back. We bought a house in Georgetown. I became the spokesman for the U.S. Information Agency and then within a few months I was approached about being the Director of VOA.
LAMB: Let me go back and untangle the Bill Fulbright thing. First of all, who was he?
CARLSON: Bill Fulbright was a senator from Arkansas. He was a long-time liberal democrat and head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the father of the Fulbright Scholarships, which he didn’t fund, by the way. I always think it’s amusing that people put their names on things and then they get this amazing credit that goes on forever as if they funded it.
Bill Fulbright actually was an interesting guy. I knew him pretty well. He was from Fayetteville, Arkansas. He had been the head of the University of Arkansas at the age of 27. My wife’s grandmother, who was his mother, Roberta Fulbright, owned, was a widow who owned an ice company and a bank and a radio station and a T.V. station and a beer distributorship and all of this stuff in a small part of northwest Arkansas and owned a newspaper and hence was a reasonably powerful person there.
And was a publisher of a paper and a columnist once a week. And she, her favorite hobby was pushing her son, Bill. And she actually got him the appointment as the head of the University of Arkansas at age 27.
He then became a congressman for one term and then he went on to become a U.S. senator. And depending on your perspective, he was great or he wasn’t. But he was an interesting guy and quite likeable and I got along with him well.
He actually appeared with me once when I was sworn in as Ambassador to the Seychelles. I think that’s what it was. And he went up to the Center of Foreign Relations Committee with me, he was retired at that point, and introduced me to the committee and immediately forgot my name.
He was sitting there and he winged his way right through it. He kept calling me the candidate and he gave a stump speech. He was fine man but everybody knows him knows he’s honest. It was quite a moment. Anyway.
LAMB: By the way, what do you think is the most interesting thing about you?
CARLSON: I have a good sense of humor. That’s what I think. I don’t know. I have an interesting background, I guess. I think it’s – I’m not sure which of the weird aspects of my previous life it is. I’m a little uncertain.
LAMB: Let’s go on to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Ken Tomlison (ph) has sat in that chair and talked on this program.
CARLSON: I know Ken pretty well.
LAMB: He was the Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. You were what?
CARLSON: I was the President and the CEO, the difference being that the Chairman actually is politically appointed. I was not politically appointed. I was appointed by the board of which Ken, not when I was there, but Ken became the Chairman of that board.
When I was there, originally when I was approached by the White House, they had been talking to Sharon Rockefeller, who runs WETA here in Washington, and Sheila Tate, from Powell Tate, who was a Republican.
LAMB: And Sharon Rockefeller is Jay Rockefeller’s…
CARLSON: Right. And Sharon’s a Democrat. And I knew them both, and they were interested in having me come as the CEO, a President/CEO. And the appointment was made by that board. And when it was made it was Sharon Rockefeller who was the Chairman.
They had always had difficulty with the board. The board is appointed by the president. Sometimes the appointments are good. Sharon Rockefeller was a fine appointment. She’s, I like her a great deal.
LAMB: She’s also a Chuck Percy, former Senator Chuck Percy’s daughter.
CARLSON: Yes. Correct. And I like Sharon. I know her really well. And I like Sheila, who I know really well and is a very powerful person here in Washington, in my view.
She and Jody Powell have Powell Tate, which is a large public relations firm. Anyway, they were…
LAMB: And Jody Powell used to be the Press Secretary for President Carter.
CARLSON: …exactly. And Sheila had been Press Secretary, had been traveling Press Secretary for George Bush, the first George Bush, and had been Mrs. Reagan’s Press Secretary at the White House.
So the two of them were well connected on both sides of the aisle. They were anticipating republican domination in the Congress, well, I think, and that’s probably why they were interested in me for the job.
So I took that job. So Ken, the job Ken had was an appointed part-time position. I’m not denigrating it, but he, it’s not a full-time job. And it was the same job that Sharon had. Then Ken – you have to be very careful about public broadcasting.
Ken is a Conservative. I consider myself a Conservative. I never had the difficulty Ken had. I don’t know if I can compare the two things. I was very careful because public broadcasting has at its base a very, a liberal background. Very is not necessarily the right thing but has a liberal background and a liberal bent.
And there are a lot of Liberals and Democrats who think it belongs to them. But there are sufficient numbers of them anyway because you make trouble if you’re not careful with them. And Ken was not. And Ken made some errors. I only know this from what I’ve read in the paper, but he got across purposes with them.
And they’ll, you know, this is the faculty lounge. And there is no area that’s not big enough or too small to cause people to come after you, if not an ax with a manicure scissors. And that’s what they did to Ken, I’m afraid.
LAMB: One of the things I know people in our audience are saying right now is that these connections, I mean, all these different connections with this town…
CARLSON: Well, isn’t that the truth about this town, though? I mean, it’s amazing. Actually, I look at my children. Tucker and Buckley who are involved and engaged in events. And so I see people on Tucker’s show sometimes that he’s talking to as a peer, as a guest, who I knew 40 years ago in some other incarnation or I had a relationship with them because I was a reporter, they were a subject or whatever it happens to be.
I was on John McLaughlin’s (ph) show once. He did this one-on-one. It was some years ago. And I remember that I had John McLaughlin (ph) on a show that I did in Los Angeles around 1973 or so. When John (ph) and Rabbi Courth (ph) were making, Rabbi Courth (ph) were making the rounds defending Richard Nixon.
And John (ph) was then a priest who was employed in the Nixon White House. And I thought, well, it’s come full circle. And now McLaughlin (ph), he’s this powerful television personality and now I’m appearing on his show. He once was on mine.
LAMB: Did he remember that he had been on your show?
CARLSON: Well, actually this was kind of interesting. I like John (ph). John (ph) didn’t mention it to me. And I actually had forgotten it. And I was sitting in the green room waiting to go on and a producer, or his producer, came in and said to me, ”I understand that John McLaughlin (ph) was on a show you did once.”
And I was embarrassed and said, ”He was? I don’t frankly remember it.” Because, you know, I did a lot of shows back in the ’60s and ’70s. And he remembered. So he reminded me. I said, ”How did you know that?”
He said, ”Well, Dr. McLaughlin (ph) mentioned it to me.” I said, ”Oh.” So when we did the show, the one-on-one, I kept thinking he might bring it up and he never did. So I never did either.
LAMB: Speaking of connections, in my research for talking with you I found an interesting connection. First of all, you’re Vice Chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.
LAMB: Is there a Chairman?
CARLSON: Jack Kemp is the Chairman. Yes. Is he not listed on there because he’s…
LAMB: I don’t think he’s listed as Chairman.
CARLSON: …he is the Chairman, yes.
LAMB: But I found, for instance, on that, on your board of advisors for that, Steve Forbes, Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey.
LAMB: And then it pops up on the Libby Legal Defense Trust, the same four, Forbes, Kemp, Kirkpatrick, and Woolsey.
CARLSON: Well, I think – I ensure you it’s a total, it’s totally coincidental. I’ve never had a conversation with any of those people, any one of them or all of them, on the subject of Libby…
LAMB: And you’re on the Libby…
CARLSON: …oh, I’m a good friend of Scooter Libby’s. You know what it boils down to on this, I assure you it’s totally – it’s probably consonant with the political views of the people, but beyond that I actually didn’t realize that Woolsey was active on that.
But it makes sense. They’re friends, Woolsey, anyway, is a friend of Scooter’s. I’ve been a friend of Scooter’s for years. Scooter Libby is a person, in my view, of great integrity and character. He was my lawyer at one time, before he went into the government.
He was – he and Leonard Garment were partners in a law firm, Decker (ph), Price, and Rhodes (ph)…
LAMB: Former Counsel to Richard Nixon, Leonard Garment.
CARLSON: …yes, Leonard, a great guy, in my view, and a good friend of mine. And that’s how I met Scooter, through Leonard. Actually, Scooter represented me – this is interesting, I’ve never mentioned this because nobody ever asked me but I represented Monica Lewinsky in her book deals. I was her book agent.
And I sold the book that My Story book. Anyway, I did. And I did a couple of other things for her having to do with representing her, not a press representation. I stay out of the press, but sort of a praise-eye legal representation.
And when I drew up the contract with Monica it was Scooter Libby who drew it up for me. So, I mean, I was…
LAMB: How did you get into that?
CARLSON: Well, Monica’s mother married – this is, we talk about coincidences, married a fellow who had been, Peter Strauss (ph), who had been Director of the Voice of America in the Carter administration.
Peter Strauss (ph), fine guy from New York, owned Strauss (ph) Communications, which had radio stations and newspapers. And Monica’s mother, after the scandal broke within about six or seven months, that summer, I didn’t know Monica’s mother and I didn’t know Monica but I knew Peter Strauss (ph).
Peter Strauss’s (ph) wife, Ellen Saltzberger (ph), had died two, three years before. He was older. And Peter married Monica’s mother. And then Peter called me and said, that summer, the summer of – the scandal had broken around December, as I remember, called me and asked me if I would come to New York and talk to Monica because they were trying to find ways that Monica could legitimately and at a minimal amount of embarrassment, make money to help pay for her legal fees.
And I could see what the problem was because Peter has children, grown children, Peter was then probably (ph) 75, and the fact that she had these enormous fees, hundreds of thousands of dollars, probably was difficult with his family, I would imagine. I’m guessing.
And her father, who’s a physician in Los Angeles, was not forthcoming about paying for the fees. So I went up and I spent two weeks with Monica across the hall in the Essex House, in a hotel in New York, under assumed names and I went through all of her mail and all of the offers, of which there were hundreds and hundreds of offers of different kinds, some ridiculous, some not, in an attempt to find a way to make money so she could pay these legal fees.
And she had just taken on two new attorneys here in Washington, actually, and DeMorris (ph) and, what’s his name, the other guy, anyway. So I succeeded. And I approached the publisher ultimately and an author and anyway, we did the book and so on.
Now why was I telling you all of that? Because Scooter Libby wrote the contract with me as her book agent but we kept it secret.
LAMB: This is a total non-sec (ph) order. When your son, Tucker, used to do our program, our call-in program, he always had on his wrist some bands. And I notice that you have a band on your wrist. Is that just a coincidence? Or do you…
CARLSON: No, it’s not, actually. And this, it’s a green rubber band and I don’t usually explain why it’s there. But Tucker wears one and so does my son, Buckley. And this originally, these green rubber bands, we started wearing them about 30 years ago when the kids were little.
And I wore one, they wore one. And it came from newspaper. And it was to remind them to be intellectually curious. It sounds pompous, but this was the idea, and to be in touch with something that was as common as a rubber band and to never believe your own press releases. I used to tell them that.
If you ever have one, don’t believe it. And just, you know, keep – I was on television in the early ’70s, mid-’60s to mid-’70s. And I was sitting in a restaurant once in Los Angeles and some people came up and asked for an autograph. I was on KABC in L.A. Big deal. I never thought it was a big deal.
And my kids were with me. And I said to them, and the reason I remember this is because Tucker’s reminded me of it, ”Don’t take that to heart. The reason those people asked me for that autograph is because I’m on television. They don’t even know me. They don’t know anything about me. And they won’t even remember my name. So don’t be impressed.”
So Tucker said to me years later, he recounted that story, which I had forgotten, and he said that, ”I think about that all the time. And I never let this stuff go to my head. Don’t think you’re so important just because you’re sitting up there with a chance to pontificate or affect somebody else’s opinions. It will change at some point.”
Anyway, the rubber band is kind of a reminder.
LAMB: Where did you get the idea of the rubber band?
CARLSON: Well, I think the boys and I were really close when we were young. And it just came from a conversation that we had and, I don’t know, just kind of grew from having rubber bands from the newspaper, I guess, and from the L.A. Times, actually.
I had moved down to La Hoya from Los Angeles. And my Times subscription followed me at the time. And I put it on, and pretty soon they put it on, and it was a little – you noticed it on Tucker. We used to talk about it.
Oh, what did he say? You’re the only person that’s ever asked me.
LAMB: He didn’t define it. He just – actually, I don’t think he connected it with his father. But anyway, now we have that connection.
LAMB: Speaking of connections, go back to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. It’s been around since two days after September 11th.
CARLSON: Yes. And we put on some – it’s grown. We have about 35 employees full time. We raise maybe four million a year. We have a number of programs that have been effective. We have a couple of government contracts but mostly we’re not, it’s only been fairly recently. We’re not really dependent on the government at all.
But we have done training of women in Iraq. And we have done some training for the state department of visiting Iraqi delegations to the United States in how the media operates in basic elements of democracy and so on.
We have a moderate Muslim-speaking program where we send people out to appear on college campuses or whatever, be in the media, and so on, who represent modern Islam. The majority of Islamists who are perfectly good citizens and don’t follow radical Islam, which we consider an enemy. Radical Islam is clearly, you know, in the United States and otherwise.
LAMB: As you know, there have been articles written that accuse you all, I don’t know if it’s accusation, but it’s a pro-Zionist group, not really interested in terrorism but more interested in Zionism.
CARLSON: Well, I’d say consider the source. They come from the people who use the word Zionist a lot.
LAMB: The American Conservative is one of them. Pat Buchanan’s presentation (ph).
CARLSON: Oh, OK. All right. I didn’t know – oh, I remember that article, actually. It seems not uncomplimentary, in some ways.
LAMB: No, and I didn’t mean it as an accusation. They said that was the foundation and the reason. And a lot of Jewish philanthropists funded this thing in the first place.
CARLSON: That’s not necessarily true, but we do, we run a program for college students and we do it with the University of Tel Aviv, and Tel Aviv University. And we chose Israel because Israel is a country under siege. And it’s a democracy in a part of the world where there are no democracies.
And it’s under constant irregular terrorist attack and threat. So it seemed like a logical place. If you’re going to study certain diseases, you might go Africa. In the case of terrorism, going to Israel is a good place to go.
That may be what’s stuck in their craw. I don’t know.
LAMB: I don’t think it’s stuck in their craw, but one of the things you find interesting is that these organizations often have a lot of the same people on it. The reason I asked you that is…
CARLSON: For sure.
LAMB: …where does this strong motivation come from for these organizations? And I know you’ve seen people give money. Why do they give money to make these things happen? What do they want out of this?
CARLSON: Well, I think in the case of the people on our board, they ask for nothing. And, you know, we have – our board of advisors, and we do have democrats. It’s not all on the right. Donna Brazile is one of them. Chuck Schumer’s another one.
Donna Brazile, whose foreign policy views are pretty damn sensible…
LAMB: Joseph Lieberman.
CARLSON: …in my view. Yes, Joe Lieberman. I mean, there are…
LAMB: Louis Freeh, Newt Gingrich…
LAMB: …Gary Bauer, Bill Kristol…
LAMB: Dick Lamm, former Governor of…
CARLSON: And there are differences between…
CARLSON: …those people, how they stand on abortion, how they stand on other issues, I don’t know. I could guess at some of it. There’s no unanimity of opinion.
But I think all of them are public-spirited people. I know most of those people who venture (ph) – Louis Freeh I know really well. They are enormously interested in what happens to America and they’re big defenders of democracy. And I think that’s the reason they do it.
They get nothing out of it. All they do is have, get put upon in one form or another. You know lots of people like that. They are genuinely honest and motivated.
LAMB: And how do you vet (ph) on these kind of organizations. You were obviously there in the beginning. You’re the Vice Chairman. Do you spend much time every day doing this? Or is that where you…
CARLSON: Yes, I do this all the time.
LAMB: Full time.
CARLSON: I do. I do the radio show. I write, you know, here and there, I write op ed pieces and things like that. And we have a lot of things going on. I’ve gone to Israel. I’ve gone through the training program there. We send professors there.
We have a program at William and Mary which we run in the summer time for a couple of weeks. It’s a familiarization with counter-terrorism and terrorism. And it’s for professors.
LAMB: How do you vet (ph) people that end up on your board of advisors? I mean, do you ever make mistakes?
CARLSON: Well, that’s a good question. No, there’s no formal vetting (ph) process, and most of them are people whose careers are reasonably open and about whom there’s much information to make subjective judgments.
So if you name them all, many of them are well known or reasonably well known. And so…
LAMB: Zell Miller, Richard Perle, Chuck Schumer, Marc Ginsberg, Frank Gaffney, J.D. Hayworth.
CARLSON: Yes. Exactly. So the common thread through them all, and there’s considerable political difference between some of them, that’s for sure, is an interest in America and a belief that terrorism is never justified under any circumstance. You hear the thing, ”Well, one man’s terrorism, terrorist, rather, is somebody else’s freedom fighter.”
Well, I’m sorry, we don’t accept that.
LAMB: We’re about out of time. I do have one last question.
LAMB: Is there anything you haven’t done that you want to do before your life gets near the end?
CARLSON: Well, it’s hardly (ph) and I (ph), I’m 65 years old and I constantly say to myself, ”There’s things I should have done.” Now I’m too old to be a fireman. I realized that when I was 40. And it’s kind of shocking in a way, using it as a metaphor, how precluded you are.
But there’s still some adventures I’d like to have. And I want to write a couple of good books. And I’m working on one, so I – it’s a reminiscence of the ’60s, sort of reminiscence, so I hope I can get that out some time in the next year.
LAMB: We’re out of time. Richard Carlson, thank you very much.
CARLSON: Thank you, Brian Lamb. Great being with you.