Tucker Carlson: How early rejection by hippie San Francisco mom made him shameless (2024)

Before Tucker Carlson’s shocking ouster from Fox News Monday, observers sometimes said he owed his massive success on the network and in America’s extreme right-wing circles to his unique ability to be shamelessly provocative.

A 2022 New York Times profile of Carlson described his on-air technique as “gleefully courting blowback” for touting racist, white nationalist views or for being one of the “most visible and voluble defenders of those who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol to keep Donald Trump in office.” The more Carlson doubled-down at Fox, the more his millions of nightly viewers embraced him as an “aggrieved” partner in their perceived “victimhood,” the Times said.

In interviews over the past few years, Carlson has suggested that he developed his extremely thick skin for cable news success because of his mother — or rather, because of the terrible thing his mother, former San Francisco socialite-turned-artist Lisa McNear Lombardi, did to him as a 6-year-old.

“I bitterly hated her,” Carlson said in a 2019 podcast interview with right-leaning comedian Adam Carolla. That’s because, Carlson said, his “nut case” mother initially raised him and his younger brother in a “bizarre,” early ‘70s counterculture milieu of drug use, partying and lax supervision. She then rejected him and his brother after their TV journalist father filed for divorce and successfully sued for full custody, claiming she was an unfit mother. Lombardi thereafter dropped out of her sons’ lives, and Carlson said he never heard from her again.

In interviews with Carolla and ex-Fox News host Megyn Kelly, Carlson acknowledged that being rejected by one’s mother can cause deep, psychological wounds. He said he probably could have grown up deeply insecure, unable to trust others or feeling undeserving of love. But Carlson said the experience actually taught him a valuable life lesson — that he can’t control what other people think about him. He said he’s not inclined to give haters any “emotional control” over him.

“Our mother was not a fan of us and was pretty direct about it, and obviously that hurts when you’re little,” Carlson told Kelly on her podcast.

“Then I realized that you can’t control it,” Carlson continued. “Your mother doesn’t like you, OK, boo-hoo. You know it sounds really terrible, but I think in later life the lesson that I internalized from that … is that you just kind of have to be happy with who you are.”

Carlson also spoke to Kelly more directly about how his mother’s rejection steeled him to be impervious to the opinions of critics who say he uses his powerful position in U.S. society to wantonly disseminate false information, conspiracy theories and bigotry.

“Criticism from people who hate me doesn’t really mean anything to me,” Carlson said. “I really don’t care. I care what the people I love think.”

“But some random (organization or person), like the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) or the partisan who runs it?” Carlson continued. “Like I don’t care. I’m not giving those people emotional control over me.”

If that’s Carlson’s position on so-called haters, then perhaps that’s how he’s processing Rupert Murdoch’s rejection of him. Reports say the decision by Fox News to fire Carlson came directly from the billionaire media mogul who helped make him the face of his network. Last year, the New York Times reported on how Murdoch personally praised Carlson whenever he doubled down on a controversial position — usually with the expectation that the host’s counterattacks would yield explosive ratings.

Presumably Carlson also is having to steel himself for what Kelly alleged this week is a full-on effort by the network to destroy his reputation as it tries to justify firing him. On her podcast, Kelly accused Fox News publicists of leaking stories to the media about possible reasons for him being fired. The stories include damaging allegations that the host oversaw a toxic workplace culture, disparaged female colleagues with the use of a vulgar term, was too ultra-religious for Murdoch’s taste or was a loose, irresponsible cannon who couldn’t be controlled.

From the way Carlson tells it, he’s overcome much worse — the original psychological wound inflicted by his mother, who reportedly only left him $1 in her will when she died in 2011 of cancer. Among other things, Carlson said his mother’s abandonment motivated him to devote himself to being a loving husband and father to his four children and to stop drinking when he was younger when he realized his use of alcohol was getting out of control.

There’s one theory, put forward by a report this week in the San Francisco Standard, that Carlson’s on-air antagonism towards West Coast liberal elites stems comes from his desire to reject the values of the outwardly free-spirited Bay Area woman who gave birth to him.

In her way, Carlson’s mother also designed her life around rejecting her own privileged San Francisco background, Business Insider reported. Lombardi’s mother was a cattle baron heiress, Mary Nickel James, whose ancestors owned 3 million acres of ranch land across four states.

Lombardi debuted in San Francisco society and studied architecture at UC Berkeley amid the counterculture turbulence of the 1960s, according to Insider and the New York Times. She met and married Richard Carlson, a successful local TV journalist, in 1967. Tucker Carlson was born two years later at San Francisco’s Children’s Hospital, the Standard said. His brother, Buckley, with whom he remains close, was born two years later.

The couple moved to Los Angeles when their boys were still young. Carlson told Kelly and Carolla that the family lived in Laurel Canyon, in the same neighborhood as the Eagles when it was “a wild time” in the country. Carlson’s “cruel” and “abusive” mother participated in the wild times, “doing real drugs around us when we were little,” he told Carolla: “She was a full-blown nut case.”

Richard Carlson took his sons to San Diego when he was offered a job as a local news anchor and filed for divorce. In petitioning the court for custody, he claimed that Lombardi could not be trusted to supervise their children because she frequently used alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine, the New York Times reported.

A few years later, Richard Carlson married Patricia Swanson, an heiress to the frozen-food fortune, who adopted both boys, the New York Times said. Carlson credits his father and stepmother’s love with helping him to put his relationship with Lombardi behind him.

Lombardi meanwhile stayed in Los Angeles for a time, where she became a member of famed British artist David Hockney’s entourage, Insider reported. She also began producing her own works, contemporary sculptures that were exhibited in galleries across Los Angeles.

Lombardi was in a relationship or married to another Hockney acolyte, British sculptor Mo McDermott, and the two shared a small Hollywood studio for nearly a decade, Insider reported. But the relationship was tumultuous, and the two drank heavily. Lombardi eventually met and married another British artist, Michael Vaughn, in 1989, and the two split their time between the South of France and South Carolina. People who knew Lombardi in Los Angeles told Insider that they couldn’t imagine her being a mother, given that she was “arty,” “bohemian” and never seemed to be content.

In interviews, Tucker Carlson said he totally lost track of his mother until he heard from a relative in 2011 who told him she was in France and dying of cancer. The relative said he should go see her.

Carlson said neither he, nor his brother Buckley, were inclined to disrupt their lives to go visit a woman they didn’t know. Carlson told Carolla his brother said, “You know my son’s got a soccer game.” Carlson replied: “I feel feel the same way. I don’t know this person. This sounds cold but I had already made peace with this over many decades.”

Carlson told Kelly he long feared that receiving news about his mother’s death could trigger an avalanche of long-suppressed emotions. But he was relieved that hearing about her didn’t turn him into “a wreck.”

“I didn’t fall apart,” he said. “I went out to dinner. I mean I felt sad for her but she wasn’t apart of my life.”

Tucker Carlson: How early rejection by hippie San Francisco mom made him shameless (2024)

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