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Why it matters that Kevin McCarthy gave Jan. 6 tapes to Fox News

Kevin McCarthy gave 41,000 hours of sensitive Jan. 6 footage to a controversial television personality. What could possibly go wrong?


Just a few days after getting his gavel, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters that he intended to release Capitol Hill security footage from the Jan. 6 attack. The bipartisan select committee that investigated the riot had already presented excerpts, but under pressure from his members, the California Republican planned to release everything.

The public, the GOP leader said, “should see what happened.”

By some accounts, McCarthy committed to the release as part of the negotiations with his far-right detractors who initially stood in the way of him becoming speaker.

More than a month later, we’re starting to get a better sense of McCarthy’s unfortunate plan. Axios was first to report on how, exactly, the Republican intends to share the sensitive footage with Americans.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has given Fox News’ Tucker Carlson exclusive access to 41,000 hours of Capitol surveillance footage from the Jan. 6 riot, McCarthy sources tell me. Carlson TV producers were on Capitol Hill last week to begin digging through the trove, which includes multiple camera angles from all over Capitol grounds. Excerpts will begin airing in the coming weeks.

Axios’ report has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, but some other major news organizations, including CNN, have run related reports, and Fox News confirmed the accuracy of the Axios report. What’s more, several members of Congress have commented on the story in such a way as to bolster its legitimacy.

Just so we’re all clear about the nature of the process, the video tapes in question are official government materials. They don’t belong to one member, one party, or one cable channel; they belong to all of us. And yet, there’s the new House speaker, who apparently made a unilateral decision to give one controversial Fox News host exclusive access to 41,000 hours of surveillance footage.

What could possibly go wrong?

Part of the problem with McCarthy’s move is that Carlson lacks credibility on the issue. As Axios’ report noted, Carlson has “repeatedly questioned official accounts of 1/6, downplaying the insurrection as ‘vandalism.’” CNN’s report added, “[H]e has devoted significant airtime to the false claim that liberal ‘deep state’ partisans within the FBI orchestrated the insurrection as a way to undermine former President Donald Trump. He has conducted sympathetic interviews with some of the rioters who were subsequently charged by the Justice Department.”

To give such a media personality exclusive access, presumably to allow him to create a counter-narrative that will challenge the reality of the insurrectionist violence, is ridiculous.

Another part of the problem is the extraordinary timing: It was just days ago when a new court filing presented evidence of Fox News hosts, including Carlson, deliberately promoting bogus election claims they knew to be false in order to pander to their audience and make more money.

All of which leads to an obvious and inescapable conclusion: After the McCarthy/Carlson partnership leads to new on-air segments, many Americans won’t be able to trust the results.

There are also security considerations to keep in mind. Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chaired the Jan. 6 committee and now serves as the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement yesterday, “It’s hard to overstate the potential security risks if this material were to be used irresponsibly.”

The Mississippi congressman added, “If Speaker McCarthy has indeed granted Tucker Carlson — a Fox host who routinely spreads misinformation and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s poisonous propaganda — and his producers access to this sensitive footage, he owes the American people an explanation of why he has done so and what steps he has taken to address the significant security concerns at stake.”

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland raised similar concerns, asking, “What security precautions were taken to keep this from becoming a roadmap for 2024 insurrection?”

It’s certainly possible that McCarthy and his team have done their due diligence, created a series of safeguards, and imposed all kinds of relevant restrictions on how the security footage can be reviewed and presented. It’s also possible the speaker just gave 41,000 hours of sensitive tapes to a controversial television personality without any real forethought.

Watch this space.