When the public first learned that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy provided Fox News’ Tucker Carlson with exclusive access to thousands of hours of sensitive Jan. 6 security camera footage, the Republican leader found it relatively easy to avoid questions. After all, members were away from Capitol Hill, so it wasn’t as if the Californian could be pressed for answers in a congressional corridor.
When McCarthy finally addressed the subject, he did so initially through a fundraising appeal — reinforcing concerns that the entire gambit was little more than a political scheme — followed by brief comments to The New York Times that made very little sense.
This week, however, lawmakers returned to work, creating a new opportunity to get a straight answer from the House speaker. NBC News reported:
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Tuesday defended his decision to hand over tens of thousands of hours of security video from the Jan. 6 insurrection to Fox News host Tucker Carlson. ... “So [Carlson will] have an exclusive, then I’ll give it out to the entire country,” McCarthy said.
By any fair measure, the GOP leader has had plenty of time to prepare a defense, and he’s apparently come up with a variety of talking points. The trouble is, he hasn’t yet come up with anything persuasive. Let’s take McCarthy’s latest arguments one at a time.
“First of all, we didn’t hand over anything.” The point of this comment was apparently to emphasize that the House speaker’s office didn’t literally hand over recordings to the controversial television personality. That’s true, but it’s not altogether relevant: Making sensitive footage available to Carlson, despite (or perhaps because of?) his ridiculous record of commentary on the Jan. 6 attack, is just as bad as turning over tapes.
“Tucker was interested. ... Tucker Carlson has been interested about it, so I let him come in and see it.” I don’t doubt that the host wanted access to the sensitive footage. Lots of people also wanted access. The question is why McCarthy granted access. Telling us that his media ally asked for it isn’t an explanation.
“It almost seems like the press is jealous.” First, it’s not just journalists who’ve raised concerns: Lawmakers and members of law enforcement have also pushed back against the speaker’s move. Second, while I’m obviously not in a position to speak on behalf of every media professional, what McCarthy perceives as jealousy is more accurately described as disappointment and bewilderment at a congressional leader’s careless indifference.
“I think sunshine matters. I don’t care what side of the issue you are on.” Giving Carlson exclusive access to sensitive security footage is not “sunshine.” What’s more, as the Times summarized last week, “[T]he sunshine Mr. McCarthy referred to will, for now, be filtered through a very specific prism — that of Mr. Carlson, a hero of the hard right who has insinuated without evidence that the Jan. 6 attack was a ‘false flag’ operation carried out by the government.”
And if the speaker doesn’t care “what side of the issue you are on,” why limit access to one far-right voice?
“Everyone’s going to get it.” Maybe so. But as we discussed last week, but by the time the footage is more widely available, the speaker’s allied conspiracy theorist will likely have already aired cherry picked footage and presented a counter-narrative to challenge the reality of the insurrectionist violence.
“Every person in the press works off exclusives on certain things.” Yes, but the details and context matter. I’ve had exclusives, as has my employer. But as McCarthy ought to know, there’s a qualitative difference between unnamed insiders leaking a story and a congressional leader making sensitive government materials available to a television personality.
McCarthy’s office “worked with Capitol Police” to ensure that security concerns were “taken care of.” If so, those are new developments: Politico reported last week that the House speaker did not to coordinate with Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger and House Sergeant at Arms William McFarland, both of whom were surprised to learn of McCarthy’s move on Monday, along with the rest of the public.
The Jan. 6 committee “released a lot of video that was very sensitive.” This comment, which came by way of House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, has a kernel of truth, but let’s not forget that the bipartisan select panel carefully coordinated with law enforcement before releasing anything.
It’s certainly possible that at some point, House Republican leaders will come up with some kind of compelling defense for their Fox News scheme, but as yesterday made clear, that day has not yet arrived.