The fix was in. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave Fox News’ Tucker Carlson exclusive access to sensitive Jan. 6 security camera footage, and there was no great mystery as to what would happen next: The controversial host, with Republican leaders’ blessing, would cherry-pick footage that bolsters a predetermined political narrative.
This was an unavoidable outcome given the television personality’s established record. As an Axios report recently noted, Carlson has “repeatedly questioned official accounts of 1/6, downplaying the insurrection as ‘vandalism.’” A CNN 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.”
In other words, given Carlson’s ridiculous record and unsubtle agenda, everyone knew exactly what to expect when the host started sharing the results of his special access. Last night, as NBC News reported, he fulfilled his role in this sad little drama.
Carlson focused Monday’s segment on promoting former President Donald Trump’s narrative by showing video of his supporters walking calmly around the U.S. Capitol. He asserted that other media accounts lied about the attack, proclaiming that while there were some bad apples, most of the rioters were peaceful and calling them “sightseers,” not “insurrectionists.”
Naturally, the Fox host chose not to present the evidence that was at odds with the story he set out to tell. The result was a show that, as NBC News put it, “falsely depicted” an insurrectionist riot as a peaceful gathering. HuffPost published a related report, noting that Carlson exploited his special access to “falsely claim” that there was effectively no riot on Jan. 6.
But just as notable as Carlson’s campaign is the degree to which we saw this coming. A television personality spent two years peddling absurd theories about the attack on the Capitol. Then an allied House speaker provided the host with special access to sensitive footage. The television personality then told his audience that his theories were right all along and his preconceived ideas have been confirmed by the information that only he’s seen.
What an amazing coincidence.
To paraphrase a familiar line, the deception was the point. This wasn’t just a predictable outcome, it was the inevitable result of a rotten scheme.
Whether McCarthy, Carlson, and their allies fully appreciate this or not, their political antics are unlikely to have much of an effect. When then-Attorney General William Barr had exclusive access to Robert Mueller’s special counsel report, and presented a misleading narrative to the public, it had an immediate impact: Much of the political world was unaware at the time that Barr was playing a partisan game, so his claims were too often taken at face value. It helped establish a counter-narrative that lingered in the discourse.
If the House speaker, his allied cable news host, and their allies expect a replay of this dynamic, they’re going to be disappointed.
To be sure, Jan. 6 denialists were delighted with Carlson’s program last night, but for every other mainstream observer, the coverage wasn’t investigative journalism; it was a theatrical production put on by an unreliable narrator.