Last month, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson was granted exclusive access to the trove of more than 44,000 hours of Capitol surveillance footage by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. On Monday night Carlson released the first installment of his analysis of the tapes, telling viewers that the vast majority of the protestors who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 were not insurrectionists but “orderly and meek” sightseers.
Carlson opened his Monday night monologue by reiterating the network’s claims of 2020 election malfeasance, stating that the “2020 election was a grave betrayal of American democracy given the facts that have since emerged about that election. No honest person can deny it.”
From that jumping point, Carlson used cherry picked, time-stamp free clips to paint a picture of peaceful protesters who were being targeted by the Department of Justice and the Democratic party. Carlson’s use of the footage essentially amounted to a declaration that because Fox had identified some images of trespassers milling about, nothing uncouth actually happened in the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The Fox host and his guests crafted an image of peaceful protesters, who were ushered into the Capitol by police officers and spent their time exploring the complex with an air of “reverence.” Charlie Hurt, appearing as a guest on the show, falsely asserted that there was “no evidence” rioters inside the capitol were armed.
Carlson declared that members of the Jan. 6 Committee “lied about what they saw and then hid the evidence from the public, as well as from January 6th criminal defendants and their lawyers.”
The episode rehashed many of the issues Carlson had previously covered, the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, the suspected affiliation of protester Ray Epps with federal law enforcement, and the death of Ashli Babbitt, who Carlson said his team was unable to obtain footage of.
Bizarrely enough, the episode featured plenty of images of rioters battering through police lines, breaking through windows and doors, and fighting with cops. Carlson would use this footage to claim that images of violent rioters were a propaganda tool used to paint all of the rioters as violent, when the majority were simply milling about the Capitol. If one looks at the scope of charges brought against those who unlawfully entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, the narrative crumbles. Only about half of the estimated 2,000 participants have been charged, a majority of those with non-violent offenses including trespassing, disorderly conduct, and obstructing an official proceeding. Relatively few of those found guilty have been sentenced to prison.
McCarthy’s decision to provide exclusive access to the footage to Carlson and his team prompted bipartisan backlash against the pair, especially given Carlson’s well established habit of obfuscating and downplaying the events of Jan. 6 on air.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries called the decision “an egregious security breach that endangers the hardworking women and men of the United States Capitol Police,” in a memo to House Democrats, and told CNN that it was “not clear” to him that law enforcement had the chance to vet the footage and assess any security risks before Carlson was given access.
Other Republican operatives expressed outrage that the footage had been given exclusively to Fox News. MyPillow CEO previously told Rolling Stone that he planned to sue for access. Newsmax host Eric Bolling, another longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, wondered on air “why not other media? Why not Newsmax? Why did he just give one host, on one cable network, this information?”
The answer is relatively clear: Carlson has spent the past two years muddying the waters around the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. His claims range from untrue assertions that those who broke down the doors of the Capitol to try and prevent certification of President Joe Biden were just “elderly people who showed up with signs,” to calling the entire event a “false flag” attack.
In November 2021, Carlson produced a three-part “documentary” titled Patriot Purge, which argued that Jan. 6 — and the consequences for its participants — were part of a domestic war on terror against conservatives and an attempted purge of “legacy Americans.” The heavily produced series went so far as to compare the arrest of participants in the riot to the torture and abuse of inmates in Abu Ghraib prison.
Carlson’s own treatment of the events of Jan. 6 is the vanguard of a large-scale effort by Republicans to rewrite the events of the day, an effort that stems from the highest echelons of the party.
During the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, McCarthy called Trump and begged him to call off the rioters, and shortly after said that the former president “bears responsibility” for the attack in a speech on the House floor, despite having voted against Biden’s certification himself. In the years since, McCarthy and the GOP’s focus has shifted to ensuring their own asses are covered from the consequences of the Capitol attack.
House Republicans have been linked to meetings and planning sessions with the organizers of the rally-turned-riot, and more than 100 members of the Republican caucus supported efforts by Trump to usurp the 2020 election results. The Jan. 6 Select Committee voted to make ethics referrals against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), and Scott Perry (R-Pa.).
It’s in this climate that McCarthy handed thousands of hours of footage to a Fox News production team, at a time when the network itself is facing intense public scrutiny for their role in spreading false election claims and conspiracies.
Fox News is being sued by Dominion Voting Systems, who is seeking damages for spreading harmful conspiracies about the company’s role in the 2020 election. A February filing revealed that many of the network’s stars, including Carlson, privately bashed the conspiracies being pushed by their guests and themselves on air. In a Nov. 13, 2021 text message conversation to his producers, Carlson stated that Trump needs to “concede” and “that there wasn’t enough fraud to change the outcome.” Yet, throughout the preceding week Carlson and his guests had boosted claims of election fraud on his program.
In a separate filing released in late February, Fox Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch admitted in a deposition that hosts on the network had endorsed claims of election fraud despite pushback from Fox’s board. Murdoch acknowledged that he could have reined in the network’s coverage, but instead pushed back against hosts and analysts who denounced the conspiracies being aired on the channel.
Through the Dominion lawsuit, it looks like at least some of the chickens may be coming home to collect payment from Fox. The network’s long-held legal mantra that their hosts are “entertainers” who cannot be trusted by audiences to deliver truthful coverage may shatter, but the network’s reputation remains. McCarthy chose to give the footage to Carlson precisely because Carlson would treat it in the manner most beneficial to the GOP’s narrative about Jan. 6.