Sean Hannity, Lyin' Ted, and Lindsey Graham in the Fox News multiverse of madness
Peaceful protest is terrorism. Terrorism? You better believe that's peaceful protest.
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You never have to hand it to Donald Trump, but he probably missed his calling as an insult comic. Consider “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz: It’s funny because it’s true.
Earlier this year, Cruz, who voted against accepting the results of the 2020 election, performed some of his trademark odious groveling before unofficial Republican Party chairman Tucker Carlson after Carlson called him out for accurately describing the January 6 insurrection as a “violent terrorist attack.” (I wrote about it here.)
Fast forward four months to Monday’s Sean Hannity show, and sure enough, Ted’s lyin’. The deadly insurrection he once described as a terrorist attack is now a peaceful protest, but peaceful demonstrations outside the homes of Supreme Court justices on the cusp of repealing Roe v Wade? Those are akin to terrorism.
“On January 6 of 2021, you had tens of thousands of people peacefully protesting, and yet the corporate media and Democrats slander them with the made-up term ‘insurrectionist,’” Cruz told Hannity. “And yet in this instance, they are not willing to call off their goons even now, even now as this has the potential to escalate, and escalate further.”
You won’t hear me say this often, but Donald Trump is right: Ted Cruz is a liar. Anybody who paid attention to the January 6 attack on the Capitol saw the violence of Trump supporters who ransacked the Capitol, leaving 140 police officers injured and multiple people dead. And anybody who was watching the B roll playing as Cruz’s lips moved could see that the demonstrations outside the homes of SCOTUS justices were peaceful. (There’s a federal statute against protesting at judges’ homes, but it’s debatable whether demonstrations in public spaces outside them violate it; it’s also worth noting that the protest outside Kavanaugh’s home in Chevy Chase was organized by his neighbors on their own property.)
Cruz and Hannity, however, weren’t about to let facts, or even their viewers’ basic perceptions of sight and sound, get in the way of their victimhood.
Remarkably (or perhaps not), the Cruz episode wasn’t the one on Monday’s Fox News primetime lineup where a Republican senator went to such desperate lengths to rewrite the history of January 6 that the whole segment felt like an elaborate troll. If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter or my Twitter feed, this probably won’t send you to the fainting couch, but the sheer brazenness of the lies pushed on the network’s top-rated primetime lineup over the course of a single evening stood out as remarkable to me, and I watch this stuff all the time.
Lindsey Graham praises the hero of January 6: Donald Trump
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded to demonstrations outside the homes of Justices Alito and Kavanaugh with a statement affirming that while that President Biden “strongly believes in the Constitutional right to protest, that should never include violence, threats, or vandalism.” The statement was criticized by progressives as overly indulgent of right-wing framing, but it didn’t go nearly far enough for Hannity or Sen. Lindsey Graham.
During his own Monday appearance on Hannity, Graham contrasted Biden’s statement unfavorably with the one Trump made on January 6 calling off the insurrectionists after he’d whipped them into a lethal frenzy, and urged Biden to “do what Trump did.”
“He told them to leave the Capitol,” Graham said, referring to a recorded statement Trump tweeted out after the damage had been done in which he told “very special” rioters “we love you” and asked them to “go home in peace” even though “we had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side.” (Twitter banned Trump’s account shortly after he tweeted the video.)
Graham continued: “Well Biden, tell ‘em to leave the judges alone at all. Do what Trump did. He told them to leave. You need to tell them to leave.”
Mark Meadows’s text messages recently revealed that Trump only asked insurrectionists to go home after Republican members of Congress and Fox News hosts (including, ironically, Hannity) flooded his inbox with messages urging him to get Trump to do something, anything, to stop the violence.
Trump’s statement was widely viewed as an indefensible disgrace, at least here outside the multiverse of madness where Graham and Hannity seem to live. Even Graham himself initially made a big show out of breaking with Trump over his role in inciting the insurrection. If the term “gaslighting” applies to anything in a political context, it applies here.
That wasn’t all. Hannity offered another whopper during his monologue, telling viewers that even if Roe is overturned, “at the end of the day, abortion will be legal across the country.”
In fact, as I’ve written about elsewhere, 22 red and purple states have laws on the books that will immediately ban abortions if Roe is overturned. Graham’s fellow South Carolina Republican, state Sen. Richard Cash, proposed one in January. But Graham and Hannity, likely aware of the fact that about 70 percent of Americans are opposed to overturning Roe, are opting to just lie about it.
Multiple Fox hosts reported unconfirmed rumors about Alito going into hiding as fact
There was more dishonesty up and down Fox’s primetime lineup on Monday. In order to make the peaceful demonstrations outside the homes of Alito and Kavanaugh seem more threatening than they really were, hosts Jesse Watters and Laura Ingraham reported completely baseless rumors that made it seem as though Alito’s family was in real danger.
“This was enough to force Justice Alito and his entire family into hiding. They’ve moved now into an undisclosed location,” claimed Watters.
“Justice Alito actually had to move his family out of town,” Ingraham chimed in later, with a smirk on her face. “My friends, this is what happens in third-world countries, not in America.”
But there isn’t a shred of evidence that Alito or his family are actually in hiding. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post explains:
Politico did some digging into the story, tracing it back to last week — but even then, it doesn’t appear to have been anything more than a rumor. Their report links it to a pair of interviews Thursday and Saturday by Georgetown University lecturer Ilya Shapiro. Appearing on a D.C. area radio program, Shapiro said he had “heard a rumor that Justice Alito and his family have been taken to an undisclosed location.” He followed that up on Fox News two days later by saying, “I’ve heard that Justice Alito has been taken to an undisclosed location with his family.”
But Shapiro told Politico he couldn’t remember where he heard the rumor.
“I don’t have any nonpublic sources,” he said. “I forget whether I saw the rumor on Twitter or somebody told me. I don’t know.”
Later Monday, Shapiro retweeted a Reuters reporter who described the rumor as “a viral tweet that made the claim but unclear how that was sourced if at all.” He also told the Washington Examiner, “It was a rumor, and I never claimed it was anything other than a rumor.”
Blake’s article appeared an hour before Watters’s show began and a full five hours before Ingraham went on air. A Politico piece that first cast doubt upon the Alito rumors appeared even earlier, around lunchtime Monday. But Fox News just ran with the unsubstantiated rumors. Did it get worse? Of course it did.
Tucker Carlson’s lie of omission
Maybe the most dishonest moment on Fox’s Monday evening programming came when Tucker Carlson responded to news that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul tested positive for Covid by warping her endorsement of vaccines into his own indictment of them.
In a statement announcing her positive test, Hochul said, “Thankfully, I'm vaccinated and boosted, and I'm asymptomatic.” Carlson, who as I’ve detailed has a long history of pushing vaccine misinformation, mockingly read part of Hochul’s statement on air, but omitted the part about her being asymptomatic.
"Here's a statement she released. 'Thankfully I am vaccinated and boosted. Reminder to all New Yorkers, get vaccinated and boosted,’” Carlson said, before erupting into a maniacal laugh. “She is just reading the catechism."
In the omicron era, the main reason getting vaccinated and boosted is important is to prevent severe illness. Carlson almost certainly understands this, but preferred to confirm the priors of his anti-vax viewers (and guests).
And while Carlson’s vaccine misinformation came during a quick news hit, his coverage of the SCOTUS demonstrations was just as hysterical as Hannity’s. He described images of protesters standing peacefully standing outside Alito’s home as “awful” and “disgusting” — comments that stood in contrast with his downplaying of the January 6 insurrection as a "political protest that got out of hand." (Tucker also thought he was under siege by Attila the Hun when protesters knocked on his own door in 2018).
These are the sorts of knots you tie yourself in when your principles don’t extend far beyond ratings.
It’s all about the victimhood complex
Fox primetime leans into all of this lying and hysteria so they can talk about the story on everyone’s mind, but on comfortable terrain where conservatives are victims and the lawless libs are out to get them. (Never mind that Republicans are the ones pushing to roll back rights — reproductive rights, trans rights, voting rights, you name it.) Given the closed universe that is the Fox News/GOP echo chamber, what’s important is that a narrative feels right. To the extent facts even enter the equation, they takes a backseat to stoking grievances and demonizing liberals. After all, it’s not like most Hannity viewers, after years being told to distrust the mainstream media, will ever see Washington Post fact-checks.
This sort of brain poison obviously has dire implications for the roughly 2.5 million people tuned in to Fox’s primetime lineup on a given evening, many of whom presumably watch it earnestly. But as the Cruz and Graham interviews illustrate, the rot isn’t limited to the GOP’s PR apparatus — it goes all the way through the party itself.
There are plenty of valid criticisms of President Biden and Democrats, and it’s hard not to feel somewhat disappointed in the failure of their trifecta to meaningfully improve the lives of their constituents. Fairly or not, the party in control of the White House and Congress generally pays the price for that, especially in midterm elections.
But people who lie as easily and shamelessly as do the members of the Fox/GOP nexus shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near power, at least in a sane country. They’ll take away your rights, then go on TV and tell millions of viewers how Democrats are to blame for it. They’ll incite an insurrection, then accuse peaceful women’s rights protesters of threatening the republic. And these aren’t voices in the wilderness — they’re presidential hopefuls, powerful senators, and the most-watched cable “news” hosts on TV. I don’t have great answers, but I’m damn sure this is a big problem.
It’d be funny if it wasn’t so disturbing
One final note before I log off for the week — we’ve entered the portion of the abortion debate where Republican men are comparing women to sea turtles.
In fairness, women are becoming endangered in this country, but that’s because people like Steve Daines are taking to take away their rights.
And with that I’m on a little baby break
This will be my last newsletter before our baby arrives! We're doing an induction tomorrow night if my wife doesn't go into labor first. Thank you so much for reading and for your support during this time.
I'll be back Monday, May 23, and from there will settle into a two-newsletters-a-week publishing schedule through the 4th of July. I've got lots of good stuff lined up for you, including Q&As with Oliver Willis and Judd Legum, freelance contributions from Noah Berlatsky and Sam Thielman, and much more.
Until then, have a great 10 days, and I'll be sure to send you all a baby update.