Tucker Carlson knows his viewers want to be lied to
Their feelings don't care about your facts.
After Fox News’s Tucker Carlson teamed up with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to recast the insurrectionists of January 6 as righteous victims, many were struck by Carlson’s astounding shamelessness. After all, Tucker privately heaped scorn on the conspiracy theorists who encouraged the coup attempt, including Donald Trump himself.
“I hate him passionately,” Carlson said about Trump in a January 2021 text to a member of his staff, released in connection with Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News.
In the recently revealed internal Fox correspondence, Carlson expressed alarm that the allegiance of Fox’s far right audience was on the line in the wake of the 2020 election. Tucker was also privately critical of the enthusiasm with which Fox personalities such as Maria Bartiromo spread Trump’s big lie.
But Carlson has never been concerned about being untruthful to the Fox audience. Rather, as a propagandist, he cares most about offering his audience the narratives they are willing to accept, whether they be true or false. The internal Fox documents confirm as much.
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You can’t shame the shameless
In a tranche of communications released last month, Carlson complained that Fox's wholly accurate call of Arizona for Biden in the 2020 election — one which was initially controversial, coming as it did before competing networks put the state in Biden’s column — risked "destroying" the network's "credibility" with its Trump-loving viewers.
“We worked really hard to build what we have,” Carlson texted his producer on November 5, 2020. "Those f******s [that called Arizona for Biden] are destroying our credibility. It enrages me."
In other recently released texts, Carlson appeared livid that Fox personalities were giving credence to Sidney "Kraken" Powell's claims that the vote counts of Dominion machines had been manipulated by dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.
"The whole thing seems insane to me, and Sidney Powell won't release the evidence," Carlson texted to Laura Ingraham on November 16, 2020. "She's making everyone paranoid and crazy, including me.”
In other messages, Carlson went as far as to accuse Powell of “lying” and called her a “f*****g bitch.”
But while Carlson was initially concerned that Powell's contentions were so wacky they would actually undermine claims that the 2020 election was illegitimate, he also wouldn’t wholly disavow her conspiracy theories on air. To the contrary, Carlson told viewers that while Powell had not offered any evidence to back-up her claim that Dominion fabricated votes, that “doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It might’ve happened.”
Ultimately, however, Carlson gave up on such hedging.
Over the ensuing weeks and months, Carlson appears to have realized that he had underestimated his own viewers' gullibility, and failed to recognize the depth of their desire to believe the election had been stolen. His own messages to his audience became all the more untethered from reality.
In late 2021, Carlson hosted a special strongly suggesting that the January 6 attack wasn’t actually the doing of Trump and his supporters, but rather was the product of an FBI false flag operation meant to entrap them. Fast forward another 16 months, and Carlson is now regularly heard on air claiming that Biden's victory was an injustice of historic significance.
On Monday, for instance, Carlson declared: "In retrospect, it is clear the 2020 election was a grave betrayal of American democracy."
Carlson's latest gambit is to selectively present the 1/6 footage McCarthy gave him to reframe the insurrection as an honorable protest against a stolen election — something of a last stand for a lost cause.
In support of this revisionist history, Carlson played, and replayed, snippets of tape showing the insurrectionists during moments in which they were not vandalizing the Capitol or attacking police officers. It’s a bit like insisting arsonists get a bad rap because people don’t pay enough attention to all the times they aren’t burning things down.
Carlson plainly has no concern that the "revelations" he’s offering up are readily shown to be false. For example, he contended Monday that it’s a mystery how the “QAnon Shaman,” Jacob Chansley, entered the Capitol, suggesting he might have been invited in by police.
But footage of Chansley's entry into the Capitol is readily available. And it shows he was among the first wave of vandals to break in.
Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger also immediately stated that Carlson’s claim about police officers serving as Chansley’s tour guides was “outrageous and false,” explaining that the officers “did their best to use de-escalation tactics to try to talk rioters into getting each other to leave the building.” But no matter — even after the police chief spoke out, Carlson just kept insisting Tuesday and Wednesday that his out-of-context footage showed police and Chansley working together.
Carlson’s credibility comes from lying
Being exposed as a bald faced liar by people outside the right-wing media-sphere is plainly of no concern to Carlson. His finger is constantly on the pulse of his audience, and he’s wary only of losing their allegiance by telling them facts they don’t want to hear.
For Carlson, the “credibility” he feared Fox might lose by acknowledging Trump’s Arizona loss is not preserved by telling viewers the truth. Rather, it’s maintained by telling them what they want, and are willing, to believe, no matter how false the presentation may be.
Carlson has learned something since he sent texts following the 2020 election questioning whether viewers were prepared to believe that Hugo Chavez was manipulating the nation’s election results from the grave: The right-wing viewership of Fox is willing to believe even the most obvious and absurd lies — as long as those falsehoods support their belief that they are on the side of righteousness and their adversaries on the left are evil.
As Greg Sargent recently observed, the evolution of Carlson and his colleagues into ever more reliable purveyors of absurd lies is actually the culmination of a strategy pursued by the right since Roger Ailes (the architect of Fox News) served as Richard Nixon’s TV producer in 1968: to create a media infrastructure that is entirely self-contained, and wholly untethered to facts.
Now that Carlson recognizes there is, quite literally, no limit to the mendacity his audience will accept in service of their ideological predilections, the danger Tucker and his colleagues pose is almost certain to increase exponentially. And no amount of fact-checking, nor attempts at shaming, will stop Fox from supplying its viewers with the lies they desire.
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