Even body camera footage of Paul Pelosi’s assault didn’t stop the right’s conspiracy theorists

The Fox News hosts who helped promote right-wing conspiracy theories about the assault of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul are undeterred by a court playing police body camera footage of the violent attack.

On the morning of October 28, a man broke into the Pelosis’ San Francisco home and accosted and ultimately assaulted Paul Pelosi with a hammer, sending him to the hospital for emergency surgery. Reporters examining the alleged assailant’s online presence quickly established that he adhered to a wide range of right-wing conspiracy theories, and according to a federal charging document he told police that he had broken into the home as part of a plan “to hold Nancy hostage” and assault her. 

The prospect of a man obsessed with right-wing conspiracy theories violently attacking Pelosi’s husband was a very inconvenient narrative for the American right. Its partisans quickly seized on the minor inconsistencies and miscommunications that typically emerge in the early stages of a breaking news event and distorted other details to generate on a more palatable, albeit homophobic, narrative. In their telling, the man was Paul Pelosi’s leftist gay lover and the assault was a tryst gone bad that Democrats, journalists, and law enforcement were now covering up to protect Nancy Pelosi and help the Democrats in the midterm elections. 

The Pelosi counternarrative, amplified by Twitter honcho Elon Musk, surged through the right’s information ecosystem. Within days, popular Fox hosts like Jesse Watters and Tucker Carlson were telling their millions of viewers that they were justified to doubt what they were being told about the assault from outside that bubble. In particular, they stressed that it was suspicious that camera footage from the body cams of the police officers who witnessed the assault hadn’t been released. “What is going on here, why are they hiding this?” Carlson said of the footage last week.

On Wednesday, prosecutors played the body cam footage showing the attack, as well as audio of Paul Pelosi’s 911 call, at a court hearing for the assailant.

But this did not settle anything for Fox. For Watters, that was insufficient, leaving more unanswered and fundamentally irrelevant questions.

Carlson and the rest of Fox’s primetime lineup ignored the new revelations altogether.

The point of this coverage isn’t to inform viewers about what happened to Paul Pelosi. It is to give them reasons to ignore the uncomfortable truth that a right-wing extremist assaulted him, and move them toward the conspiracy theories festering in the right-wing fever swamps.