On Friday evening, the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal each published editorials condemning Donald Trump’s refusal to stop the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters, as chronicled by the latest hearing from the House select committee investigating the assault. Soon after, the chattering class came to a swift – but ultimately premature – conclusion: Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, who control those publications, had turned on the former president.
Those observers should have waited another hour or so.
While they were contemplating the implications of the Murdoch empire rejecting Trump, the Murdochs’ protege, Tucker Carlson, was starting his Fox News program with a furious salvo against the January 6 committee that reflected much of what the network’s millions of viewers have been seeing since the hearings began last month.
Carlson did not condemn Trump on Friday. In fact, consistent with his network’s pattern of ignoring the committee’s findings, the Fox host did not mention Trump’s activities on January 6 at all. Instead, he devoted his opening monologue to the argument that the committee’s actions constitute “politicized justice” like that found in an “authoritarian regime,” in which “your opponents go to jail, your supporters can do whatever they want, and this reveals that the state exists not to serve the people who live in it, but to preserve itself and to crush all dissent.”
Carlson’s complaint is that the successful prosecutions of many close allies of the president – including former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, found guilty of contempt that day for refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoena, along with, among others, Trump’s former campaign chair, his former national security adviser, and his longtime political adviser – indicate not a pattern of rampant criminality around Trump, but rather that the United States is “moving toward the authoritarian system we now have, where justice is an illusion.”
The Fox host went on to characterize the hearings as a “show trial” taking place under the “woke system of justice that Liz Cheney has brought us” (in fact, it is not a trial at all).
Carlson also minimized the violence on January 6, laughing at the committee receiving testimony from an anonymous White House security official who was, in Carlson’s words, “claiming that Secret Service agents assigned to Mike Pence were using their radios to tell their families goodbye like they're on the deck of the Titanic because they assumed they would die in the Capitol because some guy in Viking horns on mushrooms was spinning around in circles and talking about peace.” He added, “They were so afraid.”
Of course, when one of the scores of law enforcement officials who were assaulted by the mob on January 6 testified publicly last year, Carlson made fun of him too.
Carlson also denounced other media outlets, calling it “absolutely shameful, absolutely shameful that the other channels played this crap without pushing back in even the mildest way,” and praised Fox for refusing to air the hearings live in prime time.
He concluded that the committee “worked in tandem with the Justice Department to punish the enemies of the Democratic Party,” representing “the single greatest threat to the rule of law in the history of the United States.”
Carlson then brought on Bannon, who called for an investigation into “FBI asset involvement” on January 6 and praised the Fox host’s past reporting on the attack (Carlson has suggested the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trumpists was a false flag masterminded by the federal government). Bannon also described the Biden administration as “illegitimate,” an allusion to the underlying lie that motivated the insurrectionists – that the election had been rigged against Trump.
Carlson isn’t an outlier at Fox. His colleagues at the right-wing propaganda network have tried to bury the committee’s revelations while instead feeding conspiracy theories about the attack to their viewers.
If the Murdochs didn’t want all this to happen, it wouldn’t happen. Rupert gave Carlson a job and a show, Lachlan reportedly speaks to him regularly, and together they made him the face of their network, which has defended him against any and all criticism for years.
“I’m 100 percent [Rupert Murdoch’s] bitch,” Carlson once said. “Whatever Mr. Murdoch says, I do."
The Murdochs may want some credit from the establishment for having their relatively high-brow outlets, the Journal and the Post, criticize Trump. But they also want to speak to the party’s Trumpist, pro-insurrection base. And so they are cheering on Tucker Carlson’s blood-soaked white nationalism, his deadly anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, and his reprehensible 1/6 trutherism.