Tucker Carlson’s cowardly Seth Rich lies

The Fox host revives a bogus conspiracy theory that got his network sued

Seth Rich and Tucker Carlson

Citation Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s lies sometimes reveal his contempt for his viewers and disregard for their well-being. They sometimes show his disapproval of liberal democratic processes when they don’t lead to his preferred political outcomes. They sometimes work to incite his audience with vile bigotry.

And sometimes, Carlson’s lies reveal that the Fox star is a coward and a fraud. This is one of those stories.

Amid a fever-dream retelling of a new legal filing that was hyped by right-wing media over the weekend, Carlson claimed on Monday’s program that it was “not true” that “the Russians hacked” the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign. In fact, they did, as part of the Kremlin’s multi-faceted and ultimately successful effort to aid Donald Trump’s campaign. Russian military intelligence officers illegally accessed the DNC’s servers, stole tens of thousands of emails, and provided them to WikiLeaks, which then published them online, resulting in damaging media coverage of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton that helped lead to her defeat. 

Carlson lied to his viewers that there was “no evidence” of Russian involvement in the email theft. In reality, special counsel Robert Mueller explained how the Russians carried out their hack-and-leak in excruciating detail, both in the 2018 indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers allegedly involved in the influence operation and in his 2019 final report. A 2020 report by the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee concurred with those findings while adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “directed” the effort. 

But those facts are inconvenient for Carlson, so instead he provided a counternarrative that is familiar in its framework and notable in what he chose to leave out.

“The DNC emails were very clearly stolen from within the building,” Carlson claimed, “most likely by a Bernie Sanders supporter, who wanted to show the world how Bernie Sanders was being shafted by the very same corrupt forces in Washington that later shafted Donald Trump.”

This is the fantasy that online conspiracy theorists concocted in 2016, and that right-wing media figures adopted the following year as they desperately sought to protect Trump from the fallout of the Kremlin’s political meddling. All that is missing is the name of the “Bernie Sanders supporter” whom Carlson claims “most likely” did this – in the typical version of this fable it is Seth Rich, a DNC staffer who was tragically murdered while walking home to his Washington, D.C., residence a few weeks before WikiLeaks published the emails. 

Why would Carlson leave out that detail? It is almost certainly because Rich’s family had sued Fox News after the network’s website and several prominent hosts pushed the same lies, and the network settled in 2020 for a reported seven-figure payout to avoid further scrutiny. 

Carlson wants his viewers to recall his network’s bogus Seth Rich coverage – but he’s too much of a coward to say Rich’s name and take the risk that his billionaire bosses will have to pay up again.