On MSNBC, Media Matters' Angelo Carusone addresses right-wing misinformation about the January 6th hearings

Carusone: “There's no way to ever get past this or even to sustain any kind of civil society or our democracy, as we understand it, when you have a network like Fox News. ... We can't even agree anymore that there was an attack on the Capitol on January”

Video file

AYMAN MOHYELDIN (HOST): If you want to know what it's like, and I mean what it's really like, to live in an alternate universe, watching right-wing media's coverage of Thursday night's hearings is, perhaps, a great place to start. Take the opening statement from Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, where she outlines some of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the January 6th insurrection leading up to the presidential transition on January the 20th, including communications between Fox News correspondents and White House staff.


LIZ CHENEY: Most emblematic of those days is this exchange of texts between Sean Hannity and former President Trump's press secretary, Kayleigh MeEnany. Sean Hannity wrote in part: "Key now. No more crazy people. No more stolen election talk. Yes, impeachment and 25th Amendment are real. Many people will quit." Ms. McEnany responded in part, "Love that... That is the playbook."


MOHYELDIN: Alright. So, behind the scenes, Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany were in agreement that it all needed to stop. That, quote "crazy people" were peddling this "stolen election talk." But on Thursday night, during the hearings, you didn't hear any of that on Fox's coverage. In fact, it's as if those text exchanges never even happened.


SEAN HANNITY: We have all three major broadcast networks — fake news CNN, MSDNC — all happily broadcasting well, the dullest, the most boring, there's absolutely nothing new, multi-hour Democratic fundraiser masquerading as a January 6th hearing. Make no mistake, tonight's so-called hearing is not in good faith.

TUCKER CARLSON: It tells you a lot about the priorities of our ruling class that the rest of us are getting yet another lecture about January 6th tonight from our moral inferiors, no less. An outbreak of mob violence, a forgettably minor outbreak by recent standards that took place more than a year and a half ago. But they've never stopped talking about it.

LAURA INGRAHAM: The drumbeat, constant drumbeat, of demonization and distraction. It's neither entertaining nor edifying. It's just bad programing.


MOHYELDIN: In fact, they thought these historic hearings were such bad programing that when the hearing was being played live, it was shown without sound. Why not let the audience hear it for themselves? If it's all a big sham, a big televised charade as they framed it, why not let people listen in and see for themselves instead of relegating it to sister channel, Fox Business? I wonder instead if you were tuned in, you heard from people like Kash Patel, the Trump ally and Pentagon chief of staff who's been subpoenaed by the committee to answer questions about the security response that day and his communications with Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Or Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who replaced Liz Cheney and Republican leadership after Cheney dared to criticize Trump after the insurrection. Stefanik has called the hearings a "sham" and has called the "illegitimate" January 6th committee the "greatest distraction on earth."

If you tuned into Newsmax, which actually did play some of the hearing, a banner on the screen asked why there was no prime-time hearing on President Biden and inflation. Anything but the insurrection itself. If you're watching the One America News Network during the hearing, instead of seeing the hearing, you'd see this guy, Scott Perry, the Republican congressman who refused to testify to the committee in his role in attempting to overturn the 2020 election results. He called it all "a circus." Look, the massive right-wing media ecosystem in this country rejected the whole thing. We get it. A separate reality was manufactured, and a ten-month-long investigation with thousands of documents, witnesses, and videos backing it all up, that was effectively ignored. This nation is facing a profound democratic crisis, and if when we are not even all on the same page, what happens is there. We can't get out of it with our democracy intact. Joining me now is Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America. They have been monitoring the right-wing media coverage of these hearings. Angelo, it's good to have you with us. So did anything about how Fox News, Newsmax, OAN covered these hearings on Thursday surprise you at all?

ANGELO CARUSONE: No. It's exactly their playbook, right? Which is either to distract entirely — to hide. So, as you pointed out, they played the hearing without sound. That's true. But they did cut away. So, whenever Sean Hannity's or Fox staffers' texts were — because they were part of the hearings — were on screen, for some reason that part didn't even get shown. So they didn't even let them, their audience, see the visual. And when distracting or deflecting or, you know, hiding doesn't work, they just lied. And so, it's one of those three things, and that is just pretty much a part of their playbook.

I think the one big takeaway is that they've gotten worse. I think that's the only thing that I am surprised by. Usually, they actually hide behind the veneer of journalism. So they put people like Brett Baier out there and say, "Look, we are journalists. We're having them do it." This time, they just they took the veneer entirely off and they didn't even pretend that they had any sort of journalistic or news obligations with respect to covering this hearing.

MOHYELDIN: I mean, you pointed out on Thursday that Hannity's first comments as the hearing closed out was, quote "The one person that looks good is Donald Trump." How is that what anyone would gather from last night? I mean, it sounds either delusional or incredibly disingenuous.

CARUSONE: Yes, it is. It's delusional, disingenuous, and even by Sean Hannity's own text messages, is entirely contradictory of the very things that he was saying while this was unfolding. I mean, it's actually out there. And I think it illustrates that, one, they have total confidence in the behavior of the audience that they have, and the individuals they're trying to persuade, that they're so deeply tied into a bubble that they can't be reached. So that it doesn't matter if people see Sean Hannity's texts because, you know, it's all made up or fake or it doesn't matter. That they can actually get away with saying that after that hearing that the one thing the one big takeaway is that Trump actually came out of it looking good. It is actually really remarkable, and — but it is a reflection of how deep the deceit goes when it comes to, you know, to Fox News. But I mean, they hosted figures — Tucker Carlson did — that even, that were too controversial for even Trump. I mean, Trump fired one of the people that Tucker Carlson hosted because he had attended a white nationalist conference while he was a White House staffer! And he was on Tucker Carlson's show while the hearing was unfolding, saying that what took place on January 6th was a false flag attack, that it was actually perpetuated by the federal government in order to set Donald Trump up. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that gets broadcast on Alex Jones's show. And yet, you know, that was one of the people that Tucker Carlson was hosting as the hearing was taking place live.

MOHYELDIN: Yeah. Next level crazy is what we're talking about. Angelo, the select committee has gone to great lengths to try and not politicize these hearings, to insist that this is a matter of importance for all, all Americans and for our democracy. It's not an attack on the Republican Party. Is there even any way, though, to get past all of the partisan perception of this investigation if the right-wing media in this country is doing the bidding of the crazies and the right-wing party in this country?

CARUSONE: No. You know, there's always going to be extremist operations, right? You know, there's always going to be fringes. So, certainly we could find some consensus, even with fringes. But there's no way to ever get past this or even to sustain any kind of civil society or our democracy, as we understand it, when you have a network like Fox News. Given its role and its prominence, its place in the information landscape, operating in the way that it does. Because even after January 6th, there was a brief moment where we had consensus. Even after the election was called, Fox News accepted the results for a whole full 3 days until they turned on a dime and then spent 774 segments over the next two weeks in November 2020, undermining the election and helping literally build a scaffolding for the attack on the Capitol on January 6th. So, you know, they can actually shift a very large amount of the consensus amongst the population. So, they have masqueraded as if they're a news network for quite some time when, in fact, they're just a partisan outlet. And in this case, even, you know, sort of more conspiratorial by the day — we'll never find consensus.

And I think that's the one big takeaway for me in all of this, is that even for something as significant as this that feels so clear cut, whatever we do about it, whatever the outcome is. But the idea that we can't even agree anymore that there was an attack on the Capitol on January 6th. I mean, Fox was hosting people calling it a false flag. They were actually saying that officers that were testifying were crisis actors. I mean, this is what was happening on Fox News. And this is a network that has the legitimacy of journalism. They're part of the press pool. They're treated like all other networks are. I'm not saying abolish Fox or something like that. I get it. We live in a free society. But but Fox is treated with the same regard as The New York Times is when it comes to all of the major establishments. And that gives them access, power, and editorial agenda-setting power. And that is a real problem. And they're unconstrained right now. So, I do worry about the future because it's so much bigger than just, you know, some fights over over a couple individual policies.