Debunking Tucker Carlson's dishonest January 6 exposé
Fox News’ biggest prime-time star wants viewers to think there was no attack on the U.S. Capitol
On Monday night, Fox News prime-time star Tucker Carlson featured a series of cherry-picked videos from more than 40,000 hours of footage made available exclusively to him, in order to paint a fabulist portrayal of the shocking attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. The presentation was nothing less than an attempt to convince the American public that what they had obviously seen that day — a violent assault targeting Congress by supporters of defeated President Donald Trump — had not actually occurred.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made these videos available exclusively to Carlson, in order to manufacture a new propaganda response from the GOP-aligned outlet to last year’s hearings by a bipartisan House select committee that investigated the insurrection. Indeed, this special access for Carlson and Fox seems like the perfect answer to a demand Carlson had publicly made just two months ago when McCarthy was struggling to wrangle together the votes he needed to be elected speaker.
On the day of the insurrection, Carlson’s immediate reaction was to text his producer that Trump was “a demonic force, a destroyer,” evidence he clearly perceived what had just happened. And yet in the time since then, Carlson has mounted a propaganda campaign from his influential seat at Fox to claim there was no insurrection at all, but instead a vast government conspiracy to persecute and entrap conservatives.
Carlson did not approach this latest production with any sort of journalistic rigor. Politico senior legal affairs reporter Kyle Cheney posted an internal message to the U.S. Capitol Police by Chief J. Thomas Manger, who said that Carlson’s program “never reached out to the Department to provide accurate context” to the videos it aired. Instead, Carlson simply proceeded to tell the story he wanted.
Carlson’s “shock and awe” of dishonesty
“The footage does not show an insurrection or a riot in progress,” Carlson said, shortly before airing familiar video of rioters clearly breaking open a window in order to illegally enter the Capitol. The Orwellian process continued, as Carlson proclaimed in a voice over, “There's quite a bit of video you haven't seen and that video tells a very different story about what happened on January 6” while images flashed on-screen showing some members of the mob milling around and taking photos after besieging and breaking into the building.
Carlson’s attempted misdirection here is simple and brazen. In the alternate reality he and his Fox colleagues have created, the public should ignore the thousands of rioters outside clashing with police — at least 140 police officers were injured that day, and more than 1,000 arrests have been made — or roving gangs chanting “Hang Mike Pence” because other members of the same mob seemed at times to be content with merely trespassing.
Carlson then made the accusation that Democrats and mainstream media outlets were somehow engaged in a conspiracy to prevent the public from seeing this footage. “Taken as a whole, the video record does not support the claim that January 6 was an insurrection. In fact, it demolishes that claim, and that's exactly why the Democratic Party and its allies in the media prevented you from seeing it.”
In fact, legitimate media organizations have been seeking this whole time to get as much footage as they could, in a consortium led by CNN, which over time has obtained footage that has come out during public trials. That consortium is now asking for access to all the same video that Carlson now holds as an exclusive.
In another glaring example from last night’s segment, Carlson misleadingly edited some footage himself, to make it appear as if a former federal prosecutor were involved in the public campaign over the past two years of using the footage.
“By controlling the images you were allowed to view from January 6, they controlled how the public understood that day. They could lie about what happened and you would never know the difference,” Carlson said. “Those lies had a purpose. They created a pretext for a Federal crackdown on opponents of the uniparty in Washington.”
He then followed this declaration with a suspiciously short clip from CBS’ 60 Minutes from March 2021, in which then-federal prosecutor Michael Sherwin was shown saying: “Our office wanted to ensure that there was shock and awe, that we could charge as many people as possible.”
In the original clip, Sherwin was talking about an immediate rush to arrest people during the two weeks between the insurrection itself and the inauguration of President Joe Biden, in part to deter any further disruption of the inauguration itself:
Whitewashing the QAnon Shaman
Carlson also spent a significant portion of the broadcast pleading a special case for Jacob Chansley, often referred to as the “QAnon Shaman” for the horned helmet and spear he carried into the Capitol. Chansley pleaded guilty in 2021 to obstructing an official proceeding and was sentenced to 41 months in prison.
“To this day, there is dispute over how Chansley got into the Capitol building,” Carlson said, a declaration that received a flurry of responses from journalists pointing to the extensive photographic and video evidence that Chansley was among the first rioters to get inside the building, as part of a crowd that rushed through the barricades and then entered through a broken door.
“Virtually every moment of his time inside the Capitol was caught on tape,” Carlson continued “The tapes show the Capitol Police never stopped Jacob Chansley, they helped him. They acted as his tour guides.”
It has been well documented for two years that police were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of rioters and thus tried to de-escalate the situation and minimize violence. This does not change the fundamental fact that Chansley and others broke into the building, were not supposed to be there, and were attempting to physically prevent the transfer of power away from the defeated president to the president-elect.
Chief Manger reiterated this point in his internal message:
One false allegation is that our officers helped the rioters and acted as “tour guides.” This is outrageous and false. The Department stands by the officers in the video that was shown last night. I don't have to remind you how outnumbered our officers were on January 6. Those officers did their best to use de-escalation tactics to try to talk to rioters into getting each other to leave the building.
This also does not change the fact that Chansley pleaded guilty. In addition, his attorney in 2021 cast blame on the person who had inspired Chansley to storm the Capitol: Donald Trump, not the Capitol Police.
Disgracing Brian Sicknick’s memory
In a truly disgraceful moment, Carlson further exploited the death of U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died of two strokes the day after the attack on the Capitol. The defendant who had assaulted Sicknick with a chemical spray was later sentenced to 80 months in prison. But in Carlson’s telling, seemingly no attack or injury against Sicknick even happened.
During the immediate fog of confusion over the events, media outlets had mistakenly reported that Sicknick died as a result of being beaten with a fire extinguisher, before eventually figuring out that he had in fact been assaulted with a chemical spray. (There had also been another police officer who was indeed assaulted with a fire extinguisher, which may have contributed to this confusion.)
Sicknick’s death was officially ruled as being due to natural causes. Carlson never even mentioned the chemical spray, a crucial fact that might have led a reasonable person to think that his sudden death the day after the assault was potentially connected to an injury from that day.
Instead, Carlson simply showed a clip of Sicknick walking in the Capitol, in a seeming attempt to declare that no assault had ever occurred: “Here is surveillance footage of Sicknick walking in the Capitol after he was supposedly murdered by the mob outside. By all appearances Sicknick is healthy and vigorous. He is wearing a helmet, so it's hard to imagine he was killed by a head injury. Whatever happened to Brian Sicknick was very obviously not the result of violence he suffered at the entrance to the Capitol.”
Sicknick’s family has released a statement reiterating their belief that “his sense of duty and incredible work ethic were the driving force which sent him back in spite of his injuries and no doubt contributed to his succumbing to his injuries the following day.” The statement continues: “Every time the pain of that day seems to have ebbed a bit, organizations like Fox rip our wounds wide open again and we are frankly sick of it.”
Of course, disgracing the memory of departed loved one for political gain is nothing new to Fox News, which promoted conspiracy theories about murdered Democratic staffer Seth Rich for years. Carlson himself has promoted conspiracy theories about who might truly be responsible for Rich’s death, shades of which can be seen in how he is now questioning “whatever happened to Brian Sicknick.”
Carlson has also publicly ridiculed other police officers who have testified about their experiences on January 6. His treatment shows that his final comment about the Democrats in his Sicknick presentation — “They lied about the police officer they claimed to revere. If they were willing to do that, then their dishonesty knew no limits.” — in fact applies to himself and all of Fox News.
Re-writing Josh Hawley fleeing the mob
Carlson attempted to discredit a memorable moment from the January 6 committee’s hearings, in which a clip was shown of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) fleeing the mob during the evacuation of the Senate. This image was widely contrasted with a famous photo of when Hawley had earlier greeted the same crowd outside, pumping his fist in the air in support.
Carlson claimed that this video of Hawley “was a sham, edited deceptively by the January 6 committee.” According to Carlson, “The clip was propaganda, not evidence,” as shown by his video of Hawley being part of a larger crowd of fleeing senators. “The coward tape was a lie.”
In fact, the committee’s original presentation had also shown that Hawley was part of a crowd of senators and staffers leaving the area during the evacuation, which Carlson in turn omitted. And of course, none of this changes the simple fact that Hawley was indeed fleeing the crowd that he had arguably helped to incite, rather than staying in the Senate chamber after attackers had breached the building’s secure perimeter.
Tucker’s propagandist sidekicks
Fox News contributor Miranda Devine commented on the Chansley footage, rhetorically asking, “Why on Earth was that footage not used as exculpatory evidence in his trial?”
CBS News correspondent Scott MacFarlane pointed out in response that Chansley’s case never went to trial, because the defendant pleaded guilty. (This also assumes that Chansley’s attorneys never had previous access to these specific videos. Whether they did or not could have been revealed publicly if there had been a trial.)
Fox News contributor Charlie Hurt also denied the fact that January 6 was an armed insurrection.
“The other one that they love to talk about is the armed insurrectionists,” Hurt said. “And I remember at the time asking reporters at the time, you know, why do you keep calling these people armed insurrectionists when there's no evidence that anybody used any arms against them? And they said, well, they had flagpoles. So it's because people were walking around with American flags that made them armed insurrectionists.”
Carlson himself has long asserted, “Not a single person in the crowd on January 6 was found to be carrying a firearm. Not one.” This is utterly false, running up against multiple sightings of firearms in the crowd, as well as convictions and harsh sentences against defendants who brought guns into the Capitol, along with other weapons such as stun guns and pepper spray. And with Hurt’s mention of flagpoles, he also appeared to be blissfully ignorant of the famous images of insurrectionists who beat police officers using flagpoles, including at least one instance with the American flag still on the pole.