During his interview aired Monday night with Kyle Rittenhouse, following the acquittal in the case of killing two demonstrators and wounding another during protests last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson claimed that President Joe Biden had called Rittenhouse a white supremacist. Carlson also suggested that Rittenhouse should file lawsuits against people, including media commentators, who he claimed had lied about Rittenhouse.
Carlson’s fundamental claim about Biden was false, however. The allegation is based on a Biden campaign video from September 2020, which contained a clip from the first presidential debate. In the video, it was debate moderator Chris Wallace, one of Carlson’s own network colleagues from Fox’s purported “straight news” side who talked about “white supremacists and militia groups” adding to the violence in Kenosha, as he asked then-President Donald Trump if he would condemn them.
The video showed a photo of an armed Rittenhouse, at the moment when Wallace said “in Kenosha,” referring specifically to the violence that took place there. Other moments in video, such as quoting Wallace’s discussion of “white supremacists,” included separate imagery. (In addition, it was widely reported that Rittenhouse’s social media accounts indicated that he had identified himself with militia groups.)
Fox News has done a lot to circulate the suggestion that Biden defamed Rittenhouse. On Monday of last week, White House correspondent Peter Doocy asked press secretary Jen Psaki the leading question, “Why did President Biden suggest that Kyle Rittenhouse, on trial in Kenosha, is a white supremacist?” (Psaki responded: “What I can reiterate for you is the President’s view that we shouldn’t have, broadly speaking, vigilantes patrolling our communities with assault weapons,” in addition to having “opportunists corrupting peaceful protests by rioting and burning down the communities they claim to represent anywhere in the country.”)
Immediately following the verdict on Friday, Fox News contributor Leo Terrell told anchor John Roberts: “Let me give Joe Biden some advice. Be very careful what you say, because you’re subject to a defamation lawsuit.” Similar suggestions have since been made by right-wing sites The Epoch Times and The Gateway Pundit.
And that evening, Doocy again cited Biden’s tweet from 2020, without acknowledging that Biden had responded to a question from Doocy’s senior colleague Wallace.
Fox’s website has run an article titled “FLASHBACK: Biden compared Kyle Rittenhouse to White supremacists in 2020.” The article contained a serious lie of omission, however, in explaining the Biden campaign video from last year:
"Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities, as we saw in Kenosha, and as we've seen in Portland?" the video caption asked.
Rittenhouse's picture was displayed in the video, alongside White supremacist groups who marched during the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges against him as jurors finished their deliberations on Friday.
The “video caption” described in the article was in fact subtitles of Wallace asking his question.
During the interview, Carlson added that “a lot of people on television have said that [Rittenhouse is a white supremacist], dozens of people have said that.” He also claimed that many people watching the interview “would like to see you, you know, help make this better by holding some of these liars to account.”
“I have really good lawyers who are taking care of that right now,” Rittenhouse replied.
What this amounts to, really, is an effort to threaten legal consequences any moral condemnation of Rittenhouse’s activities in going to Kenosha, on the basis that this single case resulted in a legal verdict of not guilty. The effect of that would be to chill free speech against any right-wing militia groups, which have gained the fervent support of right-wing media.
Furthermore, if Rittenhouse sincerely does believe that it is both false and damaging to his reputation to accuse him of having ties to white supremacy, maybe he shouldn’t be associating himself with Tucker Carlson.