In the last couple weeks, Fox News host Tucker Carlson has repeatedly pushed conspiracy theories about the Mandalay Bay mass shooting that left 58 people dead and over 500 more wounded, including about a security guard who was injured.
Carlson aired a report on October 5 by Fox News correspondent Trace Gallagher, who reported that “the Clark County Sheriff has gone on the record saying that he believes Stephen Paddock did have an accomplice in all this.” Immediately after, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt debunked the claim, saying, “I'd like to correct at least one thing that was said in the last segment. You know, the Sheriff did not say there was any evidence of an accomplice … as of right this moment, it is still a single person operation.”
Carlson stepped it up and began floating full-fledged conspiracy theories about the security guard, Jesus Campos, on October 17. Carlson claimed on his show that “Campos may have used someone else’s federal ID” to work at the Mandalay Bay. That claim too was corrected; the hotel sent a statement to Carlson’s show reporting that it had verified Campos’ status in 2015.
And on October 25, Carlson, citing a “document from a confidential source,” questioned why authorities allowed Campos to travel to Mexico when he was “the only eyewitness to the biggest mass shooting in modern American history” and “investigators thought” shooter Stephen Paddock “may have had an accomplice.” As evidence of something fishy, Carlson pointed to the claim that Campos had driven a different car on this trip from one he had used in January. Carlson went on to speculate about the extent of Campos’ injuries, whether he has a criminal record, and why “so many people [have] gone to so much trouble to shape this story” (full transcript here):
The next day, Carlson’s conspiracy theories were again debunked. On October 26, he hosted David Hickey, union president for the International Union, Security, Police, and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA), of which Campos was a member, to discuss the shooting. Hickey explained that Campos went to Mexico on a previously scheduled trip to see his family and that police were fully aware of his vacation. Hickey explained that Campos had been treated at a hospital for two shrapnel wounds in his left thigh beforehand. He said “to his knowledge,” Campos had not met Paddock before the shooting:
Carlson is certainly not the only one pushing conspiracy theories about Campos and about the shooting. Fake news purveyors and online message boards have been active on the subject, and noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones spent the week after the shooting recklessly accusing a multitude of people and groups of involvement, while also claiming that the whole thing might have been staged. And right-wing radio host Mark Levin promoted an article on Facebook and Twitter suggesting that Campos was involved in the shooting -- only to later delete his posts when he realized the article was from a fake news purveyor pretending to be CNN.
But Carlson is the only one who hosts Fox News’ 8 pm prime-time show. And, as victims continue to recover from their physical, mental, and emotional wounds, the spread of baseless speculation and conspiracy theories not only has the potential to re-traumatize those victims; it has led to some, like Jesus Campos, being smeared and even receiving death threats.