What Tucker Carlson left out of his defense of accused Pentagon leaker Jack Teixeira

Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira is accused of illegally posting classified information; evidence so far shows that he did it to impress people in a Discord server, but Carlson insinuated that he was a principled whistleblower

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson defended accused Pentagon leaker Jack Teixeira, a member of the Air National Guard arrested Thursday “in connection with the leak of dozens of highly classified documents containing an array of national security secrets” largely related to the Russian war in Ukraine, by inventing honorable motives for his alleged actions without any supporting evidence.

In a monologue on April 13, Carlson left viewers with the clear impression that Teixeira took a principled stand to inform the public about U.S. involvement in defending Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. Carlson has been a vocal critic of U.S. involvement in the conflict, and a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin more broadly.

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Citation From the April 13, 2023, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight 

In fact, the available evidence suggests that Teixeira was driven by a desire to impress a small group of friends in an online Discord chat group called “Thug Shaker Central.” Teixeira was known in the group as “OG” and presented himself as “the ultimate arbiter of secrecy,” who “allowed his companions to read truths that ‘normal citizens’ could not,” according to The Washington Post.

For all OG’s disdain for the federal government, the member said there was no indication that he was acting in what he thought was the public interest by exposing official secrets. The classified documents were intended only to benefit his online family, the member said.

“I would definitely not call him a whistleblower. I would not call OG a whistleblower in the slightest,” he said, resisting comparisons to Edward Snowden, who shared classified documents about government surveillance with journalists.

The New York Times further reported that “outrage about wrongdoing or government policies does not appear to have been a factor” in the leaks.

“The secret documents in the news now, Airman Teixeira’s friends said, were never meant to leave their small corner of the internet,” the Times wrote in a separate story. That piece further corroborates that claim with a direct quote from Teixeira, who reportedly said, as the authorities were closing in, “I never wanted it to get like this.”

Carlson didn’t take this context into account in his characterization of Teixeira’s motivations. 

Instead, he argued that U.S. involvement in that conflict was “a crime,” and accused Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin of lying in recent congressional testimony. But, Carlson continued, “the only man who has been taken into custody — or likely ever will be — is a 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guardsman who leaked the slides that showed that Lloyd Austin was lying.”

“He revealed the crimes, therefore he’s the criminal,” he continued. “That’s how Washington works. Telling the truth is the only real sin.”

After playing a clip of CNN analysts discussing the issue, Carlson added, “So, this 21-year-old Air National Guardsman from Massachusetts is not a whistleblower, CNN explains, with the help of the many intelligence agency figures it has now hired as analysts.”

It’s fine to criticize cable news’ practice of hiring former intelligence officials and former government flacks more broadly, CNN very much included. Carlson’s sleight-of-hand here obscures an inconvenient fact for him: It’s not just CNN hacks who say Teixeira isn’t a whistleblower — his own online “tightknit family” says the exact same thing.

“​​You have no right to know what your government is doing in your name with your tax dollars and with the future of your children and grandchildren,” Carlson said later, further implying that Teixeira’s motives were to inform the public rather than to gain clout with his friends. 

The Post also reported that in a video at a shooting range Teixeira “yells a series of racial and antisemitic slurs into the camera, then fires several rounds at a target.” Carlson addressed the video to suggest that Teixeira is being targeted for his personal views, claiming the media is treating “him like Osama bin Laden, maybe even worse actually, because unlike al-Qaeda, apparently this kid is a racist.” 

Over the course of his monologue, Carlson never came right out and said explicitly that Teixeira was definitely driven to expose Pentagon lies or obfuscation, but the argument is undeniable: He’s implicitly claiming the media is working with the government to persecute a whistleblower, which is simply not the case according to all available public information.  

Carlson also ignored one of the aspects of the leak that doesn’t fit neatly into his manufactured narrative about an anti-war whistleblower risking their freedom to inform the public. A leaked document from Teixeira’s cache shows that Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister Viktor Orbán listed the United States as one of his government’s top three adversaries. Carlson is a major booster of Orbán, who in turn is seeking closer relations with China. That one of Carlson’s most admired heads of state is allying with a country he frequently demonizes poses a problem for the simplistic storylines he puts forward, and it isn’t surprising that the Orbán revelation didn’t find its way into his show.  

The entire segment also followed a familiar Carlson playbook, namely that the federal government is sending militarized police forces to target conservatives, as the Post’s Philip Bump noted. Carlson has repeatedly pushed that line, and made his defense of Teixeira in the same rhetorical register. 

Bump also cited his colleague Jim LaPorta, who resurfaced Carlson’s remarks condemning whistleblower Reality Winner in 2017. Winner’s disclosures to media outlet The Intercept cut against Carlson’s attempts to diminish Russian attempted interference in the 2016 election.

It’s worth underscoring a few last points. There may very well be information in these leaks that truly is in the public interest. The national security state is a sprawling, unaccountable behemoth that enriches contractors and uses classification to control information, including information that implicates the U.S. government in fraud, waste, and abuse. It’s also true that leakers and whistleblowers go to the media with all sorts of complicated, divergent, contradictory motives, none of which necessarily undermine the value of the information they provide.

The issue here is that, from all available evidence, Teixeira did not want this information to be widely accessible to the public. Carlson is simply backfilling motivations that are not there to fit his own narrative bashing the media and the Biden administration, which he argues are acting in lockstep to keep the public in the dark.