The White House has weighed in on Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, calling him “not credible” after he aired a segment of cherry-picked footage that sought to portray protesters who stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, as mostly peaceful.
The segment, which aired on Monday evening, kicked off a political maelstrom, with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calling it on Wednesday a “false depiction of the unprecedented violent attack on our Constitution and the rule of law”.
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Top Democrat Chuck Schumer also accused Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of stoking conspiracy theories by granting Carlson “exclusive” access to the video.
Monday’s broadcast was the first instalment in what is anticipated to be a series of segments, drawing on 41,000 hours of security footage from the Capitol attack released to Carlson.
McCarthy said he stands by his decision to release the footage, which he claims was done in the interest of transparency.
In Monday’s segment, Carlson described the majority of the January 6 protesters as “sightseers” who were “orderly and meek”, not rioters bent on overturning the election victory of President Joe Biden. He also dismissed those who violently stormed the Capitol as a small minority of “hooligans”.
Carlson’s claims prompted a rare White House rebuke on Wednesday, as the Biden administration generally avoids commenting on specific media coverage.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement that the administration agrees “with what Fox News’s own attorneys and executives have now repeatedly stressed in multiple courts of law: that Tucker Carlson is not credible”.
An ongoing defamation lawsuit has alleged that Fox News hosts knowingly spread misinformation about the 2020 presidential election, drawing on statements from Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch and other top figures at the network.
Five people, including a police officer, died during or shortly after the January 6 attack, which unfolded as a joint session of the US Congress was tallying the electoral college votes to certify Biden’s victory.
More than 140 police officers were also injured in the incident, which forced then-Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress and their staff to flee.
Carlson’s segment prompted widespread criticism, with Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger calling it “offensive”. Top US Senate Republican Mitch McConnell likewise condemned the broadcast, saying: “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here in the Capitol thinks.”
Tucker Carlson is siding with the enemies of democracy.
Here’s what I just said on the Senate floor: pic.twitter.com/WZvhXh1rNU
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 7, 2023
Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump, who has been accused of egging on his supporters in a bid to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election, seized on Carlson’s coverage as vindication that rioters were unjustly targeted.
“Let the January 6 prisoners go,” Trump wrote on his social media site, Truth Social. “They were convicted, or are awaiting trial, based on a giant lie, a radical left con job.”
Carlson has defended his decision to run the footage. “Anyone could look at the tape and decide what he or she thinks of it,” he wrote in a piece on the Fox News website on Tuesday.
‘Gone too far’
The imbroglio is the latest headache for the conservative Fox News, which has been contending with a $1.6bn defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems.
Court filings made public during the case have revealed the network’s internal discussions as it weighed how to address the false claims Trump and his allies made about widespread election fraud, amid concerns about falling TV ratings.
The latest trove of documents unsealed on Tuesday shows top executives, producers and hosts expressing doubt about the “stolen election” theory, while the network still promoted the claims on air.
In one newly-released email, Murdoch suggested hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham possibly “went too far” in their coverage of the voter fraud claims.
In another newly released email, Murdoch also referred to a rambling news conference by Trump ally Rudy Giuliani as “stupid and damaging”.
Previously released documents have shown prominent Fox News hosts privately expressing disbelief as they covered the fraud claims on their shows.
In one text from November 16, 2020, Carlson said that Trump’s lawyer “Sidney Powell is lying” about having evidence of election fraud.
In a deposition unsealed last week, Murdoch acknowledged that some of his network hosts, including Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity, endorsed false election claims.
“Yes. They endorsed,” Murdoch said when questioned.
To prevail in the defamation case, Dominion Voting Systems must show there was “actual malice” in Fox News’s coverage — something it is seeking to prove by demonstrating that Fox either knew its statements were false or recklessly disregarded their accuracy.