The White House has spoken out about Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, calling him “not credible” after he aired a snippet of newly-elected footage depicting protesters storming the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 as mostly peaceful were depicted.
The segment, which aired Monday night, was the start of a political maelstrom, with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calling it a “false portrayal of the unprecedented violent assault on our Constitution and the rule of law” on Wednesday.
Top Democrat Chuck Schumer also accused Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of fueling conspiracy theories by granting Carlson “exclusive” access to the video.
Monday’s broadcast was the first episode in what is expected to be a series of segments based on 41,000 hours of security footage of the U.S. Capitol bombing 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 Jan. 6 protesters as “tourists” who were “orderly and meek,” not rioters bent on undoing President Joe Biden’s election victory. He also dismissed those who violently stormed the Capitol as a small minority of “hooligans”.
Carlson’s claims prompted a rare rebuke from the White House on Wednesday, as the Biden administration generally does not comment on specific media coverage.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement that the administration agrees “with what Fox News’ own lawyers and executives have now repeatedly stressed in multiple courts: that Tucker Carlson lacks credibility.”
An ongoing libel lawsuit has alleged that Fox News hosts knowingly spread misinformation about the 2020 presidential election, based on statements made by Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and other top network figures.
Five people, including a police officer, died during or shortly after the January 6 attack, which unfolded as a joint session of the United States Congress to count Electoral College votes to confirm Biden’s victory.
More than 140 police officers were also injured in the incident, forcing then-Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress and their staff to flee.
Carlson’s segment drew widespread criticism, with Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger calling it “offensive”. Top U.S. Senate Republican Mitch McConnell similarly condemned the broadcast, saying, “It was, in my opinion, a mistake on Fox News’ part to portray this in a manner that completely contradicts what our top law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.”
Tucker Carlson sides 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 inciting his supporters in an attempt to undo his defeat in the 2020 election, used Carlson’s reporting as justification that rioters were being targeted inappropriately.
“Let the January 6 prisoners go,” Trump wrote on his social media site Truth Social. “They have been convicted, or are awaiting trial, on the basis of a giant lie, a far-left scam.”
Carlson has defended his decision to run the footage. “Anyone can watch the tape and decide what they think about it,” he wrote in a piece on the Fox News website Tuesday.
‘gone too far’
The chaos is the latest headache for conservative Fox News, which faces a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems.
Court filings made public during the case have revealed the network’s internal discussions as it weighed how to address Trump and his allies’ false claims of widespread election fraud amid concerns about declining TV ratings.
The latest trove of documents unsealed Tuesday show top executives, producers and hosts casting doubt on the “stolen election” theory, while the network was still promoting the claims on the air.
In a newly released email, Murdoch suggested that hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham may have “went too far” in their coverage of the voter fraud claims.
In another recently declassified email, Murdoch also referred to an extended press conference by Trump ally Rudy Giuliani as “silly and damaging.”
Previously released documents show that prominent Fox News hosts privately expressed disbelief when they reported on the fraud claims on their shows.
In a text dated November 16, 2020, Carlson said Trump’s lawyer is “lying Sidney Powell” about having evidence of election fraud.
In a statement 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 approved,” Murdoch said when asked.
To prevail in the defamation case, Dominion Voting Systems must demonstrate that there was “actual malice” in Fox News’ reporting – something it seeks to prove by showing that Fox either knew its statements were false or recklessly misrepresented the correctness ignored.