Fox News, despite an unrelenting string of controversies, remains by far the most popular news channel in the nation. Last year, it nearly doubled the average audience of the second-highest rated cable news network, MSNBC.
And a big reason for the network’s success is Tucker Carlson, whose nightly prime-time show typically draws more viewers than his two biggest competitors – Anderson Cooper on CNN and Chris Hayes on MSNBC – combined.
So it would be a mistake, given the size of his audience, to simply ignore Carlson, especially when he makes news, as he did this month when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave him exclusive video from the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The footage had not been shown by mainstream media outlets nor during the dozens of hours of witness testimony and presentations before the House Jan. 6 Committee last year.
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Americans are now familiar with images of the mob trashing the Capitol, beating police officers and threatening elected leaders (“Hang Mike Pence!”). But the video released to Carlson was jarringly peaceful in contrast. It shows Trump supporters calmly walking through the Capitol, with some stopping to take photographs. What viewers saw in this footage were essentially tourists wearing MAGA clothing.
Carlson downplayed Capitol riot
Carlson used these newly revealed images to argue that the House committee and the news media had misled the public about what really happened on that day of infamy two years ago.
It’s a serious charge. But is Carlson right?
I do have some agreement with America’s most-watched pundit. I don’t doubt that the House committee didn’t show the video given to Carlson because it didn’t tell the story of the halls of Congress being ransacked by an outraged mob, encouraged by then-President Donald Trump.
It’s also possible that the video should prompt reflection on whether some of the individuals arrested in the aftermath of the riot are being punished out of proportion to their actual offense.
Will Trump get arrested? Between sketchy witnesses and the law, case comes up short.
FOX pushes false narrative:Believing Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 lies is a choice, but most will choose the truth
If Carlson had shown the video and merely argued that not all of those who entered the Capitol that day were violent criminals intent on disrupting our government’s constitutional proceedings, then I wouldn’t take issue with that point.
But Carlson went much farther than that. And, in fact, went too far.
I am a Republican. That the mainstream press has a fierce bias against Trump and often Republicans in general is not a point I disagree with. That the Jan. 6 committee was run by Democrats and a couple of Republicans who went into their investigation believing themselves to be locked in a pitched battle with Trump and his allies for the survival of American democracy is also clear to me. Bias is real. It is real in our institutions, and it is a central fact of partisan politics.
But the presence of bias does not negate the legitimacy of clear and obvious empirical claims. And the presence of evidence that shows that a story is incomplete does not necessarily mean that the salient parts of the story that have been told are not true.
Fox News lied about election fraud:Why didn’t Trump Nation voters notice – or care?
Trump supporters attacked American democracy
In this case, what is true was made no less so by any of the video shown by Carlson: A symbol of American democracy and the procedures governing the peaceful transfer of power were physically attacked in an appalling and unprecedented way by a mob, which was there in support of Trump to disrupt the transfer of presidential power.
Is this truth made less outrageous by the fact that a number of people who followed these attackers into the Capitol were not themselves violent? Isn’t that fact simply irrelevant?
It wasn’t long ago that commentators like Carlson were criticizing others in the media for describing Black Lives Matter protests as being “mostly peaceful.” They argued (not without reason in my view) that such descriptions set against the backdrop of burning buildings downplayed the destruction and damage done by a small percentage of out-of-control protesters.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander. And there is no justification for downplaying the significance of Jan. 6, 2021.
John Wood Jr. is a columnist for USA TODAY Opinion. He is national ambassador for Braver Angels, a former nominee for Congress, former vice chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, musical artist, and a noted writer and speaker on subjects including racial and political reconciliation. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnRWoodJr
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