Noting on Sunday that Fox News’ news division has not followed up or defended Tucker Carlson’s wild and baseless claims that the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection was an FBI plot, CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter wondered aloud if the network vetted the opinion host’s reporting.
Carlson sparked a firestorm of criticism last week when he referenced an article from a fringe far-right website to promote a new conspiracy theory that the FBI orchestrated the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Despite fact-checkers and legal experts pointing out that Carlson’s argument was completely meritless—mostly due to the fact that he “makes the erroneous assumption that unindicted co-conspirators are government agents”—the Fox News star tripled down on the unfounded theory, calling on other media outlets to “prove us wrong.”
Recapping Carlson’s weeklong embrace of the FBI false flag conspiracy on Sunday’s broadcast of Reliable Sources, Stelter noted that the deranged theory is “everywhere now” and has been parroted by right-wing politicians and pundits. At the same time, he said that while Carlson has challenged the media to “do his work for him” and prove his claims, Fox News’ so-called “hard news” division has apparently not followed up.
“Presumably he asked questions of the FBI and of prosecutors and sources?” Stelter pondered. “So I asked Fox PR executives, did anyone vet Tucker’s reporting? Did the Fox newsroom go through his reporting?”
The Reliable Sources host continued: “Why haven’t they followed up on it since? Carlson alleged these explosive stories, claiming this is an incredible bombshell. Where is the Fox newsroom? Why isn’t Special Report with Bret Baier covering this story every day? Why isn’t Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace covering this incredible claim right now?”
Stelter went on to assert that Carlson is “out there on his own” and “claiming to be telling the truth to his viewers,” because Fox News can defend his views by stating it’s just “an opinion show and everyone knows it’s an opinion show.” (Network lawyers, for instance, have successfully argued in court that Carlson should not be taken seriously.)
“But it looks like news, it smells like news, his fans think it’s news,” Stelter declared. “They trust Tucker more than they trust real reporters. So what was the betting? What was the process? Why isn’t Fox following up? Why isn’t the newsroom digging into his claims? Why isn’t the newsroom at Fox trying to prove Tucker’s theory?”
The CNN media analyst then dramatically checked his email on the air, seeing if the network had responded yet to his query, adding that there was still no reply.
Stelter also welcomed on fellow media critic David Zurawik and author Jennifer Mercieca to weigh in, with Zurawk immediately blasting Fox News as a “propaganda operation” that is “crooked and rotten from top to bottom.” Mercieca, who teaches about the power of propaganda, explained why Carlson’s rhetoric is so persuasive.
“Think about a tire,” she stated. “When you run over a nail, instead of puncturing and going flat, it seals itself up. If you say the plot didn’t happen, they say, you are denying the truth and you are against free speech and why won’t you even let us talk about this or investigate.”
Mercieca added: “If you deny the facts, then they say you’re hiding the truth from us, right? So the logic of conspiracy theory itself cannot be punctured because the conspiracy theory will cover over, just like that nail, will cover over any objection that you make.”