WASHINGTON — Fox News host Tucker Carlson sparked bipartisan controversy on Capitol Hill after a March 6 package on his program “Tucker Carlson Tonight” depicted the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot as “mostly peaceful chaos.” Catholic political observers called the package a false portrayal of the day’s events.
That Jan. 6, following a rally near the White House, supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in an attempt to block certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. The riot turned deadly and caused as much as $30 million in total damages, according to federal authorities.
After House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., gave Carlson exclusive access to more than 40,000 hours of footage from that day, Carlson aired clips Capitol Police said were taken out of context. The package did not detail incidents where rioters assaulted law enforcement officers, broke windows and doors, damaged art and other historic artifacts, and spread their own excrement in hallways.
Robert Schmuhl, professor emeritus of American studies at the University of Notre Dame who studies journalism and the modern American presidency, told OSV News that Carlson “is using the video that Speaker McCarthy gave him exclusively to try to create an alternate narrative to what happened on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol.”
“What he’s doing isn’t journalism,” Schmuhl said. “It’s an effort to rewrite history that in no way is accurate or truthful.”
Matthew Green, a professor of politics at The Catholic University of America in Washington who studies Congress, told OSV News that “notwithstanding what Tucker Carlson says on television, there’s plenty of very disturbing images of violence that day.”
“This is a rookie mistake,” Green said of the House speaker giving the footage to Carlson exclusively, arguing the move was a short-term effort to appease elements of his Republican base rather than a long-term strategic move.
The Republican Conference in the U.S. House of Representatives touted Carlson’s package on its Twitter account as a “must watch,” while other Republican lawmakers called it a false narrative. Several GOP senators, including Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., criticized the package as an inaccurate depiction of what took place during the riot they witnessed.
“I was there on Jan. 6. I saw what happened. I saw the aftermath. There was violence on Jan. 6,” Rounds, who is Catholic, told reporters at the Capitol. “I think the footage that’s available should be made available to all networks and everybody should be able to see for themselves just what kind of chaos we had on that day.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., delivered remarks in stark contrast to McCarthy, telling reporters that he agreed with Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger’s assessment of the package.
“With regard to the presentation on Fox News last night, I want to associate myself entirely with the opinion of the chief of the Capitol Police about what happened on Jan. 6,” McConnell said March 7.
Manger wrote in a statement that Carlson “cherry-picked” moments of footage “from the calmer moments of our 41,000 hours of video.”
“The commentary fails to provide context about the chaos and violence that happened before or during these less tense moments,” Manger wrote.
Schmuhl said the Senate Republicans and McConnell “are willing to say how outrageous this is.”
“Speaker McCarthy is so afraid of having the most conservative members of his conference turn on him that he’s willing to engage in this activity, which is not only questionable but also reprehensible,” Schmuhl said.
Both Green and Schmuhl argued that an attempt to push a narrative like Carlson’s about Jan. 6 would not make for good electoral politics for Republicans in future elections.
Noting that Republicans lost the 2020 election, and underperformed expectations in the 2022 midterms, Green argued that “this idea of re-litigating the 2020 election doesn’t seem to come with a lot of electoral gain.”
“I don’t see the political advantages for Republicans of rehashing Jan. 6,” Green said. “I really don’t.”
Schmuhl also characterized the move as looking backward rather than forward.
Schmuhl said that some Republicans, “whether Kevin McCarthy with Jan. 6, or Donald Trump with the 2020 election, keep focusing on the past.”
“The American public wants to look forward to the future and to solving serious problems,” he said.