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Fox News and Tucker Carlson’s big lies

Call Fox what it is — the communications team for Republican extremism and disinformation.

Tucker Carlson, left, with former President Donald Trump at the Bedminster Invitational LIV Golf tournament in July.Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Two days before the Jan. 6 insurrection, Tucker Carlson sounded like a man who’d had enough of Donald Trump.

“We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait,” Carlson, Fox News’s biggest mouth, said, adding, “I hate him passionately.” Then, musing on Trump’s catastrophic presidency, he said, “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.”

At least that’s what Carlson said privately to colleagues in text messages. Publicly, Carlson continued to do what he had done for years — promote Trump’s lies, ardently defend the man he deeply despised, and keep Fox’s hypocrisy mill churning with American democracy as grist.


That Carlson and many of his colleagues are liars isn’t breaking news. Yet stunning revelations from court filings in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox show that the network’s stars talked out of both sides of their mouths regarding Trump’s Big Lie. They ridiculed Trump but amplified his bombastic grievances on air. They mocked Trump’s minions as “insane” and “kooky” but gave them a platform to spew their insane and kooky conspiracies about the 2020 presidential election.

All because they and Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch didn’t want to alienate its Trump-loving viewers.

If even a scintilla of doubt remained, this has been made clear by Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Maria Bartiromo, and Carlson. Fox isn’t a news organization. It’s the communications team for Republican extremism, white supremacy, and lies, a company where ratings rule all and truth and facts are its greatest existential threats.

Recently, Carlson has been cherry-picking snippets of the Jan. 6 insurrection, arguably the most documented crime in American history, with footage given to him — and only him — by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Of course, he’s trying to whitewash the deadly narrative of that day. With his inciting rhetoric, Carlson arguably abetted firing up some who breached the US Capitol, which is very much on brand for a network that made unfounded claims that Dominion’s voting machines rigged the election against Trump.


Carlson’s attempt to sanitize insurrection footage also serves as an effort to keep Fox in the capricious good graces of the former president, especially now that Trump knows many at his favorite network think he’s a “demonic force” and “a destroyer,” as Carlson called him. Much like McCarthy crawled to Mar-a-Lago to make nice with Trump after saying Trump “bears responsibility“ for the insurrection, Fox is now trying to placate the former president and those still clinging to him.

And Fox knows its right-wing competitors see a prime chance to siphon away disgruntled viewers. In a conversation with failed Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, Eric Bolling, a host on the conservative rival Newsmax network, criticized Carlson. “I can’t understand how a guy who can portray himself as a huge Trump fan on television, saying he hates him passionately, is very, very much looking forward to the day he didn’t have to cover Trump being in the White House every day.”

Bolling doesn’t care that Carlson has always lied, only that he lied about loving Trump.


But will that be enough to sink Fox? I’m reminded of an old Denis Leary standup routine. An unrepentant smoking evangelist in the 1990s, the comedian joked that even if cigarette packaging consisted only of dire warnings of smoking’s proven hazards, it wouldn’t deter hardcore users.

“You could have cigarettes that come in a black pack with a skull and crossbones on the front called ‘Tumors,’ and smokers would be lined up around the block saying, ‘I can’t wait to get my hands on these [expletive] things,’” he said. “They’re a drug; we’re addicted.”

The same could be said of Fox viewers. After all, this is a network whose hosts denounced COVID vaccine mandates and spread misinformation about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, even though they were vaccinated, as required by their company.

For decades, Fox viewers have been fed poisoned apples and digested them all from stem to seeds. The channel could change its name to “We lie to our viewers because we think they’re idiots,” and there would probably be no discernible drop in ratings. At least that’s what Murdoch is now banking on.

Carlson and his Fox colleagues are frauds who threaten democracy by weaponizing their airtime to spout dangerous lies they don’t believe. But waste no time trying to shame the shameless. This much is already plain: Fox doesn’t own its audience. The audience owns it. And with more damning revelations from Dominion’s lawsuit likely, the network will continue to do and say whatever it takes to keep that audience engaged and angry.


Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @reneeygraham.