The “Burn Book” Just Dropped on Fox News and the GOP
Excuse the pop reference, but the recent fallout from the Dominion defamation suit revelations, paired with Tucker Carlson’s January 6 gambit forcing folks on the right to take sides, is like watching the “Burn Book” scene in Mean Girls. (For those who haven’t seen it, this is the classic moment when a lot of terrible secrets and opinions that were safely hidden away inside a private book become highly public knowledge…)
I normally don’t come back to a story the very next day, especially one about Fox News, but in this case a follow-up felt warranted because recent developments actually encapsulate three stories in one.
Yesterday, I wrote about how Fox News’s Tucker Carlson had released carefully selected footage Monday night to try and rewrite history, seeking to recast January 6 as a largely peaceful protest with a few bad elements. But on Tuesday, several GOP leaders in the Senate, apparently sensing the losing hand that Carlson had played, came out resoundingly against his anti-factual narrative. This has pissed off the MAGA base and rocked the GOP.
Meanwhile, over at Fox News, Carlson’s revisionist history led to an awkward, public schism between the network’s news department and its prime time hosts, as the former rebutted Carlson’s claims and refused to participate in his agenda. On Monday night’s segment, Carlson had promised more January 6 footage would be shown the following night, but he tellingly wound up airing none.
Further, and as if on cue, another Dominion filing landed in court with many new details and damning pieces of evidence, the most eye-popping of which involved Carlson’s internal, private communications about ex-president Trump. Carlson likely knew it would be a terrible look and that what he said could draw the ire of the MAGA base and even the “king” himself, once exposed.
Thus, the Burn Book reference. So how does this all fit together? I have some thoughts, now that the picture is clearer.
Tucker Carlson threw chum in the water
The Dominion lawsuit has revealed to most of the American public that what Fox News and its hosts believe privately is not at all what they put out publicly. Nowhere is that more evident than in Dominion's latest file dump, which disclosed Tucker Carlson’s internal, private communications and his true opinions about Donald Trump. Here are some choice examples:
“That’s the last four years. 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.”
“There isn’t really an upside to Trump.”
“We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait.”
“I hate him passionately.”
Those last two texts were sent on January 4, 2021, just two days before the insurrection.
“I hate him passionately”—uh oh. To continue to Mean Girls theme, no one can write that Queen Regina is a “fugly bitch” without expecting her to pull the roof down on everyone’s head. Tucker Carlson knew that his texts were going to come out and that the truth about his hatred for Trump would be laid bare. So what’s a bow-tie wearing propagandist to do?
How about this: run a segment that is so pro-Trump in its intent and result you get the guy himself to praise you to high heaven the night before the bad stuff comes out? Here’s how Trump predictably reacted on Truth Social to Carlson’s distorted segment:
Congratulations to Tucker Carlson on one of the biggest “scoops” as a reporter in U.S. history.
THANK YOU TO TUCKER CARLSON AND SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE KEVIN McCARTHY FOR WHAT YOU BOTH HAVE DONE.
Trump was so publicly grateful to Carlson for creating a false universe for January 6 in which his followers could live that it would make zero sense for him to attack Carlson now for expressing those private opinions. This is not dissimilar to how Speaker Kevin McCarthy once said pretty terrible things about Trump, but all was forgiven after McCarthy went to Mar-a-Lago just weeks later to kiss Trump’s ring.
The upshot is a win-win for Carlson, both for his pocketbook and his good standing with the Don. But it comes with a steep price others must now pay.
Carlson’s segment was a hand grenade inside the GOP and Fox News
Yesterday, I posited that this move by Carlson was probably good for him and his ratings, but bad for democracy and an even worse look for the GOP. Indeed, it’s now clear that by covering his own ass, as well as the prominent one of the ex-president, Carlson created another huge headache for Fox News and the GOP, both with the lawsuit and with the broader American public.
That’s because in order to justify his recasting of January 6 as a peaceful protest, Carlson had to triple down on the false idea that the election was stolen—the question at the heart of the defamation suit. He did that because, without the backdrop of the Big Lie, none of the actions of any of these supposed “patriots” makes any sense.
That’s of course a big problem for Fox News in the lawsuit, but it’s also a big problem for their brand. Every time the network even remotely tries to report the truth—for example, that Biden won Arizona and then later the whole election, that the election was not in fact stolen by Venezuelan software, or that January 6 was actually a violent insurrection as everyone with eyes could see—they lose their own audience to rivals on the right. That cycle, created by Fox News itself, ultimately creates a crisis for any company even purporting to have a “news” department, which Fox News should now consider just giving up on.
Consider what happened Tuesday night with news anchor Bret Baier. He aired a report at the 6pm hour by Senior Congressional Correspondent Chad Pergram, which ran as a “straight news” report. (That does still happen on Fox News from time to time.) As Mediaite noted in its summary of the remarkable segment, Pergram reported on statements from Republican lawmakers who were all there on January 6, undercutting and ultimately destroying the false narrative Carlson had sought to create just the night before:
“It was an attack on the Capitol.”— Sen. John Thune (R-SD).
“To somehow put that in the same category as a permitted peaceful protest is just a lie.” — Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND).
“It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at Capitol thinks.” — Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Pergram’s report also aired footage of the late 42-year-old Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick and noted that Sicknick’s partner had been appalled by Carlson’s piece. He further reported that 140 officers had been assaulted that day and that 106 defendants were charged with using a deadly weapon. Baier ended the segment by saying, “And to be clear, no one here at Fox News condones any of the violence that happened on January 6.”
One could get whiplash watching Fox News lately.
Later that evening, and underscoring the disjointed nature of Fox News’s handling of this and the growing rift within the GOP, popular host Laura Ingraham blasted Sen. Mitch McConnell, who had stood by the Capitol Police account of the insurrection and had stated that Fox had made a “mistake” in airing the selectively chosen and misleading footage. Ingraham asked, “And Mitch wonders why so many working people don’t trust him? Why the Republican base doesn’t like him?”
Ingraham, of course, is a prime example of the very dysfunction now consuming Fox News. According to the recent Dominion filings, Ingraham had bemoaned the fact that people in their newsroom like Chris Wallace had been allowed, through his factual reporting, to “wreck” the audience that she, Carlson, and Sean Hannity had built. To undo this, she and others including Carlson exposed the entire company to huge liability by pushing a narrative about a stolen election that they knew to be false.
Ingraham wasn’t alone in expanding a growing rift over January 6 within the GOP. Turning Point America’s Charlie Kirk posted footage of McConnell standing by the Capitol Police report, arousing predictable outrage among the far-right. And MAGA acolyte and former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis issued a warning to lawmakers:
It’s very telling which Republicans in Congress right now are willing to stand by transparency and sunshine… and those that aren’t.
Elections are coming.
I should note that the broad condemnation by the GOP had one notable outlier: co-conspirator, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had given Carlson exclusive access to the footage in the first place. When asked about Carlson’s reporting on January 6, McCarthy stated he had no regrets about having given him the footage. He added, “I said at the very beginning, transparency… [so that] each person can come up with their own conclusion.”
In other words, put it all out there and let the cards fall where they may! Both the GOP and Fox News now appear to have reached wildly different conclusions within their own ranks. To say they are now in total disarray, over the very last thing any sane GOP leader wants to be talking about today, would be charitable. It’s more like complete chaos in the school hallways, as the pages of the Burn Book float down.
Faux News has fomented the divide and the hatred in this country between Democrats and Republicans and their lying needs to stop. I would like nothing better than to see them self-destruct!
It’s inevitable the the Republican Party will die. Demographics and their own increasingly vile policies guarantee it.
The only question is how much damage they’ll lead us to do to ourselves in their way out.