Beware the Nonresponsive Response to Tucker Carlson

This is such a great moment. I just realized what Tucker Carlson versus “the swamp” teaches us. I’m going to suggest that you ask yourself a single question and see if you can answer it, but give me a minute to get there.

So, if a girlfriend says to her boyfriend, “I know you went home with Tiffany after her shift on Thursday night, and you had sex with her in her living room three times,” and then the boyfriend starts screaming and waving his arms around and shouting, “Oh right! You think I just go around having sex with everyone all the time! You’re so crazy!” Then, in fact, that boyfriend went home with Tiffany after her shift on Thursday night, and he had sex with her in her living room three times. Compare this possible response: “I was with Brian on Thursday night, hanging out at the gas station and listening to Yo La Tengo on our headphones, and I haven’t seen Tiffany since that thing at the dog park.” Right?

Now, without revisiting details, Tucker Carlson made three claims when he aired January 6 footage on his Fox News program Monday night:

1) The Viking-horned Jacob Chansley, who was charged with “violent entry” to the Capitol, and who was later depicted as having fought his way through the building to storm the Senate chambers, in fact walked the hall calmly in the company of police officers who didn’t try to stop him, and who in fact tried to open doors for him.

2) Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who was depicted by the January 6 committee as a coward who ran, alone, from the mob, in fact, followed police directions and left an area with many other legislators.

3) Officer Brian Sicknick, who has repeatedly been depicted as an officer who was murdered by violent insurrectionists in the Capitol on January 6, can be seen walking around unharmed in the Capitol after he is supposed to have been killed.

Also, Carlson explicitly said that some people were violent at the Capitol on January 6.

So watch what the political class is saying about Carlson’s broadcast:

Thom Tillis isn’t responding to Carlson’s narrow, specific fact claims; he’s responding to his cartoon version, steamrolling details and flattening the thing he’s supposedly talking about. George W. Bush was especially fond of this maneuver, but most politicians use it all the time: “Some say,” they say, and then say something that no one is saying, and then pretend to respond to it. “Some say we should let the terrorists win, but Americans know that’s an irresponsible view.” If you respond to your critics by not responding to your critics but instead respond by inventing their position so you can attack your own rhetorical creation, you can’t respond to your critics.

So ask yourself one thing: In all the post-broadcast ranting about the Tucker Carlson Menace—and let’s not kid ourselves, he may invade Poland at any moment—how many politicians and media figures have you heard specifically addressing Carlson’s three narrow fact claims about Chansley, Hawley, and Sicknick?

When someone makes specific claims, and the responses are not specific, the response is not a response. It’s chaff, and it’s meant to cloud the air.

How many times have we seen this maneuver? Q: You said the vaccines were 100 percent effective, and that everyone who gets them immediately becomes a dead end for the virus. Was that true? A: Ohh, I know that some people are anti-vaxxers who don’t believe in science, but I don’t have any patience for these conspiracy theories.

It’s topic-shifting, quite thinly disguised. Again: When someone makes specific claims, and the responses are not specific, the response is not a response.

But finally, one person actually did offer a specific response to one of Carlson’s specific claims, and it’s a response that swallows its own tail. The Washington Post quotes a memo from Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, disputing the story about Chansley:

The claim by Carlson that Capitol Police served as ‘tour guides’ for Jacob Chansley, the horn-wearing ‘QAnon Shaman,’ was ‘outrageous and false,’ Manger wrote. He said that Capitol Police were badly outnumbered on Jan. 6, and that, ‘Those officers did their best to use de-escalation tactics to try to talk rioters into getting each other to leave the building.’


Some of the video aired by Carlson showed Chansley being accompanied by several Capitol Police officers as they walked through the hall during the riot. One of the officers was previously featured in a 2021 HBO documentary, ‘Four Hours at the Capitol,’ and said that ‘The sheer number of them compared to us, I knew ahead there was no way we could all get physical with them, so I took it upon myself to try to talk to them.’ The officer is then seen on video walking behind Chansley as Chansley walks into the Senate Chamber.

We didn’t do that; also, we did do that, but it was a tactic. If the police didn’t try to stop Chansley from entering the Capitol and the Senate chambers because they felt outnumbered and were trying to prevent a confrontation, then the police didn’t try to stop Chansley from entering the Capitol and the Senate chambers. The thing presented as a claim that Carlson lied about concedes the exact thing that Carlson claimed, but then tries to explain it, but still just ends up conceding it. Take it from the Washington Post, in a supposed debunking: An officer said that he just talked to Chansley; then he walked into the Senate chambers with him.

That’s what happened, and no one actually claims otherwise.

Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared originally at Chris Bray’s Substack, “Tell Me How This Ends.” Subscribe here.

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