The Left and NeverTrump Right spent four years claiming “democracy dies in darkness” while extolling the virtues of resistance and transparency. Thus, their extreme overreaction to Tucker Carlson’s acquisition and release of raw video footage from the January 6, 2021 Capitol protests is startling and a bit tin-eared. The leadership basically are saying: “Who you gonna believe, us or your lying eyes?”
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) condemned Carlson as an enemy of the people and seemed to imply something bad would happen to Fox News for permitting the dissemination of videos of the January 6 protests. Schumer, and pretty much all of Carlson’s other critics, never explain why what happened on January 6 should be hidden from the American people, and they never assert the videos being shown are doctored, fake, or inauthentic.
Critics can call this release a lie all they want, but the footage doesn’t lie. In fact, compared to the cherry-picked material already in the public domain, the broader record undermines some of the key narratives Democrats have concocted. For example, Officer Brian Sicknick is seen walking around, apparently in perfect health, after his supposed murder. An alleged violent insurrectionist, the QAnon Shaman, appears being led calmly from door to door by helpful Capitol Police.
Carlson’s critics from both wings of the uniparty seemed to think they could keep a lid on reality and use their extravagant and overwrought rhetoric about an INSURRECTION to reinforce their false narrative. No such luck. This fragile edifice was already starting to crack before Carlson’s exposé.
Before Carlson, there had been many videos circulating showing grandmas politely and respectfully walking through the capitol, and American Greatness’ Julie Kelly earlier exposed the two-tiered justice system defendants have faced for what are mostly minor offenses.
Decentralized News and Legacy Media
The congressional leadership’s efforts arise from a real confusion about the ways the world has changed. They still operate with habits derived from older, more “top down” modes of acquiring news and information, which were rooted in trust and gatekeepers. These older methods permitted centralized control.
A good model where this still generally prevails is in the relationships between doctors and patients. While more information is accessible than it once was, the average person knows he cannot acquire all of the necessary information to make a medical decision. Thus, most people still respect the expertise and paternalistic aspects of the doctor-patient relationship. It still means something for most people when the doctor says, “This is what you should do.”
The media and the government used to be this way. Our geriatric ruling class grew up in this era of a high-trust, orderly society and the three big networks. Walter Cronkite’s loss of confidence in America’s efforts in Vietnam did a lot to change public opinion on the war. As late as the 1980s and 1990s, network news anchors exuded some gravitas and credibility. The government remains full of self-important people with august titles and the trappings of respectability.
But that degree of respect and trust all started to collapse 30 years ago. By reacting as they have to this raw video, our ruling class reveals that it has not absorbed the revolutionary impact of the internet. Because here Tucker Carlson is simply doing something that happens organically every single day in the form of viral iPhone videos of important events. A similarly stupid chorus of condemnation arose when video of “gentle giant” Michael Brown emerged with him engaged in a strong-arm robbery of a shop-owner in Ferguson, Missouri.
The internet and widespread smartphone technology have massively democratized the gathering and dissemination of news. With raw data now easily accessible—public records, court transcripts, videos of police, and statements on social media by public figures—the gatekeeper function of the traditional media has broken down completely. Almost all of the facts are out there, and there are many people with diverse views who love to analyze and disseminate these facts as an avocation.
There is no doubt a lot of garbage, confusion, wild speculation, and lies on the internet. But, unlike the lies spread by siloed and oligarchic media enterprises, such noise is self-canceling. For every cracker-barrel Noam Chomsky, there is a poor-man’s Alex Jones.
The leaderless internet landscape serves an important function. Whether on COVID, Ukraine, or January 6, a variety of voices exist, each relying on scientific reports, accounts by participants, and photographic and video evidence. While calling this Open Source Intelligence seems a little pretentious, there are some smart amateurs and anons doing real research and useful analysis on every conceivable subject.
Persuasion in a Low Trust Environment
How can completely anonymous authors on Twitter, Substack, Telegram, or blogs be persuasive? We have some experience with this in other areas of life, such as in sales or among lawyers trying to persuade in the advocacy system. In both instances, the advocates have objective biases. They are there to argue for one side or the other, and the audience knows it.
Yet lawyers and salesmen still persuade. To succeed, they do not tell, but show. They accomplish this not by asking for trust, nor by resting on their reputations, but by presenting the facts and asking you to examine the evidence for yourself.
There was an important example of this approach almost 20 years ago. Crowd-sourced information was the means by which the community associated with the once-popular blog Little Green Footballs took down former CBS News Anchor, Dan Rather. Rather thought he had the story of a lifetime with his exposé of George W. Bush’s National Guard service. The reporting relied on a memo that reportedly evidenced special favors Bush obtained to avoid drill weekends during his time in the National Guard.
Released in the closing weeks of the 2004 election, this report enhanced his opponent John Kerry’s reputation as a real military man. But it turned out the document was a fake. This was apparent from the spacing of the letters and words, which perfectly matched the default template on MS Word. No such typography was available or common in 1973 when the memo supposedly had been written.
Rather and his colleagues impotently protested that these forgeries were “fake but accurate.” At the time, CBS executive Jonathan Klein dismissed the critics as losers “sitting around in their pajamas.” But when the dust settled, the establishment media looked ridiculous, out-of-touch, and confused about the significance of their reliance on a forgery. Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.
Tucker Carlson is no guy sitting around in his pajamas. He has massive influence, which is why January 6 enthusiasts are so concerned. More important, video evidence is unique, in that it speaks for itself and is, mostly, self-authenticating. The video itself refutes key claims of insiders about the significance, scale, and violence of January 6.
Government insiders are not merely paranoid, but also seem to think they can put the genie of an engaged, distrustful, and critical citizenry back into the bottle. This seems as unlikely as legacy media turning away from its egregious partisanship. It is certainly possible the regime’s repressive efforts will grow. The nationwide dragnet and harsh punishments of mere trespassers who protested on January 6 has already imposed a major chilling effect on “in real-life” right-wing activism.
But hiding video and then having it released and repeated so dramatically also imposes a cost. It reveals our nation’s leadership class, yet again, as craven liars. And it will only further decrease trust and respect by the citizens for those in power.
Without the automatic compliance that flows freely from trust and respect for authority, the government will find its efforts more difficult and the need for reliance on force more common. Its chief mode of persuasion will be instilling fear.
In an age of lies, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.