The January 6 Whitewash Will Backfire

Tucker Carlson and the GOP are trying to erase a dark day. Their public-relations gamble is already failing.

Tucker Carlson
Mark Peterson / Redux

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave Fox News access to thousands of hours of video from the events of January 6, and Tucker Carlson’s effort to rewrite history isn’t just laughably incompetent; it’s already falling flat.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

A Clumsy Gambit

When a mob tried to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021, congressional Republicans—especially those in the Senate—seemed briefly to understand the magnitude of the events around them. Kevin McCarthy, then the GOP minority leader, said that President Donald Trump bore responsibility for the attack. Even Lindsey Graham swore he was done with Trump.

This new seriousness didn’t last. A year after the attack, most Republicans—including McCarthy—ducked a ceremony at the Capitol marking the anniversary and commemorating the lives lost. McCarthy would later be elected speaker on the say-so of a handful of extremist Republicans—some of whom openly sympathized with the 2021 insurrectionists—who made him grovel through more than a dozen rounds of voting. Insofar as other Republicans can bring themselves to even acknowledge January 6, many of them still portray it as a legitimate protest that somehow got out of hand rather than what it really was: a seditious conspiracy to attack the American system of government, instigated and encouraged by a sitting president of the United States.

Heading into the 2022 midterms, the Republicans hoped that an attempt by their party’s leader to overthrow the constitutional order would be no impediment to regaining national power. The midterms, however, proved that Americans still care about their democracy and that they could not be swayed to trade their freedom away merely because gas prices are too high. At this point, the Republicans are barely holding the House, and Trump is leading the pack of possible GOP presidential candidates while yawping about “retribution.” Most Americans continue to think January 6 was a terrible day for the United States and that Trump bears at least some responsibility for it.

Not to worry, Republicans. McCarthy and Fox News’s resident pluto-populist Tucker Carlson are on the case. Unfortunately, it’s going about as well as you’d expect from anything that involves the words Kevin McCarthy and Tucker Carlson.

To recap the events of the past few weeks: McCarthy apparently decided that Carlson was the person who could remove the stain of January 6 from the Republican Party. Remember, once Trump was elected in 2016, the GOP was a national majority, holding the House, the Senate, the White House, most governor’s mansions, and most state legislatures across the country. Trump destroyed much of that, and his decision to run again meant that January 6 could not somehow be memory-holed. So the speaker gave the ever-perplexed Carlson access to thousands of hours of video from the attack.

The objective here was clear from the start. If the GOP is going to make a run at national power again, it must find a way to deny the reality of January 6 and neutralize the cloud of seditious stink that still clings to every Republican because of Trump and the insurrectionists. Who better than Carlson to sneer his way through a dismissal of one of the worst days in the history of the United States?

Unfortunately, the attempt to gaslight millions of people isn’t going very well. Carlson, as my colleague David Graham points out, is engaging in a “long-standing Donald Trump approach of demanding that his supporters believe him rather than their lying eyes.” But there are likely limits to that gambit even for Carlson, who is presenting as bombshells things we already knew. It is not a revelation, for example, that the “QAnon Shaman,” Jacob Chansley, walked along with Capitol cops who were trying to keep the fur-hatted weirdo calm even while he was howling in the Senate chamber. Carlson’s attempt to deny the danger of that moment is not only silly but also a gobsmackingly incompetent attempt to use footage depicting a rioter whose bizarre behavior was already well-known to the public.

It’s one thing to assume that the Fox audience isn’t very bright and will believe almost anything—I will gladly stipulate to that—but it’s another to ask them to leap across a chasm of credulity. Sedition-friendly Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, tried to capitalize on Carlson’s after-school-video special by immediately calling for a new trial for Chansley. But even Fox viewers probably know that Chansley wasn’t convicted in a trial: He loquaciously pleaded guilty and got a stiff sentence of 41 months in prison.

I realize that, for many reasons, I am not Carlson’s target demographic. (He’s not much of a fan of my work either.) But when Republican members of Congress are pushing back on a major propaganda effort to help … well, to help the future fortunes of Republican members of Congress, things are not going well. You might have expected someone like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah to zing Carlson, and he did, saying the Fox host had gone “off the rails” and describing him as a radio “shock jock.” But conservative Senators Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Mike Rounds of South Dakota both criticized Carlson. (Even Senate Minority Leader and ongoing profile in courage Mitch McConnell carefully opined that Fox “made a mistake” in depicting January 6 in a way that was “completely at variance” with how the head of the Capitol Police “correctly” described the day.) Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina said Carlson’s presentation was “inexcusable” and, for good measure, “bullshit.”

Trump, of course, thanked both Carlson and McCarthy. Because, really, if the point was to reassure the American public about whether the GOP is still in the grip of violent seditionists, what better way to do it than to clumsily cherry-pick some video and then elicit an all-caps tirade from the leader of the Republican Party?


Well then. As Sonny Bunch from The Bulwark wryly observed this morning: “Going to be kind of funny to watch GOP candidates dance around acknowledging that the presidential frontrunner and the party’s semi-official media organ are more or less pro-storming-the-Capitol at this point.”

As counterintuitive as it might be, perhaps the best thing for American democracy would be for Carlson to keep bumbling his way through more January 6 footage and to keep images of the insurrection in front of millions of viewers for as long as possible. If that’s how McCarthy and Carlson intend to restore the image of the GOP as a normal political party, who are any of us to argue with such public-relations geniuses?


Today’s News

  1. Two of the four Americans who authorities say were kidnapped in a border city of Mexico have been found dead. The other two are alive, but one is injured.
  2. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testified to the Senate Banking Committee, telling lawmakers that the Fed will likely raise interest rates higher than previously forecast.
  3. In a speech at the Morgan Stanley conference in San Francisco, Elon Musk commented on the future of both Twitter and Tesla.


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Evening Read

Photos of Kelela in golden light
Alima Lee

Kelela Knows What Intimacy Sounds Like

By Hannah Giorgis

On a Tuesday afternoon last month, I found refuge from the dreary chill of New York’s winter in the cardamom-scented warmth of Benyam Cuisine, a small Ethiopian restaurant in Harlem. The family-run establishment is normally only open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. But that day, a co-owner trekked in from Jersey City to indulge two homesick Ethiopian American women: myself and Kelela, the enigmatic R&B singer whose fan base includes the likes of Beyoncé, Solange, Björk, and, not coincidentally, the Benyam host’s niece.

Kelela, who is 39, has cultivated a mystique that’s exceedingly rare in the modern music business. It’s been nearly 10 years since she released her 2013 mixtape, Cut 4 Me, which earned her an eclectic following of industry heavyweights, R&B purists, dance-music DJs, and indie obsessives. In 2017, she dropped her studio debut, Take Me Apart, which cemented her standing as one of modern R&B’s most inventive vocalists. Take Me Apart is by turns brooding, defiant, and haunting—and in each register, Kelela’s voice wraps itself around the melodies with hypnotic confidence. After that creative leap and the subsequent tour, she essentially vanished.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break

An illustration of two Oscar awards with a pair of eyes superimposed on top
Tyler Comrie / The Atlantic

Read.Nomenclature,” a poem by Clint Smith.

“Your mother’s mother came from Igboland

though she did not teach your mother her language.

We gave you your name in a language we don’t understand

because gravity is still there

even when we cannot see it in our hands.”

Watch. Catch up on some Oscars contenders before the awards show on Sunday.

Play our daily crossword.


The director Michael Bay has taken his share of criticism over the years for producing movies that are big and loud and a bit dumb. (One word: Transformers.) His 2001 historical epic, Pearl Harbor, was so bad that the South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone immortalized it in a ballad in their hilarious movie Team America: World Police that included the lyric, “I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark / When he made Pearl Harbor.” But I am going to admit that I am a sucker for a few Michael Bay movies, and especially one of the most fun adventure movies of the 1990s: The Rock. (I discovered in a conversation this morning that this is yet another movie, like so many from roughly 1970 to 2000, that is completely unknown to my Daily editor Isabel Fattal, so I am recommending it to both you and her.)

Released in 1996, The Rock features Ed Harris as a renegade Marine general who has had enough of the wimps in Washington ignoring the sacrifices of brave men who died in black operations. He and his crack military team steal some nerve gas, set up a base on Alcatraz—the Rock—and hold San Francisco hostage. After just about everything else fails, an FBI biochemist played by Nicolas Cage and a former British spy played by Sean Connery (who is obviously supposed to be James Bond and whose character was held for years as a prisoner for stealing American secrets back in the 1960s) are sent in to get the rockets. Bullets; carnage; hard, manly stares; set jaws; inventive cursing; and a fair amount of hilarity ensue. This movie has so much testosterone in it that you could grow a beard sitting too close to the screen, but it’s also genuinely funny, with some classic dialogue that I cannot possibly repeat here. Bring a lot of popcorn to this one, and try not to repeat the best lines at the office.

— Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.