Is this What Democracy Looks Like?

Tucker Carlson and other apologists for Trump’s treason

Christopher Payne
Jun 16 · 5 min read

The last time I wrote an article about Tucker Carlson and his apparent inability to tell the truth, one of my readers accused me of…wait for it…exaggeration (*gasp*)! Tucker wasn’t lying when he said those things that were blatantly untrue and easily disproven, they claimed. Rather, he genuinely believed his arguments.

This is a common defense employed by victims of talking head propaganda, and it’s a great one for those who don’t want to challenge their pre-existing beliefs. At its core, it’s an unfalsifiable proposition behind which the dishonest can hide with plausible deniability. I wasn’t lying, I just didn’t know.

But I don’t buy it. And I think there’s a dangerous trend recently to confuse pundits’ dishonesty with stupidity, the latter obviously being less harmful. To claim that a false statement originates in one’s ignorance erases any malice or ill-intent, absolving the individual of any blame for making it.

Is it a coincidence that Tucker consistently makes false statements? If you believe it is, then at best he is perpetually uninformed. But if like me, you’re unmoved by such talk, then you must wonder why Tucker lies like he’s running out of time. I mean, the man is nonstop! And while usually, I try not to draw attention to him, I simply could not ignore one of his recent lies which was particularly dishonest.

Nevertheless, I do wish to avoid charges of high crimes this time around— so I’ll stick to something that can be easily exposed as a lie.

Trump and the easiest interview questions imaginable

During the 2016 campaign, Trump Jr. received an email from a business associate who claimed to have damaging information from the Russian government on opponent Hillary Clinton. While Mueller’s report concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge the campaign with conspiracy based on this act, many have nonetheless condemned the meeting as openly accepting foreign interference in our elections. In a recent interview, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked the President if, upon receiving that email, Trump Jr. should have contacted the FBI.

This is one of the easiest questions a reporter has asked Trump this year. Morally, most would likely agree that one ought not to accept damaging information from hostile foreign governments. And politically, Trump gains virtually no benefit from saying yes. So rationally, the right move is to say “yes, it was a mistake on his part” and then move on. But here’s Trump’s response:

“I’ll tell you what: I’ve seen a lot of things over my life [sic]. I don’t think, in my whole life, I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI.”

Ouch, strike one. Stephanopoulos responded that Al Gore, when running for president, received a stolen briefing book and reported it to the FBI. And in doing so, Stephanopolous gave Trump a chance for absolution. Maybe his answer isn’t as simple anymore, but an “ok, if that’s the precedent, then sure. I’m not a politician, I wasn’t aware of how these things are handled” would salvage the segment to some degree. But instead, we got this:

“Well that’s different, a stolen briefing book. This isn’t a sto…this is somebody that said ‘We have information on your opponent.’ Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break, life doesn’t work that way.”

Yikes. Strike two. Stephanopolous, realizing that Trump was hardly even swinging at his pitches, lobbed the ball underhand out of pity. “The FBI director says that’s what should happen.”

“The FBI director is wrong,” Trump responded.

Foul ball? The metaphor falls apart here since that was three major gaffes and Stephanopolous wasn’t finished chucking pity balls down the plate as lightly as possible, barely even practicing his form at this point. He asked Trump if his campaign would accept foreign intelligence in 2020, Trump said: “There’s nothing wrong with listening.” Shocked, he asked further: “You want that kind of interference in our elections?” Trump replied: “It’s not an interference [sic]. They have information. I think I’d take it. ”

So…it wasn’t Trump’s best performance at the plate. But fear not, MAGA hat owners, Team Trump always has the reliable clean-up batters at Fox News to cover him when he strikes out.

Tucker Carlson and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Lie

There’s really no way to defend Trump’s statements on their own merits — and people were understandably outraged after hearing them. But Tucker Carlson thinks all of this is “phony.” On Thursday night’s show, Tucker said the following (sarcastically) of Democrats’ response to the ABC interview:

“[Treason] is what it is when you take damaging information about a political opponent from foreigners. Ok, just so we’re clear on the terms…Are we sure we’re comfortable with this new definition? [emphasis mine]”

Did you catch it? Did you see the subtle way he lied? Maybe it might help to display a quote from Representative Hakeem Jeffries, one of the Democrats to whom Tucker was responding: “Accepting assistance from a hostile foreign power, like Russia, is treasonous behavior [emphasis mine].”

The seemingly insignificant difference between those two statements, between the alleged and actual responses by Democrats, is hugely important. Nobody has claimed that accepting dirt from foreigners is concerning, but rather, that accepting information from hostile foreign governments is a concern. Information from a person of Russian descent should be treated less cautiously than information from the Russian government (but still pretty damn cautiously!). See the difference?

Oh yeah, it’s also worth mentioning that the above Jeffries quote is one that Tucker literally displayed on his show.

The Steele Dossier VS Trump’s Comments

But why does that matter? Well, Tucker then uses his bullshit definition to pivot. Democrats cannot accuse Trump of treason, he says, because they themselves used foreign sources with the Steele dossier.

The Steele dossier (yes, we’re still talking about this) was a memo with damaging information on Trump for which the Hillary campaign paid. The research therein was subcontracted by a foreign national, Christopher Steele, who was working for an opposition research firm at the time. Tucker claims that the memo consisted of “salacious dirt from Russians” and that there is no substantial difference between the dossier and Trump’s comments.

There are several key differences between the two, however. First is the question of “who approached who.” It is much more serious to accept information when a foreign government offers it than when a foreigner who works for a US-based opposition research firm solicits it. Second, the information in the Steele memo did not advance the interests of a foreign power. A foreign government would not offer information if they did not plan to gain influence, a point with which even Fox and Friends host Brian Kilmeade agrees. And third, while federal election law bars obtaining anything “of value” from a foreign source, there is nothing illegal about soliciting services from a foreigner, according to UC Irvine law professor Rick Hasen.

So what initially seems like a minor linguistic difference clearly was a bald-faced lie by Tucker. And after his further misleading statements about the Steele dossier, it’s clear that he lied with purpose.

Even if the Clintons’ behavior had been as morally dubious as Trump’s, though, that would not absolve him of what he said. Deflecting legitimate criticism by attacking the other party is a cowardly debate tactic. Nobody should accept information from anyone to which they will later be beholden except the people themselves. To claim the opposite is not only foolish — but undemocratic.

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Christopher Payne

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Political science/mathematics major and research fellow at Emory University. Avid reader, policy wonk, aspiring coffee addict || Contact:

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worth talking about. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical. Clarity and truth working against tribalism.