In the world of journalism, it is paramount that facts are reported accurately and the context of an event is provided clearly. However, certain instances arise where such an effort is wasted, such as in regards to Fox News’s Tucker Carlson’s reporting of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
Adlai Stevenson’s Apocryphal Story
Former two-time Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson’s apocryphal story provides perfect insight into this situation. During one of his campaign stops in the 1950s, a supporter of Stevenson’s is said to have shouted, “Every thinking person in America will be voting for you!” In reply, Stevenson humbly answered, “I’m afraid that won’t do. I need a majority.”
Tom Joscelyn’s Debunking of Carlson’s Claim
Tom Joscelyn, a former staff member on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, debunked Carlson’s claptrap for Politico. He pointed to the many incidents of violence and vandalism that Carlson ignored, such as the mob ramming its way into the Capitol, smashing through doors in the East Rotunda, and busting windows and climbing in. Additionally, Politico published an article addressing Carlson’s false claim that the Capitol rioters “were not insurrectionists, they were sightseers” and labeled it a “Pants on Fire” lie.
Fox News’ Fact-Resistant Audience
Unfortunately, the facts presented to viewers of Fox News do not matter. Carlson and most of his colleagues at the network understand that their audience is not looking for information. Instead, they’re looking for reassurance, seeking to have their pre-existing beliefs reinforced. Their loyalty to the Fox is faith-based, comparable to those of flat earthers, creationists, climate deniers, 9/11 truthers, and vaccine opponents.
Studies of the Fact-Resistant Phenomenon
To understand this phenomenon better, scientists and researchers have conducted a number of studies on it. According to researcher Troy Campbell from the University of Oregon, facts tend to only be relevant when they support one’s opinion, and people will “take a flight from facts to protect all kinds of belief.”
Republican Condemnation of Carlson Has No Impact
Though a number of Republican lawmakers have also condemned Carlson’s presentation, it ultimately has no impact. In Politico, Tom Joscelyn wrote that “Many Americans have already seen some of this footage with their own eyes. They know the mob was not at the Capitol primarily for sightseeing, as Carlson claimed…No one who relies on facts and logic will be fooled.”
Overall, the fact-resistant audience at Fox News remains loyal to their network in spite of the debunked claims and the Republican condemnation. Adlai Stevenson’s story remains relevant, because as he said himself, “I need a majority.”