Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson speaks during 2022 FOX Nation Patriot Awards at Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood on November 17, 2022 in Hollywood, Florida.

(Photo by Jason Koerner/Getty Images)

Dominion, Tucker Carlson, and the Very Big and More Dangerous Lie

The lying about Dominion is symptomatic of much bigger, deeper, and more insidious Big Lies.

The Dominion lawsuit against Fox News has gotten a great deal of attention, and rightly so, for it raises fundamental questions about democracy in the U.S. and the ways that it is profoundly corrupted and seriously endangered by an alliance of right-wing media and the Republican Party. And yet beneath the lying exposed in the case are the more dangerous lies at the heart of MAGA ideology. And whether or not the notorious liars at Fox News Corp. believed anything they were saying about Dominion, there is no doubt that the deeper lies remain articles of faith for Fox and the Republican party.

The facts of the case are pretty straightforward.

Dominion Voting Systems Corporation is a privately owned company that produces and sells electronic voting hardware and software, including electronic voting machines. Its technology has been used extensively by many U.S. states. After Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, Trump and many of his supporters promoted the claim—the lie—that Dominion was part of a wide conspiracy to "rig" the election for Biden, exaggerating Biden votes and hiding Trump votes. This claim was persistently and deliberately promoted and amplified by Fox News anchors, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham. Dominion is suing Fox News Corp. for defamation and damages related to its promotion of false conspiracy theories that have serious harmed the reputation and the revenues of the company.

As information about witness testimony, along with redacted and unredacted documents, has been made public, it seems clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Dominion's core allegation is true: Fox News officials and news anchors actively promoted lies about a Dominion-based conspiracy while knowing that there was no evidence to support these lies, and that its principal sources were Trump fanatics, like Sydney Powell, who lacked any credibility whatsoever. Most notoriously, both Rupert Murdoch and Carlson repeatedly made disparaging remarks about Trump, with Carlson also saying that the Dominion "software shit is absurd."

The revelations, which continue, reveal a shocking cynicism on the part of Murdoch, the Fox corporation leadership, and the principal Fox anchors, especially Carlson, about the importance of the corporate bottom line and about the gullibility of Fox viewers. As long as the viewers are willing to tune in, Fox is willing to supply them with the conspiracy theories they demand, crazy ideas they have been primed to believe by Fox itself—"supply and demand" in action.

It is too simplistic, and too politically comforting, to imagine that we are dealing with a simple question of some manipulative people deliberately telling lies to gullible others.

This cynicism of Fox News Corp. about "news" is incredibly disturbing. It reflects horribly on Fox. It also severely undermines the veracity of the false and crazy things that many millions of Trump supporters believe about the election and about the reliability of those "news" anchors who they have so credulously trusted.

If the accurate news about the lying of "Fox News" is widely publicized, it should play some role in delegitimizing the craziest claims made about "election fraud" in 2020. That would be a good thing. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Trump supporters are likely to learn little about this, and to disbelieve what they hear. For they have already been corrupted by years of exposure to Fox and more recently to its even farther-right competitors, Newsmax and One America News (OAN), and they are firmly ensconced in the reactionary media bubble.

Regardless, a focus on the intentional lying of Carlson et al, while important, is politically misleading, in the same way that the House January 6 Committee's focus on whether Trump knew he was telling lies was misleading.

The reason: it is too simplistic, and too politically comforting, to imagine that we are dealing with a simple question of some manipulative people deliberately telling lies to gullible others. Because the MAGA ideology runs much deeper than the most outlandish election machine conspiracy theories exposed by the Dominion case, for its consumers but even for its producers. And for those in the grip of MAGA ideology, all empirical evidence is filtered through a distorted frame.

Carlson et al might have privately believed in early January of 2021 that Trump, Powell, Giuliani and their circle were crazy, and that their desperate lying was a problem for Fox, for the Republican Party, and perhaps even for their twisted view of "law and order."

But "The Big Lie" has never been reducible to the most hysterical and desperate claims being made by Trump and his cronies in the aftermath of the November 2020 election.

Behind those hysterical and arguably insane claims was a deeper claim that has always been central to The Big Lie, a claim not about ballot box tampering on Election Day but about a Democratic Party intent on mobilizing millions of people who either do not have the right to vote (dangerous "illegals") or whose right to vote is suspect, because of their lack of "proper" identification, or their (alleged) criminal history, or simply because they require purportedly "special advantages" like mail-in balloting and drop boxes. (Or, let's face it, because they are simply the "wrong kinds" of people, "bad hombres" who hate "American Greatness".)

In short, The Big Lie draws on a range of long-standing Republican tropes about Democratic "voting fraud" and the need for more restrictive voting laws, tropes that have been amplified by Trump and Fox since long before 2016.

Insane conspiracy theories and lies about Dominion machines and foreign vote harvesting (and Jewish space lasers?), and the willingness of people like Carlson and Murdoch and Trump and Giuliani to lie about such craziness, and the willingness of their followers to believe these lies—this lying is one very disturbing thing.

But whatever Carlson and Murdoch and Trump himself actually believed about ballot box fraud on election day, nothing revealed in the Dominion case suggests that any of them doubted the broader and deeper lie—that the Democratic Party is a nefarious group of radicals long committed to violating "election integrity" and to "flooding the polls" with people who do not deserve to be there, to the detriment of those "real Americans" whose popular sovereignty alone matters.

This Big Lie has been and continues to be a staple of Republican rhetoric independent of Trump and his fate, a fate which, to any rational observer, was not worth betting on in early January, 2021—though Kevin McCarthy and his followers managed to regain their Trumpist footing in record time.

And indeed, behind the Big Lie about long-term Democratic "rigging" of elections is the even Bigger Lie that is the true heart of the MAGA message, one regularly disseminated to scores of millions of supporters, and well stated here:

"You are the loyal defenders of our heritage, our liberty, our culture, our Constitution, and our God-given rights. You never stop fighting for America, and I will never, ever stop fighting for you. So as we gather tonight, our country is being destroyed more from the inside than out. America is on the edge of an abyss. And our movement is the only force on Earth that can save it. This movement right here. What we do in the next few months and the next few years will determine whether American civilization will collapse or fail, or whether it will triumph and thrive, frankly like never before. This is no time for complacency. We cannot be complacent. We have to seize this opportunity to deal with the radical left socialist lunatics and fascists. And we have to hit them very, very hard. Has to be a crippling defeat, because our country cannot take it. . . .

Our country is now a cesspool of crime like it's never been before. They've never seen anything like it. Other countries are talking about it. We're talking about democracy. Isn't it great? Then they say, " You had seven people killed in Chicago this weekend. You had 68 people shot." That's not democracy. That's not what we stand for. Savage criminals are being released on cashless bail to continue their violent rampages against the United States of America. Entire communities are being torn to shreds with stabbings, shootings, strangling, rapes, and murders. . . . The streets of our Democrat-run cities are drenched with the blood of innocent victims, gun battles rage between blood thirsty street gangs, bullets tear into crowds at random killing wonderful, beautiful little children that never even had a chance. They're struck and they're killed, and carjackers lay in wait like predators hunting their prey. . . . Our country is being invaded just like a military force was pouring in. . .

As we take power out of Washington, we also need to take power back from the left wing lunatics who are indoctrinating our youth. We have to finally and completely smash the radical lefts corrupt education establishment. The current system is sick. It's sick. We have the lowest scores almost in the world and we spend more per pupil than any other nation. School prayer is banned, but drag shows are allowed to permeate the whole place. It's okay. You can't teach the Bible, but you can teach children that America is evil and that men are able to get pregnant. Whatever it takes, conservatives must liberate America's children from the captivity of these Marxist teachers unions. . . Across the country, we need to implement strict prohibitions on teaching inappropriate, racial, sexual, and political material to America's school children in any form whatsoever. And if federal bureaucrats are going to push this radicalism, we should abolish the Department of Education.

. . . no matter how big or powerful the corrupt radicals we are fighting against may be, no matter how menacing they appear, we must never forget that this nation does not belong to them. This nation belongs to you. This is your home. This is your heritage. This is your country that your American ancestors won with their own courage, defended with their own blood and built with their own hands . . . "

Those words, of course, came from the mouth of Donald J. Trump, speaking at last week's CPAC conference in a DC suburb.

And the sentiments expressed, traceable to Pat Buchanan and George Wallace before him, have been staples of the Republican party, and of its Fox propaganda arm, since Trump's ascendance in 2016.

They are Trump's sentiments, but not only Trump's.

And while much has been made of Ron DeSantis's absence from the recent Trump-worshipping CPAC event, DeSantis has been proclaiming the same MAGA sentiments for years, during star turns at prior CPAC conferences, and from the bully pulpit of the Florida Governor's office, where he is doing his best to translate the sentiments into extremely dangerous laws and policies.

And while much has been made about the fact that Tucker Carlson said he "hates Trump passionately" back in January, 2021, this surely does not mean that he hated Trump earlier or that he hates him now. At this moment Carlson might be partial to DeSantis. More likely he will jump on the bandwagon of whichever right-wing Republican seems most likely to win. But his messaging has for years been consistent, and it is the messaging of MAGA pure and simple: that an evil left hates White, Christian, American "Greatness," and this left must be eradicated. And so this supposed "hater" of Trump is right now using his nightly Fox show to represent—literally re-present—the events of January 6 as not an insurrection but a manifestation of civic pride by decent Americans seeking to "take their country back" and to "support their President." And the supposedly "hated" Trump is now congratulating Carlson for having accomplished "one of the biggest scoops for a reporter in U.S. history," and for exposing the "Criminal Fabricators" of the House January 6 Committee.

We are now in the domain of magical thinking of the worst kind—the magical thinking of political actors in service of authoritarian ideologies, willing to abrogate norms and laws, and do whatever it takes to defeat their "enemies."

Is Carlson now lying on behalf of Trump again? Most assuredly he is. But, again, in a deeper sense it is not quite that simple. For he is serving a supposedly "higher truth," the MAGA "truth" that Democrats and liberals hate America, and so what they say cannot be true, and so it is necessary to reframe what took place and to furnish a more authentic, more patriotic counter-narrative which by definition is true or at least true enough. From this vantage point, the representation of January 6 as a moment of patriotic glory is not a lie—they were carrying American flags and chanting "Make America Great Again," right? But even if this framing ignores obvious evidence or shades the truth, this is all done in a noble cause, in service to a more essential "truth."

This readiness to play fast and loose with truth has long been a central feature of Trumpism, most notoriously associated with outrageous claims made on different occasions by Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Rudy Giuliani, whose breathless "truth is not truth" is now the hook of an MSNBC series. It is sometimes described by commentators as "Orwellian," and with good reason, for Orwell's novel 1984 was a classic account of authoritarian, indeed totalitarian, disinformation, and domination. But perhaps it is one of Orwell's contemporaries, Arthur Koestler, best known as the author of the deservedly acclaimed Darkness at Noon, who best identified the logic in play.

Describing his experience as a young militant of the German Communist Party in the years before Hitler's rise to power in The God That Failed, Koestler recalled a piece of party propaganda in many ways similar to that now purveyed by Fox News. The Socialist party then in power, anathematized by the Communists as a "social fascist" party soft on Nazism, had ordered a police raid on Nazi headquarters and proposed a ban on the wearing of the Nazi uniform. When the Communist press ignored these moves and continued to sneer about Socialist "social fascism," young Koestler was confused, a confusion only intensified when his party superior explained:

"He explained that the party's attitude to the Social Democrats was a set, long-term policy which could not be reversed by a small incident. 'But every word on the front page is contradicted by the facts,' I objected. Edgar gave me a tolerant smile. 'You still have the mechanistic outlook,' he said, and then proceeded to give me a dialectical interpretation of the facts. The action of the police was merely a feint to cover up their complicity; even if some Socialist leaders were subjectively anti-Fascist in their outlook, objectively the Socialist Party was a tool of Nazism; in fact, the Socialists were the main enemy . . . Gradually I learned to distrust my mechanistic preoccupation with facts and to regard the world around me in the light of dialectic interpretation . . . "

For an activist of a party or movement that claims to understand a "higher" or "deeper" truth, beyond common sense and the evident facts of experience, any particular facts can be ignored or reinterpreted to serve what is considered more fundamental. Thus Dominion voting machines were corrupted in 2020, but even if they weren't, the Democrats are responsible for a more fundamental electoral and even civilizational corruption, and so the election was corrupted, and the outcome "rigged," and if so, can we really believe all of the evidence that Dominion machines were not corrupt? And if we really can't trust the evidence, then why treat it as dispositive? Why not just repeat the claims which, even if they can't be proven, can't be disproven in any final sense. Indeed, by constantly repeating the claims, we might make them for all intents and purposes "true." And anyway, the battle against liberal evil is more important than any "small incident" or any particular facts.

The lying of Fox News and its damages to Dominion are significant. But the real damage is much deeper and more dangerous.

We are now in the domain of magical thinking of the worst kind—the magical thinking of political actors in service of authoritarian ideologies, willing to abrogate norms and laws, and do whatever it takes to defeat their "enemies."

What does Tucker Carlson really believe? To what extent is he a liar, and to what extent merely a propagandist in the thrall of a "dialectical reasoning" that he helped to create?

The lying about Dominion is symptomatic of much bigger, deeper, and more insidious Big Lies. However much the facts might seem to call these lies into question, Carlson and his collaborators will continue to repeat them and many millions of their followers will continue to accept them and to act on them. Does anyone really believe all the lies? We can't know. What we can know is that Presidential candidates and Governors and the current Speaker of the House of Representatives and almost his entire two hundred-plus caucus, and millions of their followers, all act as though they believe them. And in doing so, they are destroying the political institutions and the civic culture of America's increasingly fragile liberal democracy.

The lying of Fox News and its damages to Dominion are significant.

But the real damage is much deeper and more dangerous. And no lawsuit—not even manifold legitimate indictments of Donald Trump—can stop it. Only the decisive defeat of the Republican Party, and a Democratic Party empowered and committed to addressing the real problems plaguing American democracy, can stop it.

That is a very tall order. And everything hangs in the balance.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.