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Opinion Tucker Carlson confirms it: ‘I lie’

Tucker Carlson, host of "Tucker Carlson Tonight," poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio in 2017 in New York. (Richard Drew/AP)

Fox News host Tucker Carlson is fashioning something of a professional defense: Sure, he lies, but not the way those guys at CNN lie.

In a 2018 podcast appearance, he ripped into CNN “Reliable Sources" host Brian Stelter. “He’s just such a pompous little guy. … I mean, he’s one of the falsest people I’ve ever seen on television. … He’s just so, like, self-righteous … but also lying at the same time. Like, I lie ’cause everyone does. But one thing I would never do, have never done in my whole life, is lie self-righteously,” said Carlson in a chat with Jamie Weinstein. Moments later, he reversed: “I don’t lie.”

Three years on, Carlson’s not even trying to correct the record. In a new interview on “The Rubin Report,” he fielded a question about CNN anchors who “just lie again and again.” Carlson came up with a memorable response: “Well, it’s — I guess, I would ask myself, like, I mean, I lie if I’m cornered or something. I lie. I really try not to. I try never to lie on TV. I just don’t — I don’t like lying. I certainly do it, you know, out of weakness or whatever, but to systematically lie like that, without asking yourself, why am I doing this?” (See video at 36:00.)

The highly rated Fox News host argued that CNNers lie to prop up the powerful people in American life. “You’re lying to defend Jeff Bezos? You’re treating Bill Gates like some sort of moral leader?”

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The admission was bizarre in light of the context: Host Dave Rubin didn’t ask Carlson whether he lies, but Carlson came out with his confession nonetheless. Maybe he feels bad about it all?

Nor did Rubin follow up on Carlson’s newsworthy admission. The opportunity for just such a cross-examination may well arise in the future, however. The next time that Carlson decides to smear someone on air, that someone’s libel attorney will surely point out in a complaint that Carlson has freely admitted to lying. Fox News defended a previous suit stemming from Carlson’s show by arguing that he engages in “non-literal commentary.”

The Erik Wemple Blog has asked Fox News if Carlson’s comments prompt concern that not all of his programming is truthful. We’ll update this post if we receive a reply.

A quick scan of Carlson’s liescape shows that his falsehoods aren’t terribly well organized — and sometimes do the bidding of powerful people, including himself. For instance, he has falsely claimed that George Floyd died of a drug overdose; that White supremacists weren’t involved in the Jan. 6 riot; that the New York Times was preparing a story on the “location” of his family’s home; that South Africa’s government had “begun” seizing the land of farmers who have the “wrong skin color”; that “we don’t know” the condition of young people with heart inflammation who have been vaccinated for covid; that “two women,” including former Playboy model Karen McDougal, approached “Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money”; and that Texas utilities have raised temperatures of customers’ homes without their permission.

So far-flung are Carlson’s lies that he has trouble articulating one of his moral-high-ground platitudes without stepping on some mendacious turf. For example, he explained to Rubin that he’d abandoned his residential life in D.C. after a 2018 incident in which lefty protesters showed up at his front door: “Next thing you know, people are showing up at the house and you could sort of see where this is going. ...You’re going to wind up shooting somebody. And I don’t want to do that, but that’s where it’s going. Because just living there was so provocative to them, having them show up and threaten violence to my family was so threatening to me that it wasn’t going to end well,” said Carlson.

Regarding the level of violence threatened against Carlson’s family, well, he lied about that.

Another high-ground moment: “Everyone who works on our show,” Carlson told Rubin, “is aware of the most basic rule, which is: Don’t piss down, don’t attack people beneath you. If you’re going to take a punch, make sure it’s upward — someone who’s richer, stronger, more powerful, in charge of more things than you are. Punch up, like that’s just a life rule.”

Perhaps Carlson suspended that life rule a year ago, when he falsely alleged on his show that the New York Times was preparing a story on the “location” of his house. He even named the journalists who were working on a feature story about the Fox News host. They were freelancers who sustained online abuse and even a terrifying visit from a bad actor following “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

That’s “punching up” for you.