THURSDAY, JANUARY 28, 2021
What Tucker's viewers were told: Yesterday, an allegedly repellent con man got arrested in Florida on federal charges.
At the start of this news report, the New York Times explains the nature of the charges:
HONG (1/28/21): A man who was known as a far-right Twitter troll was arrested on Wednesday and charged with spreading disinformation online that tricked Democratic voters in 2016 into trying to cast their ballots by phone instead of going to the polls.
Federal prosecutors accused Douglass Mackey, 31, of coordinating with co-conspirators to spread memes on Twitter falsely claiming that Hillary Clinton’s supporters could vote by sending a text message to a specific phone number.
The co-conspirators were not named in the complaint, but one of them was Anthime Gionet, a far-right media personality known as “Baked Alaska,” who was arrested after participating in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, according to a person briefed on the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
As a result of the misinformation campaign, prosecutors said, at least 4,900 unique phone numbers texted the number in a futile effort to cast votes for Mrs. Clinton.
According to federal prosecutors, Mackie tricked thousands of people into thinking that they could vote by phone. In this way, thousands of people were apparently led to believe that they'd voted for Hillary Clinton when, in fact, they'd cast no vote at all.
Stating the obvious, it would be better if people didn't fall for scams of this type. That said, we have all kinds of consumer protection laws because people do fall for scams.
(Example: In Meredith Willson's Music Man, the entire town of River City ends up believing in a bunch of magic trombones.)
We humans do fall for scams. We have many laws to punish the people who take advantage of this state of affairs, whether the scam involves the peddling of silly elixir remedies or the attempt to defraud targeted groups out of their right to vote.
According to the Times report, Mackey was working the voter fraud scam. (Attempts to fool people about how to vote are as old as time itself.) Also according to the Times, he's facing an unusual charge:
HONG: Mr. Mackey, who was released from custody on Wednesday on a $50,000 bond, faces an unusual charge: conspiracy to violate rights, which makes it illegal for people to conspire to “oppress” or “intimidate” anyone from exercising a constitutional right, such as voting. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The case will test the novel use of federal civil rights laws as a tool to hold people accountable for misinformation campaigns intended to interfere with elections, a problem that has recently become an urgent priority for social media platforms and law enforcement officials to stop.
We don't know if Mackey is guilty of a well-formed charge, but he's charged with heinous behavior. We mention this because of something we saw on cable last night.
We refer to the way Tucker Carlson began his Fox News program, Tucker Carlson Tonight. Carlson began by discussing Mackey's arrest. Rather, he began with a stunningly edited, halls-of-mirrors version of Mackey's arrest.
In Carlson's rendition, Mackey was described as "a 31-year-old conservative journalist in Florida." According to Carlson's overview, "It looks like this is the part of the revolution where they start throwing their political opponents in jail."
Long story short—Carlson began his show with a trip down a hall of mirrors. We can't tell you whether Mackie is guilty of the conduct with which he's been charged, but viewers of Carlson's program have no earthly idea what the charges are.
We mention this second con for a reason:
In this morning's print editions, the New York Times includes a fascinating profile of Ashley Klein, a 32-year-old Minnesota woman who believes a lot of things which almost surely aren't true.
Ashley Klein is new to politics. It sounds like she's completely sincere, but here's where she gets her ideas and her "information:"
SEARCEY (1/28/21): [I]n 2019, Democrats began talking about impeaching Mr. Trump on charges that he had unlawfully solicited Ukrainian authorities to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election. To [Klein], it sounded absurd.
Ms. Klein joined a Facebook group called The People Against Impeachment. Posts railed against the process, calling it “a political weapon” and insisting that a plan to impeach Mr. Trump had been in place even before he had reached the White House. Ms. Klein tuned into the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, the Fox News personalities Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, and Newsmax, a conservative news network.
Ashley Klein believes the things she hears on Carlson's program. If she was watching Carlson last night, she was treated to an angry diatribe about Mackie's arrest—a diatribe which omitted and distorted all the basic facts about the crimes with which Mackie has been charged.
For almost twenty years, we've been saying this about that:
When people like Carlson misinform millions of people, their conduct should be treated as front-page news. We don't think we've ever seen the basic facts of a news event massacred in quite the way Carlson clowned with the facts last night.
In the next day or two, we hope to show you what Carlson said in more detail. That said, Fox News is like MSNBC—perhaps for fairly obvious reasons, it rarely publishes transcripts of the things its TV stars say. This makes it harder to comment on Fox News programs.
The New York Times should report what Carlson said at the start of last night's show. As we've suggested for twenty years, the Times should perform this public service right there on its front page.