Reprinted with permission from Media Matters
Fox News' Tucker Carlson, and other right-wing commentators like Patrick Howley and Steve Bannon are using the cloudy circumstances of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick's death to shift attention away from former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial and to paint a narrative that Democrats and the media are concocting lies to punish Trump and his supporters.
Since Sicknick's death the day after the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, right-wing media have seized on inconsistencies in reporting on the cause of his death. Initial reports from The New York Times, citing law enforcement sources, claimed Sicknick had succumbed to injuries inflicted by the mob, which allegedly struck the officer with a fire extinguisher. Subsequent reporting by ProPublica and other media, however, cast doubt on the nature of the injuries and revealed that the officer had texted his brother that evening and had told him that although he had been pepper sprayed twice, he was feeling fine.
In response to these inconsistencies, right-wing reporter Patrick Howley led the charge casting doubt on the story surrounding Sicknick. On January 14, he published an article in the National File claiming that a "pre-existing medical condition" had contributed to Sicknick's death. That piece was printed the next day on Infowars' website.
"The media is trying to forge resentment against Trump and conservative activists in the eyes of Middle America, using the fallen officer as a cause celebre," Howley wrote. "But even the officer's family is pleading with the public not to politicize his death as narrative-busting details emerge."
Politicizing his death is exactly what happened, however, especially after CNN reported on February 2 that investigators were having trouble building a murder case because of a lack of evidence as to what, and who, actually caused his death. Breitbart breathlessly claimed the case illustrated "once again… that everything the establishment media report eventually ends up being exposed as a big fat lie." The National File and The National Pulse's Raheem Kassam also ran stories focusing on the media's supposed lies, as did the YouTube conspiracy theorist "Mr. Obvious" (whose channel has a quarter million subscribers).
When House impeachment managers included details about an officer having been attacked with a fire extinguisher in their trial brief, the controversy picked up momentum. On February 9, fringe investigative site Revolver News published an "exclusive" on Sicknick's case laden with conspiracy theories and titled "MAGA Blood Libel: Why Are They Hiding The Medical Report?"
The article claimed that a renegade media and the Democratic Party are unfairly blaming Trump supporters for Sicknick's death. "As the Washington Uniparty mulls domestic terror laws over a MAGA Bloodbath, it increasingly looks like MAGA may have been Bloodbathed," author Darren Beattie wrote.
The article painted a web of inconsistencies, pointing to premature media reports that Sicknick had died, confusion over the nature of his injuries and when exactly he had collapsed, as well as a lack of transparency in the case. It is correct, as Revolver said, that the media made mistakes in covering the case, and law enforcement's communication has been spotty and inconsistent. Revolver News drew an absurd conclusion, however, that a conspiracy is afoot, citing the fact that Sicknick's body was cremated.
"That means no further forensic analysis can be done to establish the cause or time of Sicknick's death. Why, one must wonder, would a family still searching for answers, who has no autopsy results, no death certificate, and no medical report, authorize a cremation? Did they?" Revolver asked (emphasis original).
The next day, the story's author Beattie went on Steve Bannon's podcast War Room: Pandemic, calling it "the most important story Revolver has ever run." The segment video on Rumble has been viewed more than 100,000 times as of February 11. The Revolver story got another boost that evening when it was featured by Fox's Tucker Carlson, who called it an "exhaustive and fascinating new analysis" and used it to attack the left.
Carlson claimed that Sicknick's death by violence is the basis of a "myth" Democrats have spun surrounding the January 6 events. None of the five people who died as a result of the events at the Capitol, he said, did so because of violence by the mob, while emphasizing that only Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt was killed from "intentional violence." While this may be true in the most literal sense, Carlson did not mention the harrowing videos presented earlier that day by House representatives showing Trump supporters, some of whom wore tactical armor, violently storming the Capitol building, attacking officers, and narrowly missing confronting the politicians they had been threatening.
"Whatever happened to Brian Sicknick was tragic, obviously, but it was also very different from what they have told us. They have lied about how he died. They have lied about a lot," Carlson said, before shifting the narrative to other alleged lies, such as how the riots started and who participated in them.
"Why would they lie about this?" he asked. "For an answer, think back to last Spring." The Black Lives Matter movement, conservative media's favorite boogeyman, took to the streets to protest the police killing of George Floyd. According to Carlson, the media, BLM and corporate America teamed up to force a narrative about Floyd's death. Like in Sicknick's case, the left lied about the cause of his death, Carlson said, repeating a right-wing talking point used to undermine the BLM movement that Floyd died from drug use, rather than from an officer kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
"Democratic partisans used a carefully concocted myth, a lie, to bumrush America into overturning the old order and handing them more power," he said. "It worked flawlessly. So why wouldn't they do it again?"