Double duds: Jim Jordan’s and Tucker Carlson’s lazy conspiracy theories bore MAGA

When Republicans took the House of Representatives in the midterms, the widespread expectation in the political media was that the GOP propaganda machine was about to kick into high gear and generate a firehose of conspiracy theories that would make even Donald Trump’s record of lying look feeble. The new Speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, previewed what looked like it would be a Soviet-style war on truth, from rewriting the history of January 6 to pumping out lies about federal “assault” on conservatives. The expectation was that this would be a robust and terrifying effort that not only wowed Republican voters but successfully bullied the mainstream media into elevating Republican lies out of fear of being accused of “bias.” 

I don’t want to speak too soon, but so far, the Republican noise machine has been — dare I say? — underwhelming. Last week was supposed to be a banner week for the two biggest propaganda initiatives started by McCarthy’s caucus. However, the efforts went over like a wet fart in both cases.

First, Tucker Carlson of Fox News attempted to rewrite the January 6 insurrection with supposedly previously unseen footage of the riot. But even within Republican circles, there’s a palpable sense of disappointment. This was supposed to be the blockbuster release of dazzling right-wing propaganda, but it’s got the same vibe as the “Game of Thrones” series finale. 

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Then there is Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio’s “weaponization of federal government” committee. No one of good faith believed that the Jordan committee’s hearing about the so-called “Twitter files” last week would produce any damning evidence against Democrats. (Plenty of evidence of Donald Trump using his power to suppress speech has been unearthed, but of course, none of that bothers the supposed free speech warriors of the right.)  But the big surprise was how boring the whole thing was. The conspiracy theories lacked imagination. Republican fake outrage was low energy, too. The only fun was watching Democrats kick around disgraced journalist Matt Taibbi.

So far, the Republican noise machine has been — dare I say? — underwhelming.

This was after another entertaining face plant when Jordan’s FBI “whistleblowers” were exposed as a bunch of conspiracy theorists on the Trumpworld payroll. The whole committee has been such a snooze that Republicans are starting to gripe to journalists that Jordan isn’t doing more to put some razzle dazzle on his B.S. Jacqueline Alemany at the Washington Post reports that Republicans on Capitol Hill are calling the committee “lackluster and unfocused” and complaining that Jordan isn’t working harder as the hype man for right-wing pseudo-scandals. 

“Jordan’s investigative weapon was loaded with blanks,” mocked former Justice Department officials Frederick Baron and Dennis Aftergut at the never-Trump site The Bulwark. 

The same vibe characterizes the Republican reception to Carlson’s recent efforts to pretend that his “exclusive” access to the January 6 video files had somehow proved the insurrection was both peaceful and justified. Carlson has been an enthusiastic propagandist before, which is how he got so rich and famous. But he really half-assed this whole thing, with stodgy footage and feeble pleas to the audience to simply empty their memories of the hours and hours of footage they’ve previously seen of Trump fans ransacking the Capitol. 

Why work hard at generating disinformation when phoning it in works just as well? 

As Joan Walsh of the Nation wrote, Carlson’s “don’t believe your lying eyes” segment was “strangely lifeless.” Walsh noted that Carlson is “increasingly making a joke of himself—even inside his own network.” As Justin Peters at Slate pointed out, the effort was so uninspired that “Carlson’s report was initially met with silence from the other hosts and programs on Fox News.” Embarrassingly, when Fox News host Bret Baier finally did deign to respond to Carlson, it was with a segment “emphasizing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s outright rejection of Carlson’s narrative, and noting that Jan. 6 defendants ‘assaulted 140 police officers, some so badly they’ll never return to work.'”

It’s tempting to believe that lying about January 6 crosses some invisible moral line at the network, but that is unlikely what’s going on here. After all, Fox is being sued by Dominion Voting Systems now because they were willing to hype the Big Lie that led to the insurrection in the first place. We’re not talking about people who are troubled by dishonesty. This reaction likely has more to do with how ho-hum Carlson’s approach has been. He didn’t even try to make a semblance of a case here. All he did was show images of those moments when rioters weren’t beating cops, as if that erased all the other moments in time when they were being violent. Even the most devoted MAGA fan is going to struggle to defend that ruse, which is the equivalent of pointing to all those times Ted Bundy wasn’t murdering women. The whole thing had a paint-by-numbers feel to it. 

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Jordan and Carlson are starting to seem bored with their own schtick. And why wouldn’t they get tired of it all? Years of doing this likely has taught them that it doesn’t really matter how artful their propaganda is. The effect is the same whether it’s dazzling or drab: MAGA types will pretend to believe it. Everyone else rolls their eyes in weary disgust. No one is manipulated, persuaded, or moved. All their audiences want is some noise to spew in order to deflect criticism. They have no aesthetic discernment on the quality of the lies. Clumsy agitprop works exactly as well as more graceful lies. Why work hard at generating disinformation when phoning it in works just as well? 

Still, there’s a dark irony in all this. Both Carlson and Jordan have become famous and powerful by dint of their effectiveness at spreading conspiracy theories. Carlson gets paid $6 million a year, strictly due to his acting chops, whether he’s pretending to care about the sexiness of M&Ms or to believe in the intelligence of Donald Trump. Similarly, Jordan rose high in the ranks of House Republicans because he’s talented at faking outrage. Yet both these men are showing less passion for conspiracy theories these days than your average unpaid and anonymous QAnon troll. It must be tiring, looking forward to the rest of their lives spent trying to feign zeal over fake culture war fights or made-up controversies. Not that they deserve your pity, of course. Being professional liars is the path they chose for themselves, and they’re clearly stuck following it to the end. 


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