“Yesterday, for example,” he explains, “a former Air Force officer who worked for years in military intelligence came forward as a whistleblower to reveal that the U.S. government has physical evidence of crashed, non-human-made aircraft, as well as the bodies of the pilots who flew those aircraft.”
Ah, okay. Everyone over the age of 13 can see where this is going.
But the speaker here wasn’t one of the unidentifiable talking phenomena that litter social media. It wasn’t even Alex Jones, who made a career out of elevating skepticism in authority so high that people might even believe that his nutritional supplements were worth the cost.
It was, instead, Tucker Carlson, booted from cable news and landing amongst the proletariat he so strenuously claims to love. Yes, the production value of his video was higher than most, but the argumentation very much was not.
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Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we will note that there was, in fact, a report from a niche website, later picked up by the upstart cable channel NewsNation, in which a former military officer claims that the government is in possession of alien craft.
The website (which I, at least, had never heard of before) has a dedicated section for discussing UFOs and was co-founded by a guy who’s written books about UFOs. One would assume that its claims would be considered in that context; this is a site eager to elevate the idea that such craft exist. The story depends almost entirely on the credibility of the former military official.
“It was clear he was telling the truth,” he said. “In other words, UFOs are actually real and apparently so is extraterrestrial life. Now we know. In a normal country, this news would qualify as a bombshell, the story of the millennium. But in our country, it doesn’t.”
Well, yeah, because the bar for accepting sweeping allegations about government coverups is higher than the word of one guy. That’s particularly true when it comes to UFOs, perhaps the most stereotypical example of conspiratorial allegations by fringe actors.
We’ve been through this before with Carlson. When he was at Fox, he had an ancillary streaming show that wasn’t aired in prime time. There, he elevated similarly specious assertions, including a multipart investigation into mutilations of cattle that he suggested was linked to alien beings.
As made obvious in his new Twitter video, the intent was clear. Carlson, like Alex Jones, wants his audience to be skeptical of authority, in part because he himself is skeptical and in part, obviously, because it makes his audience more pliable and gives him more power.
Back then, though, the claims at least carried the imprimatur of Fox News, albeit through its “Fox Nation” streaming offshoot. Puck News analyst Julia Alexander made a useful point about that distinction after Carlson’s video was posted.
“There’s an air of cautious belief, especially amongst the core (dwindling) cable news audience — and doubly so Fox’s audience — that if it’s airing, there’s semblance of authenticity,” she wrote on Twitter. “Because it’s on TV, and it’s labeled news. On Twitter it’s more noise in a sea of endless noise.”
That’s true. There’s a reason that right-wing organizations like One America and Newsmax exist as cable-news channels: It lends a credibility that a generic, unheard-of website lacks. In November 2020, I wrote about the way Trump’s false election-fraud claims were being laundered through these news-source simulacra, with coifed anchors sitting at translucent desks as colors slipped slowly around on video screens behind them. It wasn’t news, much less objective news, but it sure did look like it was. Particularly among the oldest Americans — Carlson’s core audience — cable news is a much more trusted source of political information than social media.
But now that’s gone. Yes, Carlson can boast that, by Twitter’s metrics, the first “episode” of his new Twitter “show” — one with all of the visual-effect accoutrements of a dude recording his thoughts on the Burger King menu while sitting in his parking lot in his car — scooped up more than 73 million views in less than 18 hours. Unlike Fox News, though, where viewership is measured by an agreed-upon third party and tied to actual consumption of the product, Elon Musk’s Twitter counts almost any observation of the video as a “view.” How many people actually watched Carlson’s 10-minute video is impossible to determine.
Carlson will presumably press on. Perhaps his commentary will layer on more of the familiar visual cues of cable news over time. Maybe he will develop this response to his ouster into something differentiated from the thousands of other videos that offer commentary on Twitter on a given day.
For now, though, Carlson’s first offering — once the standard maybe-Russia-isn’t-that-bad stuff was out of the way — came down to one simple message: The media is lying to you and won’t tell you about UFOs.
It is fitting that this, the hoariest of conspiracy theories, should mark Carlson’s debut as a social-media commentator.
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