It has often seemed, watching Tucker Carlson spin up right-wing conspiracism for the masses on his uber-popular Fox News program, that he is ripping his narratives directly from Alex Jones’ Infowars conspiracy-theory mill. This includes his eager adoption of conspiracy theories about biolabs in Ukraine and a supposed terrorist conspiracy against food manufacturers, not to mention Carlson’s entire post-Jan. 6 narrative claiming that the FBI and “Deep State” had supposedly manufactured the Capitol insurrection, which, in fact, originated with Jones.
Those impressions, it turns out, were not baseless. Huffpost’s Sebastian Murdock obtained a tranche of Jones’ texts on his cell phone—obtained due to his attorney’s accidental release of the texts during the trial over the lawsuit filed against Jones by the parents of the Sandy Hook victims subjected to his “false flag” smears—revealing that Jones and Carlson text each other frequently, and moreover converse in entirely sympatico exchanges. In at least one instance, they discussed promoting the same conspiracy theory simultaneously.
The texts that Murdock obtained covered only nine months’ worth of activity in 2020, and did not include any of the time around the Jan. 6 insurrection or afterward—which is when the coincidence of Jones’ talking points shaping Carlson’s narrative became increasingly evident. Most of their exchanges revolved around the COVID-19 pandemic that was raging at the time.
Initially, Carlson had tried to warn Donald Trump that the pandemic was going to be a serious problem, and Jones had concurred. But within a matter of weeks, they both shifted in full conspiracist mode, agreeing that the shutdown and masking responses were totalitarian in nature and part of a “Deep State” operation to oppress the populace.
At one point, Jones texted Carlson an Infowars a story about how a health-scam operation selling UV lights shortly after Trump had suggested the use of “a very powerful light” to treat the coronavirus had been removed from YouTube. “I saw this. They’re clamping down. We’ll be China soon,” Carlson responded.
Notably, Carlson and Jones patted each other on the back for promoting dubious claims about the pandemic from two California doctors. Jones had heavily promoted their YouTube video in which they claimed that their own raw data indicated an extremely low death rate from COVID-19, said the virus was no more worrisome than the flu, and doubted the efficacy of lockdown measures then in place in California.
Jones alerted Carlson via phone text that the video, which had already amassed 17 million views, had been taken down by YouTube. (The American Academy of Emergency Medicine and the American College of Emergency Physicians issued a joint statement calling the remarks “reckless and untested musings.”)
“This is our lede tonight,” Carlson replied. Indeed, Carlson told his audience that night that the video takedown proved that “Big Tech” was censoring truth-tellers.
“Looking back when all of this is finally over, and it will be, it’s likely we will see this moment―what YouTube just did―as a turning point in the way we live in this country,” he ranted. “A sharp break with 250 years of law and custom.” He added:
Big Tech companies are using this tragedy to increase their power over the population. They’re working in concert with politicians in order to do it.
What Carlson never mentioned to his audience was that the doctors are not epidemiologists—they’re simply physicians who own and operate urgent care centers. They based their estimates based on their clinics’ clients, not a sampling of the general population, as Carlson suggested on Fox when describing their data as “the broadest database available.”
Two months later, Carlson invited one of the two physicians, Dr. Dan Erickson, back onto his show to gloat over supposedly being vindicated. What Erickson offered instead was a word salad to justify their claims:
“When we first came out with our data, [experts] said, ‘These are wildly inaccurate,’ and they were raw data, and currently we’re putting our data in a more scientific format so they can biostatistically analyze it, and we can sort of regive the data in a different format.”
Erickson then added that you don’t get the “strongest opinions and strongest solutions to come to the surface if we just shout down and take people off the air that have opinions that differ from what the masses are saying.”
The doctors haven’t returned to Carlson’s show since, perhaps because time and actual broad-based statistics have demonstrated just how far removed their claims and warnings were from reality. In California, after all, there have been 11.9 million cases and 102,000 deaths. The highest numbers of both infections and deaths occurred early in the pandemic, and then began flattening in early April 2020, just as lockdown and masking measures were expected to have an effect—and remained at similarly low levels afterward, except for a November 2022 spike that occurred after all the supposedly authoritarian public health measures had all been lifted.
But reality never is a problem for conspiracists like Carlson and Jones: They just ignore it or sneer at it. Through the past year especially, Carlson’s predilection for Infowars-style conspiracy narratives (including the QAnon universe) has become increasingly self-evident.
Huffpost asked Dan Friesen, co-host of the Infowars analysis podcast “Knowledge Fight,” to review the Carlson-Jones texts. He noted how the messages indicate a deeper familiarity between the two.
“It’s also that the power imbalance is pretty clear,” Friesen said. “You have a guy who is on top of his game [in the right-wing world] and someone who is not allowed on social media.”
Even though it may be a matter of simple contact, Friesen sees a likelihood that Jones has influenced Carlson.
“The clear indication is that there is at least some sort of editorial influence that Alex has—whether direct, indirect, even if it’s minimal—and it matters because Tucker is probably the most influential cable show host in the world, and Alex is a raving lunatic.”
Jones dismissed such suggestions, clinging hard to his alternative universe. “I’m not influencing Tucker Carlson,” Jones said. “The world is understanding that my worldview is closer to reality than mainstream media, so I don’t need to radicalize Tucker Carlson. He sees what’s going on in the world.”