Tucker Carlson dismantled the 9/11 truther with elegance and ease, gracefully tearing apart his opponent, demanding evidence and exposing the holes in his argument in their radio showdown a decade ago. But one of his central gripes was that the conspiracy theorist he was debating was really just a poor storyteller.

It’s “one of the things that annoys me about truthers. Get to the point, you know, make your case. Instead, they start indirectly by raising what they think are highly significant questions. Like, What’s the temperature at which steel melts? Has a building ever collapsed in that way? Has anybody ever seen a building fall like that?” Carlson said on the radio program “Dangerous Conversations” hosted by 9/11 truther Scott Ledger.

“It’s like, OK, what’s your point? And the point always is that there is a conspiracy of Americans using tax dollars. Usually working for agencies, they know nothing about like the CIA or NSA or one of the alphabet soup intelligence agencies who, for reasons that are never quite clear, brought about 9/11,” Carlson said.

Ledger, one of many so-called 9/11 truthers who touted a discredited accusation that the U.S. government had planned and executed the Sept. 11 attacks, pushed back, saying there was plenty of evidence. He had a raft of witnesses who said they saw firsthand a conspiracy of the U.S. intelligence agencies to launch the attacks. But as Tucker pressed him to sharpen the argument and get to the point, Ledger stumbled and ran in rhetorical circles.

Ten years later, Carlson has built a powerful new “truther” movement, one which denies the court-tested evidence of an attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters and replaces it instead with a shadowy tale which alleges a “deep state” within the U.S. government launched a “false flag” attack on itself.

“They’ve begun to fight a new enemy in a new war on terror,” Carlson says in the film series, which Politifact dubbed “full of falsehoods.” “Not, you should understand, a metaphorical war, but an actual war. Soldiers and paramilitary law enforcement, guided by the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies, hunting down American citizens, purging them from society, and throwing some of them into solitary confinement.

Carlson’s “Patriot Purge” series was online only, via the new Fox streaming service Fox Nation, however it incorporated many of the same storylines, topics and guests he featured on his top-rated cable show throughout the year.

“What happened to Tucker?” Has been the Washington-cocktail circuit question of the year among longstanding journalists and political operatives who remember the man who dared to tell a crowd of conservative activists in 2009 that they should live up to better standards of accuracy in order to push their cause.

How Carlson went from a skeptic of a conspiracy theory to endorsing his own may be a mystery to some, but some of his former colleagues offer a blunt answer: He’s getting fabulously wealthy by winning at the cable news game. Winning requires weaving fantastical tales to keep viewers tuned in amid a wilderness of competing media outlets and platforms, said Carl Cameron, former chief political correspondent for Fox News and co-founder of the news operation Front Page Live.

“He was a hail fellow well met at gatherings of journalists. And his sparring with people was understood to be just that. Now with a show where he’s not sparring, he’s taking his opinions and trying to essentially gaslight his audience,” Cameron said.

In Ledger’s 9/11 story, the al Qaeda terrorists were the “patsies” who took the fall for the CIA and “deep state.” In Carlson’s 1/6 story, it’s decent Americans who happened to be at the Capitol on Jan. 6 being set up to take the fall for the “deep state,” but Carlson’s storytelling skills coupled with the power of the most-watched cable show in the country has made it a key narrative for millions of Americans.

 

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