A group of media organizations, including CBS News, is demanding access to a tranche of surveillance and police videos from the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol that U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy provided to Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
In a letter to congressional leadership Friday, the media companies argue the footage McCarthy allowed Carlson and Fox News to access should be made available to other media groups.
The letter was sent on behalf of CBS News, CNN, Politico, ProPublica ABC, Axios, Advance, Scripps, the Los Angeles Times, and Gannett.
“Without full public access to the complete historical record, there is concern that an ideologically-based narrative of an already polarizing event will take hold in the public consciousness, with destabilizing risks to the legitimacy of Congress, the Capitol Police, and the various federal investigations and prosecutions of January 6 crimes,” wrote attorney Charles Tobin.
McCarthy’s office has not responded to multiple requests for comment from CBS News about the reported release of more than 41,000 hours of police footage to Fox News.
The House speaker said in a Wednesday interview with The New York Times that he expects to make the footage more widely available after Carlson uses the material.
“I was asked in the press about these tapes, and I said they do belong to the American public. I think sunshine lets everybody make their own judgment,” McCarthy said.
In the letter to McCarthy, Tobin wrote that the media organizations agreed with his “sunshine” statement.
“Now that the CCTV videos have been released to one member of the news media – one whose program is categorized by its own network as opinion programming – they must be released to the rest of the news media as well,” Tobin wrote.
The release has unleashed a wave of controversy on Capitol Hill. In a letter to colleagues, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries described Carlson as a “FOX News personality who regularly peddles in conspiracy theories and Pro-Putin rhetoric.”
A House Democrat who was part of a Democratic Party caucus meeting about the video release told CBS News there is “deep, deep concern” about the security implications of McCarthy’s decision. The Democrat, who requested anonymity to discuss the Democratic caucus’ internal discussions, said House members are not certain if Carlson’s team was restricted from recording images of the videos or if they were supervised while viewing the video.
In a statement, the U.S. Capitol Police chief said, “When Congressional Leadership or Congressional Oversight Committees ask for things like this, we must give it to them.”
But there are concerns that a selective release of the video could reveal camera positions and security vulnerabilities.
Former U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell told CBS News, “If Speaker McCarthy really wants to be transparent, he would have given the videos to all news outlets and not just the entertainers at Fox News.”
McCarthy has said little publicly about the release of the footage. In a report from The New York Times Wednesday, McCarthy said he’d “promised” to release the footage. McCarthy’s election as House speaker was held up in early January by a faction of far-right House Freedom Caucus conservatives. The nature of some of the concessions exacted by the group from McCarthy remains unclear.
Some members of the House Republican conference have minimized the actions and violence of Jan. 6, calling defendants “political prisoners.” In 2021, a House Republican from Georgia, Rep. Andrew Clyde, referred to the Jan. 6 attack as a “normal tourist visit.”
On his nightly primetime Fox News program, Carlson has echoed some of the Republican arguments minimizing the Capitol siege.
Carlson said on the show Monday that “we have been there about a week, our producers — some of our smartest producers — have been there looking at this stuff and trying to figure out what it means, and how it contradicts, or not, the story that we’ve been told for two years.”
“We think, in some ways, it already does contradict that story,” Carlson said.
Fox News did not reply to a request for comment.
A similar media coalition successfully sought release of some Justice Department video court exhibits in Jan. 6 prosecutions, including police body camera footage and surveillance video that shows the violence and attacks directed at police. Hours of footage, which was submitted to or shown in open court in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, has been regularly shared with the media coalition. The footage has helped prosecutors secure hundreds of guilty pleas and partial or full convictions in nearly every jury trial in U.S. Capitol cases.
The Justice Department continues to seek to limit open testimony and cross-examination about the location of Capitol Police surveillance cameras.
In a court filing in a felony case against an accused rioter from Florida, the agency said, “U.S. Capitol Police’s surveillance system also serves an important, and ongoing, function in protecting Congress and, by extension, national security. In particular, the footage from the system is subject to limitations and controls on access and dissemination.”