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The Right-Wing Media’s Shameful Defense of Derek Chauvin

Tucker Carlson wants his viewers to believe that the convicted killer is the real victim.

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

There might not be anything more embarrassing than getting scolded by Fox News host and reckless driver Jeanine Pirro on national television. But that’s what happened to Greg Gutfeld, himself the host of what is the network’s most embarrassing show.

“Even if he might not be guilty on all charges,” Gutfeld said shortly after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, “I am glad that he is guilty of all charges, because I want a verdict that keeps this country from going up in flames.”

“Oh no,” Pirro said, as many of her guests groaned. “We do not sacrifice individuals for the sake of how people feel. But the bottom line is that courtroom is a place where the evidence is brought in, it’s pristine—everything outside of the courtroom does not matter.”

Pirro, however, supported the verdict on the merits. “Clearly, the verdict is supported by the facts,” Pirro said. “Right now, what people need to understand is that the American justice system works. That people believe in lady justice. That, if we give it a chance, it can work.”

This was the confused response to the verdict on the right. There were people like Pirro, who celebrated the verdict as the justice system at work, but did so as a means of defending America’s rotten police system. Chauvin, they implied, was merely a bad apple. But there was also a desperate attempt to paint Chauvin as a victim—and the justice system as being held captive to fear of the mob.

There was quite a bit of what The Bulwark’s Benjamin Parker deemed “anti-anti-Chauvinism.” In particular, there was the noxious claim that the horrifying nine-minutes-and-29-seconds video of Floyd’s murder was somehow not to be believed, even though it is undeniable. Right-wing YouTuber Matt Walsh tweeted that Floyd’s death was “the most consequential drug overdose in history,” referring to a coroner’s report that showed drugs in his system at the time of his death, though these were not listed as its cause.

Fox’s Tucker Carlson echoed this claim on his show following Tuesday’s verdict—a day earlier, he had accused the media of “lynching” Chauvin—before delving into Gutfeld’s argument, which has dominated the right. “The jurors in the Derek Chauvin trial came to a unanimous and unequivocal verdict this afternoon: ‘Please don’t hurt us,’” Carlson said. When Ed Garvin, a former New York City law enforcement officer, tried to push back on Carlson’s claims that Chauvin was a victim, Carlson had a tantrum, aggressively laughing before cutting Garvin off. “Nope, done,” he said. This is what happens when Carlson is presented with even the slightest pushback.

In this bizarro version of reality, the video of Floyd’s death is barely mentioned. Instead, the focus is on a host of other factors: Floyd’s past drug use and pre-verdict claims from Democratic politicians that Chauvin was guilty. In this telling, the jury were not moved by testimony that Chauvin clearly murdered Floyd, but by fear that if they didn’t convict an innocent man, their cities would be burned to the ground.

Pirro’s defense of the trial’s legitimacy is not as different as it would appear. Gutfeld made a similar claim on the same broadcast, arguing that “everybody agreed this case was disgusting and ugly and there should be justice,” but that Floyd’s case had been perverted by activists who insisted that “cops are all racist” and “it’s not a bug in the system, it’s the system itself.”

These are obviously not people who are interested in reforming or even critiquing policing. Last week, Pirro said of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who died at the hands of Chicago police, that “he is a criminal. This is a war. This is not the time to feel sorry for anybody.” They are willing to concede Floyd’s death as a tragedy, but an aberrant one. As Slate’s Christina Cauterucci wrote, Pirro’s response shows that “the political right will have no trouble assimilating this particular murder into its existing worldview of dangerous thugs, heroic cops, and a culture of law enforcement that needs no dramatic overhaul. You’ve heard of ‘one bad apple’? Well, Chauvin’s that apple.”

On the one hand, there is nothing more sacrosanct than American law enforcement. Either Chauvin is being railroaded or he’s an exception to the rule; in any case, the fact that he murdered Floyd should not be used to tarnish other officers, or policing in general. On the other, there is the growing narrative—pushed by figures like Carlson, Donald Trump, and QAnon—that American institutions themselves are fundamentally compromised and that justice is impossible given the threat posed by the radical left.

The sense that the left has hijacked the media and at least part of the justice system ties the two threads together. Whether it is lying about Floyd’s death, as claimed by Carlson, or merely exploiting it, is largely immaterial. This is, of course, particularly absurd given that a right-wing mob that was encouraged by many of Chauvin’s defenders literally attacked the United States Capitol to try to overturn a legitimate election only four months ago. But reality, or even internal consistency, doesn’t matter on the right anymore. All that does is advance a simple narrative: Anything that is celebrated by the left must be bad.