June 20, 2021

Jennifer Merciaca, an expert on political rhetoric, explained how Fox News host Tucker Carlson taps into the fearful emotions of his viewers to spread propaganda.

Merciaca, who serves as an associate professor at Texas A&M University, made the remarks while appearing on CNN with host Brian Stelter and media critic David Zurawik.

Stelter pointed out that Carlson recently suggested to his viewers that the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol was organized by the FBI.

Zurawik called Fox News "crooked and rotten from top to bottom."

"It is a propaganda operation," he insisted. "It's practically on its knees for Donald Trump. They will never investigate Tucker Carlson. And the fact that Bret Baier and everybody who claims to be a journalist over there doesn't is proof of what they are. It's a propaganda operation."

Merciaca said that Carlson's conspiracy theories are designed to elicit a "fight or flight response" in viewers.

"Rhetoric scholars like me have known since Aristotle that emotions are very persuasive," Merciaca remarked. "If you can tap into people's emotions, you can get them to do what you want them to do. Media effect scholars talk about how fear appeals work through the television and cognitive scientists have actually explained that it's your body's physiology."

"Your body's physiology floods your brain with stress hormones, with adrenaline, with cortisol -- and those take over the rational part of your brain," she continued, "which hijacks your brain. They call it amygdala hijacking."

"So he scares them and then he presents a conspiracy theory?" Stelter asked.

"That's absolutely right," Merciaca said. "So what he has is your attention because those hormones have made you attentive to his message. They've also denied you of your ability to think critically. So he has your attention but you don't have your reason. And then he deploys conspiracy theories and he's excellent at creating narratives that people will believe."

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