On 21 February 2017, the Daily Beast published an article delineating a scenario in which conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson unsuccessfully tried to book an anti-Trump protest organizer as a guest on his “Tucker Carlson Tonight” program, but was forced to settle for a participant when the organizer refused:
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson had a hard time booking Olga Lexell, the creator and co-organizer of the nationwide Not My President’s Day protests on Monday.
So, after repeated refusals, Carlson’s show instead booked Shane Saunders, a Los Angeles-based actor and casting agent, who Lexell said “was not affiliated in any way with our rallies and was not an organizer.”
In the five-minute segment, Saunders was referred to as an “organizer” by an on-screen graphic and Carlson himself, who also asked Saunders about why “your protest is going to make a difference.”
The Daily Beast story, headlined “Tucker Carlson Couldn’t Debate the Anti-Trump Organizer He Wanted, So This Actor Stepped In,” soon sailed through the liberal blogosphere, where other web sites picked up on the salacious but inaccurate angle that Carlson had hired an actor to play a protest organizer because the real organizer declined. The same day, a blogger member of the Daily Kos community posted a story with the headline, “Tucker Carlson of FAKE Fox News Debates an Actor He Hired to Portray Anti-Trump Organizer”:
There was just one problem. Carlson tried to book an organizer of the demonstrations, but all of them refused to go on his show. That’s a wise decision considering his reputation for ambushing and insulting his guests. So how did Carlson respond after being rejected by the protests’ organizers? He booked an actor to portray an organizer and proceeded to debate him. Talk about fake news.
The guest in question is indeed an actor, but he was not paid to play a protest organizer on Carlson’s show. Shane Saunders (like many Los Angeles residents) works in the entertainment industry and has a long list of acting and casting credits.
Saunders was verbally introduced as a participant in the President’s Day #NotMyPresident demonstrations, but he was mistakenly labeled as an organizer in a screen graphic. It was an error that Fox News acknowledged in the following statement:
The program incorrectly identified a Los Angeles based protest participant as a ‘protest organizer’ in a graphic during Monday night’s telecast. While he was correctly identified in the introduction to the segment, we regret the graphic didn’t accurately reflect his role throughout the entire segment.”
The controversy kicked up when one of the movement’s Los Angeles organizers, Olga Lexell, pointed out that Saunders was not an organizer despite being billed as such. She posted on Twitter a message sent to her by Carlson’s show asking her on:
— Piss Secretary (@runolgarun) February 20, 2017
Lexell told the Daily Beast she initially agreed to be on the show but backtracked once she spoke with other organizers, who were all in agreement that they should decline the invitation. She was unsure how Saunders was booked on Carlson’s show in her stead, but pointed out he was not part of the group that organized the demonstration:
He was not involved in the planning of the protests in any way, at any point, ever. Heather (Mason) and I organized the LA event that started the whole thing, and we had specific contacts in the other cities who had dealt with media outreach before. We know everyone who was involved on every team.
Lexell did not wish the be interviewed for this story, and we were unable to contact Saunders. But Saunders told the Daily Beast he never claimed to be anything but than a participant:
They said it would be a very simple segment about you as a protestor at today’s rally… I never once said I was an organizer of the event.
While Saunders was erroneously labeled as an “organizer” — a mistake which may have misled some viewers — we found no support for claims that Saunders was paid to play a protest organizer on Carlson’s show. Instead, Saunders has worked as an actor and says he participated in the demonstration, two separate factors that were fused in a misleading way.