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Why journalists have to make decisions about how to cover the January 6 riot aftermath


A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

“Yesterday wasn’t the end. Yesterday was the first battle of the war.”

That’s what John Douglas Wright told his local newspaper on January 7. Wright, 54, who operates a shuttle bus company in Ohio, vowed to continue contesting Donald Trump’s loss. “I promise you,” he told the Canton Repository that day, it’s not over.

Voting in the 2020 election was over six months ago Monday. The resulting episode of domestic terrorism at the Capitol was nearly four months ago. Yet it’s still not over. On Monday Wright was arrested and charged with numerous crimes, including physical violence, disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice/Congress, and false statements to federal agents. He pleaded not guilty. His defense attorney says he “got caught up in the moment” just “like a lot of Americans.”

Like much of the Republican party, evidently. Because belief in the Big Lie is now a GOP litmus test. The lies continue; the prosecutions continue; and the pathetic attempts to cover it up also continue.

Some media outlets are rightly treating this as a huge ongoing story. Others are minimizing it. And others are ignoring it altogether. Case in point: I couldn’t find a single mention of dissident GOP lawmaker Liz Cheney on Fox News from the past three days. And barely any coverage of the Capitol riot aftermath at all. News that is inescapable, to some consumers, is invisible to others. And that’s partly what accounts for the divergent points of view about this subject.

I recognize that the truth hurts. The truth of the riot is shameful. There’s a definite desire to whitewash it and say it wasn’t that bad. Facing it head-on is too embarrassing, I guess. And the people willing to face the truth are being punished…

Liz vs. lies

Cheney is “risking it all to challenge her party to stop with the lying,” Jake Tapper said on “The Lead” Monday afternoon. “She’s tweeting the truth about the Big Lie as the war within the GOP escalates. How will the party of Trump and his sycophants respond?” By removing her from the leadership ranks, in all likelihood.

CNN’s Jamie Gangel and Michael Warren obtained info about Cheney’s comments at a private AEI retreat in Georgia on Monday. Cheney said “we can’t embrace the notion the election is stolen. It’s a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy.” She said “we can’t whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump’s big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed.”

Cheney also tweeted similar sentiments. “One way to judge the peril of the times,” John Dickerson of CBS said, “is the controversial statements that are treated as normal. The other, is normal statements that are treated as controversial.”

Cheney’s normal statement about President Biden winning in 2020 was, indeed, treated as controversial, given that 70% of Republicans in a recent CNN poll said they do not think Biden won enough votes to be president.

Cheney’s tweet came seemingly in response to Trump’s statement that it’s the election itself, not his denialism, that should be “known as THE BIG LIE” from now on.

Columnist Will Bunch pointed out: “Remember when ‘fake news’ described an actual problem? — websites halfway around the world posting fake stories to boost Trump. So Trump neutralized the term ‘fake news’ by co-opting it and making it all meaningless. He’s doing it again with #TheBigLie…”

What say you, Paul Ryan?

Oliver Darcy writes: “Cheney was being interviewed on stage by former House speaker Paul Ryan at that AEI retreat on Monday. Cheney was right, of course, but it’s ironic that she delivered those comments to Ryan. Ryan sits on the Fox Corp. board and has stood by silently as the company’s right-wing talk channel first pushed the Big Lie and now allows its stars to whitewash the Capitol Hill attack. When will he speak out about the rhetoric he is quite literally profiting off of?”

“The health of U.S. democracy” is at stake

That’s what Michael Gerson says. The Bush 43 aide and conservative WaPo columnist wrote that “a founding lie” like the 2020 sham “is intended to remove followers from the messy world of facts and evidence. It is designed to replace critical judgment with personal loyalty. It is supposed to encourage distrust of every source of social authority opposed to the leader’s shifting will.” He blasted elected Republicans for going along with it…

That’s a view from the rational right. Here’s a view from the left, the Democratic voting rights attorney Marc Elias: “The Republican attack on voting and undermining of democracy is the most under-covered story in America today,” Elias tweeted Monday. “I fear that 50 years from now, it will be what this period is most remembered for and yet most of the media treats it as a both-sides political dispute.”

A question for TV hosts

What to do — enable the memory hole? Or resist it? “Too many Sunday news shows repeatedly book the likes of Kevin McCarthy, Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson without reminding viewers how these members of Congress tried to undo the results of the election,” WaPo’s Margaret Sullivan wrote Sunday. “A rare exception is CNN’s ‘State of the Union,’ which hasn’t booked a single member of the so-called Sedition Caucus since January.”

“From a journalist perspective, you really have to make a decision,” CNN’s Pamela Brown said on air Sunday night. “There’s three buckets here. You can choose not to have these elected Republicans on; you can choose to give them the platform but also challenge them” on the lies; “or you can have them on and, of course, not bring it up at all.” The one thing that is “not doable is denial,” NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen said in response to Brown.

Then Rosen zoomed out to make this bigger point. “We have a two-party system and one of the two parties is anti-democratic,” he asserted. “The routines and assumptions of mainstream political journalism aren’t built for that situation. And the real problem is not just these kinds of questions and what to do about the ‘Stop the Steal’ politicians, it’s what do we do when we have a two-party system and one of the two parties is anti-democratic? I don’t think our press has started to grapple with that yet.”

Inside OAN’s Arizona coverage

Oliver Darcy writes: “If you’re relying on the right-wing propaganda channel OAN for coverage of the Arizona GOP’s election recount, you are probably under the impression that it actually will yield results for Trump. ‘Ariz. Audit Chief Says Probe Of 2020 Fraud Is Gaining Momentum,’ blared one headline from the outlet on Monday. The network also aired a lengthy interview with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell in which he continued to push the Big Lie, saying there was evidence the voting systems in the US were tampered with. And, seemingly seeking to advance its narrative, the channel reached out to law professor Rick Hasen to ask: ‘Hypothetically, what happens if an election is overturned after the new president takes office?'”

>> Related story: Lindell is now slamming Newsmax for its Friday Dominion retraction and vowing to only watch OAN now…

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