After the committee’s final summer hearing on Jan. 6 last week, discussion on the sets of CNN and MSNBC turned to an intriguing if familiar possibility about what might come out of the panel’s conclusion. Arguments for criminal charges against former President Donald J. Trump, many experts said, were not only warranted, but seemed more than likely given the evidence of his inaction as rioters ransacked the Capitol.
If that sounded like deja vu — more predictions of Mr. Trump’s impending downfall — the response to hearings from pro-Trump platforms looked like something new, reflecting the efforts of his praetorian guard of friendly media to rewrite the violent history of that day.
Even though the committee’s vivid description of Mr. Trump’s inability to intervene has led two influential media outlets to the right, The New York Post and The Wall Street Journalto denounce him over the weekend, many conservative media personalities continued to push a more sanitized narrative of January 6, 2021. They turned the Capitol police into bad guys and alleged the existence of a government conspiracy to to criminalize political dissent.
Mark Levin, the talk radio host, scoffed at the idea that Mr Trump had tried to overturn the election or incite an insurrection. Had he done so, Levin said during an appearance on Fox News as other networks broadcast the hearings live, the former president would have taken more direct action, such as ordering the arrest of the Vice President Mike Pence or fire the Attorney General.
“You would think with all the talk about crime they would show us,” Mr Levin said, speaking on Fox News Thursday night. “There is nothing,” he added. “Absolutely no evidence that Donald Trump was involved in an effort to violently overthrow our elections or our government. Literally nothing.
And to put a more precise point on exactly what he meant, Mr. Levin read a passage from 14th amendment which says that anyone who has “engaged in an insurrection or rebellion” is barred from holding federal office.
That’s why the media kept calling January 6 “an insurrection,” Levin said.
(The author of this article is an MSNBC contributor.)
Part of the message from the right to Trump supporters is, indeed: you may have initially recoiled in horror at what you thought had happened on Capitol Hill, but you were misled by the mainstream media. audience.
“What’s weird is that when I talk to these people, their distaste for the media on January 6th is stronger now than it was a year ago,” former member Joe Walsh said. Republican Congressman and radio host who quit the party because of his unwavering support for Mr. Trump. As the committee presented its evidence, Mr Walsh added that “half the country either didn’t care or thought it was a hoax”.
Dissonance can be perplexing. The same Fox News hosts who implored the president’s chief of staff to intercede with the president or risk “destroying his legacy,” as Laura Ingraham put it in a text to Mark Meadows on Jan. 6, are now accusing the mainstream media to exaggerate the events at the Capitol.
Key revelations from the January 6 hearings
The conservative narrative often relies on kernels of truth about incomplete or inconsistent statements from law enforcement and witnesses — a typical occurrence in any such sprawling investigation — which Mr. Trump’s allies in the media then amplify.
One of the most influential right-wing journalists who backed Mr Trump after Jan. 6 is Julie Kelly, a staff writer for the American Greatness website, whose stories have informed coverage in mainstream conservative outlets like Fox News. For more than a year, Ms Kelly has cast doubt on the severity of the attack and downplayed the deaths of officers at the scene that day.
A first report Capitol Police on Jan. 6 said Brian Sicknick, an officer, died after collapsing from injuries sustained “in a physical engagement” with pro-Trump rioters. An autopsy later revealed he died of natural causes after suffering multiple strokes hours after the attack.
Ms Kelly and others seized on the findings, often without acknowledging that the officer had been assaulted and sprayed with an unknown chemical irritant by rioters, or considering the possibility that the trauma he suffered played a role a role in his condition, which the medical examiner noted. “Sicknick didn’t die as a result of anything that happened on January 6th,” she said in April in an article under the title “Defund the Capitol Police”. “But that doesn’t stop the Capitol police from continuing to peddle the lie that Trump supporters are responsible for his death,” Kelly added.
Ms Kelly did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Another way conservative media figures have backfired on Capitol Police is to claim that the idea of people forcibly breaking into the Capitol is some kind of hoax.
The January 6 committee showed numerous videos of rioters breaking out. One captured a member of the Proud Boys, Dominique Pezzolausing a police shield to smash a window, allowing dozens of rioters to storm the building.
On Tucker Carlson’s Friday show on Fox News, he mocked testimony from an unnamed former White House security official who said Secret Service agents called their families to tell them at review in case they are killed. Next, Mr. Carlson released a video in which vastly outnumbered Capitol Police officers stand passive as rioters break through barricades.
“We can’t find out why the police are letting people into the Capitol complex by video,” he said, calling the hearings a “show trial” and saying he’s proud of his network for not broadcasting them. during prime time.
As Capitol Police officers are portrayed as something less than heroic, new heroes are emerging. A story that went viral on the right last week concerned a 69-year-old woman, Pam Hemphill, who recently began a 60-day prison sentence after pleading guilty to trespassing the Capitol on Jan. 6. The way Ms Hemphill was portrayed on the Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, which replaced Rush Limbaugh’s program in many markets, was typical of the sympathetic messages Conservatives heard about her. The hosts described her as a victim – a grandmother and a cancer patient who received an unreasonably harsh sentence.
“Think of months of BLM protests across the country,” said Clay Travis, referencing the Black Lives Matter movement. “How many of these real rioters are doing 60 days in jail for what they caused? It’s absolutely indefensible.”
Even the committee’s biggest revelations fell flat in the right-wing media. When Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide, described Mr Trump’s backlash after Secret Service agents refused to escort him to the Capitol, some right-wing commentators insisted fans of the former president would be heartened to learn that he was enraged about not being able to go.
Breitbart News Daily host Alex Marlow told his listeners that many Trump supporters like the idea of their president fighting to join them on Capitol Hill, as he told them he would.
In an email, Marlow said he thought many conservatives in his audience viewed the hearings as they did for the impeachment proceedings and the Robert S. Mueller III investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 election. “Trump has been the victim, yet again, of a drive-by smear campaign by the political and media establishments,” he said, describing his listeners’ view .
Part of the effectiveness of the conservative media’s defense of the former president’s conduct on January 6 has been its consistency. Few broke ranks to question his actions as the committee made its case. Some, however, have begun to show interest in other potential Trump rivals like Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida. Ms Ingraham aired her show Friday on location from Florida, where she interviewed the governor.
But the scathing denunciations of the Post and Mr. Trump’s Journal over the weekend suggest deeper cracks may be beginning to form.
Both publications, which like Fox News are part of Rupert Murdoch’s conservative media empire, ran editorials questioning Mr Trump’s character. The Journal called the latest revelations of his inaction “horrible”.
The Post went further, calling his January 6 behavior an “eternal disgrace” and saying, “Trump has proven himself unworthy to be CEO of this country again.”