After the committee’s final summer hearing on Jan. 6 last week, the conversation on the sets of CNN and MSNBC turned to an intriguing, if familiar, possibility about what might come of the panel’s finding. The case for a criminal prosecution of former President Donald J. Trump, many experts said, was not only warranted but seemed more than likely given the evidence of his inaction as protesters ransacked the Capitol.
If that felt like déjà vu, plus predictions of Mr. Trump’s imminent downfall, the response to pro-Trump platform audiences felt like something new, reflecting how far his Praetorian Guard of friendly media has gone to rewrite the violent story. of that day
Despite the committee’s vivid depiction of Mr. Trump’s lack of intervention prompting two influential right-wing outlets, The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, to denounce him over the weekend, many media personalities Conservatives have continued to push for a more sanitized policy. narrative of January 6, 2021. They have turned the Capitol Police into villains and allege the existence of a government plot to criminalize political dissent.
Mark Levin, the radio host, scoffed at the idea that Trump had tried to nullify the election or instigate an insurrection. Had he done so, Levin explained 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 Vice President Mike Pence or firing the attorney general.
“You would think with all the talk about crime, they would show us,” Levin said, speaking on Fox News Thursday night. “There is nothing,” he added. “Absolutely zero evidence that Donald Trump was involved in an effort to violently overthrow our elections or our government. Literally nothing.”
And to clarify exactly what he meant, Mr. Levin read a section of the 14th Amendment that says that anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” is barred from holding federal office.
That’s why the media kept calling January 6 “an insurrection,” Levin explained.
(The author of this article is a contributor to MSNBC.)
Part of the right-wing message to Trump supporters is, in effect: You may have initially recoiled in horror at what you thought happened on Capitol Hill, but the mainstream media misled you.
“The strange thing is that when I talk to these people, their disgust with the media about January 6 is stronger now than it was a year ago,” said Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman and radio host who left the party because of his unwavering support. to Mr. Trump. By the time the committee presented its evidence, Walsh added, “half the country didn’t give a damn or thought it was a hoax.”
Dissonance can be disconcerting. The same Fox News anchors 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 message to Mark Meadows on January 6, are now accusing the main means of exaggerating the Acts on Capitol Hill.
Key revelations from the January 6 hearings
The conservative narrative often relies on kernels of truth about incomplete or inconsistent statements by law enforcement and witnesses, a typical occurrence in any such extensive investigation, which Trump allies in the media then magnify.
One of the most influential right-wing journalists who endorsed Trump after Jan. 6 is Julie Kelly, a writer for the American Greatness website, whose articles have informed coverage in larger conservative media outlets like Fox News. For more than a year, Ms. Kelly raised questions about the seriousness of the attack and downplayed the deaths of police officers at the scene that day.
An initial report from Capitol Police on Jan. 6 stated that Brian Sicknick, an officer, died after collapsing from injuries sustained “while physically participating” with pro-Trump rioters. An autopsy later revealed that he had died of natural causes after suffering multiple strokes hours after the attack.
Ms. Kelly and others seized on the findings, often failing to acknowledge that the officer had been assaulted and sprayed with an unknown chemical irritant by rioters, or allowing for the possibility that the trauma he experienced played a role in his condition, which the appointed medical examiner. “Sicknick did not die as a result of anything that happened on January 6,” she stated in April in an article published under the headline “Defund Capitol Police.” “But that doesn’t stop Capitol Police from continuing to spread 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 personalities have turned against the Capitol Police is to claim that the notion of people forcibly violating the Capitol is some kind of hoax.
The January 6 committee has shown numerous videos of rioters breaking in. One captured Proud Boys member Dominic Pezzola using 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 the testimony of an unnamed former White House security official who said Secret Service agents had called their families to say goodbye in case they were killed. Mr. Carlson then played a video in which vastly outnumbered Capitol Police officers stand by passively as rioters break through the barricades.
“We can’t know why the police are on video letting people into the Capitol complex,” he said, calling the hearings a “mock trial” and saying he was proud of his network for not airing them in prime time.
As the Capitol Police officers are portrayed as less than heroic, new heroes emerge. A story that went viral on the right last week was about a 69-year-old woman, Pam Hemphill, who recently began a 60-day prison sentence after pleading guilty to breaking and entering the Capitol on January 6. Hemphill’s portrayal on the Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, which replaced the Rush Limbaugh show 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, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement. “How many of those actual rioters are serving 60 days in prison for what they caused? This is absolutely indefensible.”
Even the committee’s biggest revelations have failed in the right-wing media. When Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House adviser, described Trump’s violent reaction after Secret Service agents refused to escort him to Capitol Hill, some right-wing commentators insisted that the former president’s supporters would be heartened to learn that he was furious. for not being able to go.
Breitbart News Daily anchor Alex Marlow told his listeners that many Trump supporters loved the idea that their president was 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 the impeachment proceedings and the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 election. “Trump was victim, once again, of a smear campaign by the political establishments and the media,” he said, describing the opinion of his listeners.
Part of the effectiveness of the conservative media’s defense of the former president’s conduct on January 6 has been its uniformity. Few have broken ranks to question his actions while the committee presented his case. However, some have begun to show interest in other possible Trump rivals, such as Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida. Mrs. Ingraham broadcast her show on Friday from Florida, where she interviewed the governor.
But the Post and Journal’s fiery denunciations of Trump over the weekend suggest deeper cracks may be starting to form.
Both publications, which, like Fox News, are part of Rupert Murdoch’s conservative media empire, ran editorials questioning Trump’s character. The Journal described the latest revelations of his inaction as “horrific”.
The Post went further, calling his behavior on January 6 his “eternal shame” and declaring, “Trump has shown that he is not worthy to be the chief executive of this country again.”