The media war over Jan. 6th
Why riot coverage turned polarizing
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan is urging news organizations to bolster its “pro-democracy” coverage ahead of the one-year anniversary of the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill.
“In the year since the Jan. 6 insurrection, mainstream journalists have done a lot of things right,” Sullivan began her piece Monday. “They’ve published major investigations, pointed out politicians’ lies and, in many cases, finally learned how to clearly communicate the facts of what happened leading up to that horrendous riot at the U.S. Capitol — and what is happening now as pro-Trump Republicans steadily chip away at the very checks and balances that saved American democracy last year. Much of this work has been impressive.”
“And yet, something crucial is missing. For the most part, news organizations are not making democracy-under-siege a central focus of the work they present to the public.”
Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Sullivan insisted it is “unquestionable” that American democracy “is teetering,” citing a recent editorial from the New York Times declaring “Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now” due to ongoing pressure from election conspiracy theorists and GOP-led voting reform efforts in various states, summarizing their actions will “make it harder for citizens to vote and easier for partisans to overturn legitimate voting results.”
After highlighting other “important journalism” being done on the subject from the Associated Press, NPR and The Atlantic, Sullivan warned “this pro-democracy coverage is not being ‘centered’ by the media writ large” and that “It’s occasional, not regular; it doesn’t appear to be part of an overall editorial plan that fully recognizes just how much trouble we’re in.”
“That must change,” Sullivan pleaded. “It’s not merely that there needs to be more of this work. It also needs to be different. For example, it should include a new emphasis on those who are fighting to preserve voting rights and defend democratic norms… An occasional feature story on Stacey Abrams, the celebrated activist and former Georgia state lawmaker, is not nearly enough.”
FILE – In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, violent protesters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol in Washington. A House committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection is moving swiftly to hold at least one of Donald Trump’s allies, former White House aide Steve Bannon, in contempt. That’s happening as the former president is pushing back on the probe in a new lawsuit. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The Washington Post columnist suggested editors and publishers issue statements declaring something like “we are devoting more resources to this crucial subject because it is at the heart of our mission” and having such stories available for all readers and not blocked behind a paywall the way COVID stories were during the pandemic.
“Put teams of reporters and editors on the subject. Label it in a defining and memorable way, as news organizations have done with ‘Spotlight’ or ‘Watchdog’ teams in the past,” Sullivan wrote. “Don’t be afraid to stand for something as basic to our mission as voting rights, governmental checks and balances, and democratic standards.”
“In other words, shout it from the rooftops. Before it’s too late,” she added.
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