Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of one of the darkest days in our democracy. Jan. 6, 2021, is when insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol in protest over what they wrongly believed was a rigged 2020 presidential election.
But, unlike most anniversaries of historical moments, this isn’t just about looking back at what happened then, but what it means now, and what it could mean for the future. Or as the headline in a piece by The New York Times editorial board so aptly put it: “Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now.”
The board warned that we can’t just move on from what happened that day simply because most of us, after four years of chaos, were ready for peace, quiet and normalcy.
The board wrote, “In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time.”
The threat has not gone away just because no one is currently ransacking the Capitol or attacking police with flagpoles and pepper spray or putting their feet on Nancy Pelosi’s desk. As the Times’ board writes, “Hundreds of bills have been proposed and nearly three dozen laws have been passed that empower state legislatures to sabotage their own elections and overturn the will of their voters, according to a running tally by a nonpartisan consortium of pro-democracy organizations.”
During an appearance on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN, historian Nicole Hemmer of Columbia University said the media has to have a “long memory.”
“The destruction of democracy is not a 2020 story,” she said, “It’s not a 2021 story. It’s going to be with us into 2022. It’s going to be less splashy. It’s going to be in state houses and the Supreme Court and in Congress and it’s not going to necessarily come dressed up as an insurrection. So keeping an eye on the story even when it’s not those gripping images that we’ve had from the last two years.”
And, clearly, the divide remains in this country over Jan. 6 and that has an impact on today and tomorrow. For example …
This likely comes as no surprise, but it is still alarming that Americans remain divided over Jan. 6 depending on their political persuasion. In a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, 60% of Americans say Donald Trump bears either a “great deal” or a “good amount” of the responsibility for the insurrection. However, 72% of Republicans and 83% of Trump voters say Trump bears “just some” responsibility or “none at all.”
Dig into the numbers a little more and it shows Republicans are more skeptical than others about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. The poll shows that 68% of Americans believe there is no solid evidence that there was widespread fraud. However, 62% of Republicans polled believe there is evidence — and the Post points out that number is about the same as it was a week after the Jan. 6 insurrection. That’s also a stark difference from the 88% of Democrats and 74% of independents who believe there is no such evidence.
And in the biggest gap of all, 69% of those who voted for Trump in 2020 say Joe Biden was not legitimately elected, while 97% of Biden voters say Biden was legitimately elected.
For a roundup of the poll, check out this story from The Post’s Dan Balz, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin.
The story includes this chilling paragraph: “The percentage of Americans who say violent action against the government is justified at times stands at 34 percent, which is considerably higher than in past polls by The Post or other major news organizations dating back more than two decades. Again, the view is partisan: The new survey finds 40 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents and 23 percent of Democrats saying violence is sometimes justified.”
The Washington Post’s Meryl Kornfield and Mariana Alfaro have more on how Americans feel about violence against the government.
Another troubling poll
Speaking of violence against the government, a new CBS News poll shows the impact that Jan. 6 had on many Americans, who see the insurrection as just the beginning of future violence. And that there are still those who believe violence against the government is justifiable.
CBS News’ Anthony Salvanto, Kabir Khanna, Fred Backus and Jennifer De Pinto write, “We stress this is not how most people feel, and that those who do are a low number in percentage terms. But then, we’ve also seen that it doesn’t take large numbers to provoke these wider concerns in the nation.”
They add, “The implications of January 6 are reverberating through the polity: two-thirds see the events as a harbinger of increasing political violence, not an isolated incident. That leads to larger misgivings. When people see it as a sign of increasing violence, they’re more likely to think violence is a reason democracy is threatened.”
And the CBS News poll also addressed something that has cropped up quite often, including in my email inbox, whenever Jan. 6 is referred to as an “insurrection.” The poll showed that 85% of Democrats called Jan. 6 an “insurrection,” as compared to only 21% of Republicans. And the numbers were nearly identical (85% of Democrats and 18% of Republicans) when asked if Jan. 6 was meant to “overthrow the government.”
Meanwhile, 56% of Republicans called Jan. 6 “defending freedom” and 47% called it “patriotism.” Less than 12% of Democrats called it either.
Covering Trump … or not
Trump is scheduled to hold a press conference on Jan. 6 at Mar-a-Lago.
Alyssa Farah Griffin, Trump’s former director of strategic communications, told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins that this shows the former president is getting terrible advice from those around him, adding, “This would be a wise day for him to stay silent, to let those who were victims on Capitol Hill talk about that very important and solemn day.”
You can already guess what the gist of the remarks will be. Politico’s David Siders wrote, “If he follows the script laid out in his announcement of the news conference, he will commit a whitewashing of the day, repeating the lie that the 2020 election was rigged and defending his part in fomenting the insurrection — all while a solemn prayer service is held at the Capitol, in a vivid split-screen moment. And, as Trump castigates Republicans not toeing his line, his event will also serve as a marker of Trump’s extraordinary dominion over the GOP.”
So what will the media do with this press conference? A better question is what should the media do with it? New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted out his suggestions:
- No build up, no count down, no empty podium awaiting his arrival
- Don’t carry it live; disinformation risk too high
- After it’s over, sift for any genuine news and report it
- Do not amplify familiar lies and distortions; they’ve all been fact checked already
‘He cannot be trusted’
During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who is on the committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot, told moderator George Stephanopoulos that Trump “crossed lines no American president has ever crossed before” and that she fears for what will happen to our democracy if Trump is ever president again.
“You know,” she said, “we entrust the survival of our republic into the hands of the chief executive, and when a president refuses to tell the mob to stop, when he refuses to defend any of the coordinate branches of government, he cannot be trusted.”
Cheney said, “The Republican Party has to make a choice. We can either be loyal to our Constitution or loyal to Donald Trump, but we cannot be both.”
Cheney also told Stephanopoulos, “We have firsthand testimony that his daughter Ivanka went in at least twice to ask him to please stop this violence.”
Meanwhile, Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who is chairman of the Jan. 6 Select Committee, went on both CNN’s “State of the Union” and NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday and had the same ominous message.
Thompson told CNN’s Dana Bash, “Let me say that what we have been able to ascertain is that we came perilously close to losing our democracy as we have come to learn it. Had those insurrectionists been successful, we are not certain what we would have had, had it not been for the brave men and women who protected the Capitol, in spite of being woefully outnumbered. We were in a difficult situation. We know former President Trump invited people to come to Washington on Jan. 6, that he said it was going to be wild.”
Marjorie Taylor Greene banned from Twitter
Twitter has permanently banned one of the accounts of Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Which leads me to ask: She wasn’t already banned? Greene’s personal account, which she most frequently used and had more than 465,000 followers, has been suspended permanently because Greene repeatedly tweeted COVID-19 misinformation. Not only has Greene spread COVID-19 misinformation, but she has also used Twitter to pass along baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election.
Greene can still use her official congressional Twitter account, which had more than 393,000 followers as of Sunday evening.
Greene did not react well to her Twitter ban. She put out a statement saying, “Social media platforms can’t stop the truth from being spread far and wide. Big Tech can’t stop the truth. Communist Democrats can’t stop the truth. I stand with the truth and the people. We will overcome!”
But Jemele Hill from The Atlantic had a tweet that was hard to argue with: “Too irresponsible to be on Twitter, but can serve in Congress and impact millions of people’s lives. That is such an indictment of where we are.”
And so we begin year three of COVID-19.
Since my last newsletter before the Christmas break, COVID-19 and the omicron variant have packed a wallop with plenty of grim news (cases are disturbingly way up) but some not-so-bad news, too (the variant doesn’t seem to be as deadly, particularly for those who are vaccinated and boosted).
I’ll have more, certainly, in the coming days and weeks as January is expected to be a rough month, at least in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases.
Be sure to check out my colleague, Al Tompkins, and his superb newsletter “Covering COVID-19.” Here are a few other notable pieces of the past couple of days:
- The latest from USA Today’s John Bacon and Jeanine Santucci: “Fauci says CDC may add testing to isolation guidance; 5,000 flights already canceled or delayed Sunday.”
- The Washington Post’s Frances Stead Sellers with “Much has changed since the start of the pandemic. But the nation’s public health system remains fractured.”
- In an opinion piece for CNN, Meg Jacobs with “Why I cried when I found out I had COVID.”
- For Slate, Lindsay Ryan with “Omicron Is Temporarily Shutting Down My Life.”
Yelling at a cloud
ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit is the top college football analyst in the country and, typically, does a good job. But he was way off the mark in comments made on Saturday, just ahead of several marquee bowl games, including the Rose Bowl.
Only four teams — Alabama, Cincinnati, Michigan and Georgia — qualified for the college football playoffs. Other decent to good teams played in various bowl games. Those teams included many players expected to be taken in this spring’s NFL Draft, and many of those players decided to not play in the bowl games as a precaution. They wanted to avoid any chance of a serious injury that could, potentially, cost them millions of dollars in the NFL.
But Herbstreit questioned the players who decided not to play.
On ESPN’s “College GameDay” show, he said, “I just don’t understand — if you don’t make it to the playoff, how is it meaningless to play football and compete? Isn’t that what we do, as football players, we compete? I don’t know if expanding (the playoff) is going to change anything. I think this era of player just doesn’t love football.”
It’s that last sentence — “I think this era of player just doesn’t love football” — that comes off as an old-guy, back-in-my-day, get-off-my-lawn take that was not only lazy, but completely lacking in self-awareness. Herbstreit makes millions of dollars talking about football games for a network that makes millions upon millions for broadcasting virtually every bowl game. Yet he questions the hearts and desires of amateur players who choose to do what they can to protect themselves and their futures.
His broadcast partner, Desmond Howard, chimed in, essentially echoing Herbstreit’s comments and saying “kids” these days “have a sense of entitlement.”
Several hours after his comments, Herbstreit tweeted, “Just wanted to clarify some of my comments from earlier today. Of course some players love the game the same today as ever. But some don’t. I’ll always love the players of this game and sorry if people thought I generalized or lumped them all into one category.”
The apology, if you want to call it that, was just as bad as his initial comments.
Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay tweeted, “espn helped create the playoff that diminished its own bowls and simultaneously turns the nfl combine and draft into a critical career-making spectacle – not only is this a retrograde take, its an all time hot dog suit ‘we’re all trying to find who did this’ take”
The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch tweeted, “I think ESPN should broadcast the CFP national championship for the love of the game. Go commercial free. Accept no ad dollars. No promoting Disney products. No executive takes a paycheck that week. On-air talent does it gratis. Do this for the love of the game.”
Remembering John Madden
You could make a strong case that John Madden is the most influential person in the history of the National Football League. Madden was a successful NFL coach, having led the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl championship in the 1970s. He went on to become, arguably, the best sports broadcaster ever because of his everyman ability to educate viewers in an entertaining and informative way. And younger generations know him because of his association with the Madden video game.
Madden died on Dec. 28 at the age of 85, just days after Fox Sports ran a solid documentary about his life and career.
Here are a few stories worth your time about Madden:
- The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis with “The Genius of John Madden.”
- The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir with “John Madden, America’s Broadcasting Gourmand, Ate Football Up.”
- The Washington Post’s Jerry Brewer with “John Madden could have remained a coach. Aren’t we lucky he knew better?”
- USA Today’s Cydney Henderson with “It’s ‘poetic’: John Madden watched Fox’s ‘All Madden’ doc three days before he died.”
- Troubling report in The New York Times from Jan Ransom and Bianca Pallaro: “Behind the Violence at Rikers, Decades of Mismanagement and Dysfunction.”
- This is fun. CNN Opinion contributors make their 2022 predictions for things such as the Grammys, Oscars, Emmys, sports, politics and more.
- For The Atlantic, Megan Garber with “The Sly Sunniness of Betty White.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More resources for journalists
- Covering COVID-19 with Al Tompkins (Daily briefing) — Poynter
- Leadership Academy for Diversity in Media (Seminar, Oct. 2022) — Apply by Jan 15
- Poynter Producer Project (In-person and Online) — March 8-29, Apply by Jan. 25
- TV Power Reporting Academy (In-person and Online) — April 5-28, Apply by Feb. 18
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