June 20, 2022

As the Jan. 6 hearings continue this week, one question hangs over the proceedings: What’s going to happen next?

Specifically, the question is about former President Donald Trump.

Will he be prosecuted for the role he had on Jan. 6? Will his potential 2024 presidential aspirations be ruined by these hearings? Or might they actually be emboldened?

First things first: What about prosecuting Trump?

The Boston Globe’s editorial board wrote Sunday that the attorney general should go after Trump: “There is no question: Merrick Garland must put Trump on trial.”

The editorial read, “Not only would it deter a future president from breaking the law in such a brazen way, it would also discourage their cronies and sycophants from playing along. Government officials at any level must be shown that they can be held personally liable for abusing their power. And if former officials can get by with nary a scratch after plotting an overthrow of the US government, then what message will that send to those with the keys to our government other than that they can get away with, quite literally, anything?”

The Globe’s editorial board writes that it should be clear to anyone by now that the insurrection on Jan. 6 was not an accident, that it was actually an attempted coup.

The House select committee holding these hearings has done a masterful job laying out its case in a way that’s informative and compelling. And there’s still much more to go.

But while we watch what seems to be mounting and overwhelming evidence, The New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman write that it would be, at the very least, challenging to prosecute Trump. Schmidt and Haberman write, “If the Justice Department were to bring a case against him, prosecutors would face the challenge of showing that he knew — or should have known — that his position was based on assertions about widespread election fraud that were false or that his attempt to block the congressional certification of the outcome was illegal.”

They later add, “The question of intent, however, can be muddy when the crime under investigation involves an action in which the defendant’s state of mind can be hard to establish. The crimes that legal experts say Mr. Trump may have committed — obstructing Congress, defrauding the American people and seditious conspiracy — fall into that bucket.”

And the danger of prosecuting and failing? The Globe’s editorial board writes, “There are plenty of ways that a prosecution can go sideways. Trump could be acquitted, and that might only bolster his campaign for a second term.”

“But,” it goes on to write, “the reality is that inaction would have worse consequences in the long run. As dangerous as the Trump presidency was, it certainly could have been much worse. Part of the reason it wasn’t is because there were instances — albeit rare — of officials around him showing restraint and resisting his worst impulses. Fear of facing legal consequences after they left office could very well have compelled some officials to rebuff some of Trump’s most egregious orders. By not actually delivering those legal consequences, the Biden administration would only embolden a future administration to be even more recklessly unlawful because it would show that there are no consequences to breaking the law so long as you work in the corridors of power.”

So as the hearings continue to unfold, it becomes clear that many questions about Trump and what will happen next remain unknown.

But we now have the answer to the questions that many asked before the hearings began: Do they matter and should we care?

The answer to both is clear: absolutely.

Reporting on democracy

CNN’s “Reliable Sources” had a good segment Sunday on what these Jan. 6 hearings are really about: democracy. Host Brian Stelter noted how newsrooms are adding resources and positions to a “democracy beat.” Just last week, for instance, The Associated Press named Tom Verdin as its democracy news editor.

In its announcement, AP Washington bureau chief Anna Johnson and deputy Washington bureau chief Steven Sloan wrote, “Earlier this year, the AP pledged to inject more resources into covering the challenges to democracy in the U.S. including voting rights and access, the administration of elections and the role of misinformation and propaganda.”

They added, “AP is uniquely positioned for this moment. Not only have we covered elections around the world throughout most of our 176-year history, the AP has counted the vote across the United States and we call thousands of national, state and local races in each election cycle.”

Appearing on “Reliable Sources,” AP executive editor Julie Pace said the beat will not only concentrate on threats to democracy in the U.S., but across the globe. As far as the U.S., Pace said democracy is an issue at the national level, but “it’s playing out all across the country in very local ways.”

Danielle Belton, editor-in-chief of HuffPost, has said newsrooms “have to keep ringing the alarm” about what’s going on in the country. She told Stelter, “The alarm is that we have an extremist wing, an extremist element within the conservative movement that is trying to, basically, to take over the Republican Party.”

One year in at the Post

Politico’s Max Tani has a new piece about Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee: “Washington Post’s New Leader, One Year In: Mean Tweets, Internal Battles, Finding Direction.”

Tani writes, “A year into her tenure, Buzbee’s efforts at creating a more inclusive newsroom have been stymied by an environment still reeling from years-old wounds over social media and editorial battles and trying to find its feet after a renewed sense of editorial purpose in the Trump era.”

Tani goes on to write that some of the issues, which aren’t necessarily exclusive to the Post (losing prominent staff, a readership decline post-Trump), have meant that “Morale has ebbed to a low.” One anonymous staffer told Tani, “What are the wins under Sally Buzbee? I don’t know the answer to that.”

Then again, Tani writes, “Buzbee has earned plaudits inside the Post” for being accessible and “leaning into conversations with editors and expanding the organization’s leadership to include more diverse viewpoints. But some staffers have been less certain about Buzbee’s vision for the paper.”

Buzbee did not comment for Tani’s story, but it’s a good recap of many of the controversies she has had to deal with in her time as executive editor, particularly in just the past few weeks.

Remembering a TV legend

Mark Shields, a syndicated columnist and political analyst, in 2006. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)

Mark Shields, a longtime political analyst on PBS and CNN, died over the weekend from complications of kidney failure, according to his daughter. He was 85.

“PBS NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff tweeted she was “heartbroken” to report that Shields had died.

From 1987 until his retirement in 2020, Shields regularly appeared on “PBS NewsHour.” From 1988 until 2005, Shields was a moderator and panelist on “Capital Gang,” a weekly show on CNN. Shields, who was a liberal, would discuss and debate topics with conservatives such as Robert Novak and Pat Buchanan.

But he’s best known on TV for his “PBS NewsHour” and PBS election night conversations with New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks. (Before Brooks, Shields would appear on PBS opposite David Gergen and Paul Gigot.)

Shields started off in politics, working on several campaigns at all levels, most notably Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. After working on several more campaigns, Shields stepped out of the actual political ring.

The Washington Post’s Matt Schudel wrote, “Mr. Shields stepped away from running campaigns after noting that most of his candidates lost. He joked that he had written more concession speeches than anyone else in Washington.”

In 1979, he began writing editorials and then a column in The Washington Post. A year later, he began hosting a weekly PBS show, “Inside Washington.” And that led him on a path to becoming one of TV’s most recognizable political commentators.

The New York Times Clyde Haberman wrote, “Mr. Shields’s manner was rumpled, his visage increasingly jowly, his accent unmistakably New England.”

Haberman added, “His calling card was a no-nonsense political sensibility, infused with audience-pleasing humor that punctured the dominant character trait of many an office holder: pomposity. Not surprisingly, his targets, archconservatives conspicuous among them, did not take kindly to his arrows. And he did not always adhere to modern standards of correctness.”

His niece is New York Times managing editor Carolyn Ryan, who tweeted, “So sad to tell you that my uncle, Mark Shields, died this morning. He was a special guy: full of heart and wisdom and love. Love of politics, sports, and so many people.”

And Gergen, with whom he often debated, tweeted, “Deeply saddened by death of @Mark Shields. In our wonderful years together on the @PBS News Hour, he was one of the best partners in the history of television — thoughtful, witty, always a champion of the little guy.  He brought out the best in everyone he touched.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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