All of the news networks carried events marking the anniversary of January 6th, albeit with differences in tone and tenor, but by the time of the opinion-heavy primetime hours, there were wildly different characterizations of the significance of attack on the Capitol.
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes opened his how at 8 PM ET saying that “today we saw on full display the battle over the meaning of this date,” talking of Donald Trump’s “failed coup” as the probably the most infamous event since 9/11.
Fox News’s Tucker Carlson said it was “really just only a riot — maybe just barely,” while he again gave a platform to a theory that the events were a “false flag” operation. He even had on as a guest Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who rather sheepishly said it was “sloppy and it was frankly dumb” to refer to the January 6th riot as a “violent terrorist attack” earlier this week. Carlson had slammed Cruz for the characterization on his Wednesday show.
CNN, meanwhile, presented a two hour primetime special, live from Statuary Hall in the Capitol, with Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper presenting interviews with lawmakers who were there that day. They started with a segment recapping the events, as rioters burst through barricades, fought with police and chanted to “hang Mike Pence.”
Cooper asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi what she thinks would have happened had the rioters found her.
“They said they were going to shoot me in the brain,” she said, adding that she “wasn’t worried about myself.”
The divergent treatment of January 6th is hardly surprising, given that it started that very evening, even before the electoral vote count was resumed, and has continued since.
On a show in July, Laura Ingraham mocked the testimony of police officers before the January 6th Committee with awards for “best performances,” even as figures on the network’s news side underscored the significance.
Triggering by far the most attention — and outrage — has been Carlson, the top rated host in cable. In November, Carlson presented a documentary on Fox Nation, Patriot Purge, that amplified the theory that government informants may have been behind the incitement of the rioters, and he raised the notion again on Thursday.
His guest was Darren Beattie, who also appeared in Patriot Purge, and again keyed in on one figure, Ray Epps.
“I don’t want to believe that it is true, but if it is not true what is the answer? I don’t think anyone watching should feel embarrassed to ask those questions,” Carlson said during the segment.
Carlson opened the show by questioning the magnitude of what happened on January 6th.
“If you take three steps back, as historical events go if we are being honest now, January 6th barely rates as a footnote,” he said. “Really not a lot happened that day. The presidential election was not overturned. The Capitol was not destroyed. The government was not toppled no matter what you may have heard. Not a single elected official was injured, Thank God. Police got shoved, unfortunately. Punches were thrown, but the only person who wound up dead from violence was an unarmed protester who was shot to death by a cop. None of the so called insurrectionists had guns. When was the last time you saw an insurrection like that?”
Politifact has deemed the theory that January 6th was a “false flags,” along with other characterizations of what happened on that date, as the “lies of the year.”
In his opening, MSNBC’s Hayes noted, “The rest of the Republican Party has yet to agree on a consensus on how to frame January 6th, except to agree that it was not all that bad.”
His warning was that, as much as images of the chaotic mob of January 6th were played over and over on Thursday, the recollection of what happened “could look very different” decades into the future.
“There is a faction in American life…that want to turn today into a holiday and occasion to celebrate,” Hayes said, citing Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), appeared at the Capitol to give praise to the demonstrators and pin blame on Democrats.
In an appearance at the Capitol, Historians Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin also expressed similar concerns, as Goodwin placed hope that the January 6th Committee will have the opportunity to “retell the story” of what happened in a way that solidifies collective memories.
Earlier in the day, all three networks carried some key moments, including President Joe Biden’s speech at the Capitol and the moment of silence on the House floor to honor the victims.
After Pelosi paid tribute to four police officers whose deaths were linked to the events of January 6, Fox News’ Harris Faulkner noted, “She recognized the police officers only, not the fifth person who was killed that day.” That was a reference to Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by a police officer as she and other protesters swarmed outside a room off the House chamber. She has been characterized as a martyr by many on the right, including by Trump.
CNN and MSNBC covered other events of the day, like a series of lawmakers’ reflections on the events of 1/6 and later a prayer vigil on the House steps. Fox News featured recollections from congressional correspondent Chad Pergram, as well as Neil Cavuto interview with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Bret Baier’s interview with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). Cheney and Kinzinger are both members of the January 6th Committee.
Baier asked, “When you hear Trump supporters point to that speech that he made on the Mall saying supporters should peacefully and patriotically march to the Capitol, what do you say?”
To Baier and numerous other interviews on Thursday, Cheney, though, wasn’t having any of the alternative narratives of who was responsible for that day.
“Look, I think that you have to look at the speech,” Cheney told Baier. “You have to look at the extent to which he was urging people to fight like hell. You have to look at the extent to which he had been for months, weeks before that telling people, come to Washington, it’ll be wild.
“I also think that you have to look at what he has said since,” she added. “He continues to suggest that the violence on January 6 was justified. When he says November 3 was the insurrection and January 6 was a protest, what he’s doing is continuing to undermine our electoral process.”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.