Every five years or so, I get to write on my birthday, and today, I’m making some birthday wishes. I mean, other than my usual requests of cat photos, jokes, chocolate and world peace (I never get that last one).
🧨 For people to stop excusing what happened last Wednesday in Washington, D.C. As I wrote on my Facebook timeline Thursday evening: “What happened at the Capitol was illegal, period. It was an attempted takeover of a government building, which is why, according to Reuters, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia is considering seditious conspiracy, insurrection and rioting charges against those arrested … . The president encouraged and advertised the ‘event’ in addition to endlessly broadcasting claims of election fraud that have yet to bear any actual proof (but tons of conjecture and conspiracy theories), and sought to disenfranchise 81 million voters.
“The rioters were attacking the very seat of our government, which should anger anyone who considers themselves an American. While they feared what might happen, the rest of us have been in fear of what was actually happening, even before Jan. 6.”
Our rights come with responsibilities, which are often ignored. While we all have a right to protest, the key is “peacefully.” Despite all the conspiracy theories about Antifa and BLM (and George Soros, because he always has to be in there somewhere … if he did even a tiny sliver of what he’s been accused of he’d probably be in jail on multiple life sentences), officials are finding that participants were largely members of far-right groups like QAnon and the Proud Boys. Trump message boards and sites like 4Chan and Parler were lit up with vague plans between the election and Dec. 19 when the president tweeted, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
Arieh Kovler, a political consultant who studies alt-right activity online, told GQ magazine, “Once Trump said be there, they interpreted that as a call to action, as their marching orders.”
It’s not the first time his followers have taken him seriously in such a violent way, and unfortunately might not be the last. The president, of course, believes he did nothing wrong.
📰 For people to cease the mindless media hate. At least two people I’ve worked with were at the Capitol when the attack happened (our reporter, Frank Lockwood, live-tweeted his reactions), and while they weren’t hurt, some of our colleagues haven’t been as lucky. Reporters and photographers were assaulted and their equipment destroyed, and some were detained. “Murder the media” was scratched into one of the doors at the Capitol. The New York Times reported:
“As Trump supporters rampaged on Wednesday, incited by the president’s false claims of a stolen election, they hit on a secondary target: journalists.
“Members of the news media who were reporting from the streets and squares of Washington were threatened and surrounded, and their colleagues inside the Capitol were forced to shelter in secure locations for hours.
“A video taken by William Turton, a Bloomberg News reporter, showed a crowd outside the building advancing on a camera crew, yelling, “Get out of here,” and smashing equipment. Paul McLeod, a Buzzfeed News reporter, shared a photo of a noose the group had fashioned out of a camera cord and hung from a tree.”“Covering Pro-Trump Mobs, the News Media Became a Target,” New York Times, Jan. 6, 2021.
I’d like to say that this was unusual, but in the past five years especially, the flames of hate have been fanned against any media source not in lockstep with the president (and if those in lockstep strayed from the path, lord help them).
Let’s make something very clear. Those involved in newsgathering and reporting are not your enemies. In many cases, they’re your kin, or your best friend, or that nice woman down the block who always has a smile for you. They’re doing their jobs, empowered by the First Amendment, by bringing news to you. When you cheer messages like “Murder the media,” you’re telling friends and family who work in the media that you don’t care about them. “Oh, but not you; I know you’re good,” you might say. Bull. By lumping us in with the national high-profile media people you loathe simply because of ideology, you’re saying it’s OK if someone decides to kill one of us because the only good writer/photographer is a dead writer/photographer (yes, I’ve actually heard versions of this).
From that New York Times article: “MSNBC anchor Yasmin Vossoughian said on air outside the Capitol that she and her team had worn clothing unmarked by MSNBC or NBC insignia. ‘We knew there might be pushback, some hostility toward us,’ she said, ‘because, as you well know, the president is continuously talking about the fake news media and telling people not to trust the media’.”
Plumbers and mechanics certainly don’t face anything like this, nor do they have to wear helmets and flak jackets for some assignments because of the rage incited against them.
What so many people have decided is news is more opinion than actual news, and with no clear delineation between the two (one reason I don’t have cable). Your local and state newspapers, if they are truly serving their communities, clearly label opinion as such (like you see in the screenshot of part of Wednesday’s Voices page), and have a clear line between the news and opinion sides of the operation. Most local TV stations clearly label opinion segments if there are any on their newscasts.
In contrast, there’s no delineation on the Internet, and quite often the “news stories” are made up from whole cloth, sometimes as satire (with tags on the original that tend to be deleted when they’re shared), and sometimes because someone just wants to create a lie or conspiracy theory about someone whose ideology differs from their own. Getting your news from the Internet isn’t the wisest thing you could do, especially if you insist on consuming news only from those whose views coincide with yours. Then you’re more likely to believe the lie that the media sources that report anything negative about the president are lying and therefore evil.
News outlets (most of them, anyway) aren’t there to provide comfort to your ideology; their job is to provide the news, which is sometimes good, and oftentimes bad. When you have a president who constantly challenges norms of decency and legality, it’s realistically going to trend toward bad. It isn’t the media’s job to kowtow to any leader.
😬 For whataboutism to at least take a timeout. Again, from my Facebook post: “For those who claim the Democrats have done worse … first of all, the Democratic Party to my knowledge is not directing anyone to riot and loot (nor is the Republican Party to my knowledge). Second of all, rioting and looting is wrong/illegal no matter who does it. Rioters and looters aren’t protesters; they’re also not the bulk of the people at marches for social justice. Third, this is not the time for ‘whataboutism,’ not that there ever really is a time for that. Those who protested after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others were advocating for equal justice, not trying to force anyone to accept their version of reality; those rioting at the Capitol were trying to overturn the certified results of a free and fair election because they didn’t like how it turned out.”
Courts and Republican-appointed judges have repeatedly turned away challenges to the election (described by election and security officials as the most secure ever), and rightly so. Misunderstanding and disinformation about the process of counting votes has a lot to do with most of the “sworn affidavits” touted (which aren’t evidence of anything other than people who don’t understand the process or were simply looking for a reason to complain about … something, anything). Anyone witnessing actual fraud, such as a poll worker filling out someone’s ballot, has the responsibility of immediately reporting it to election officials, not waiting till weeks later to post about it on Facebook. The burden of proof is on the accuser to provide actual evidence of malfeasance, and isolated cases that only have an effect on local races are not proof of widespread fraud.
🤨 For reality to reign again. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Right now we have people living in different realities, and in one of them, sedition should just be ignored.
But in the real world and a nation of laws, it’s a big deal. Those who participated in the attack on the Capitol, including those who egged it on, must be held accountable, and that includes those who gleefully posted photos of themselves and others breaking federal laws (many not wearing masks, and some wearing work IDs). People must know that words and actions have consequences if we are to survive as a nation. If this had been a group of foreign terrorists, people would be screaming at the top of their lungs for justice to be done. But these were our own people laying waste to our seat of government, so the same people who decried calls for unity when President-elect Joe Biden called for it are now calling for us to come together to not condemn what happened. (Yeah, that insurrection was just them acting out a little bit. No harm done!)
Yeah, I’m confused too. It’ll be really fun to watch them try to claim that the inevitable restrictions (just like after 9/11) to come aren’t the consequences of the actions of Jan. 6. Get the popcorn ready. Remember, these people are the reason we can’t have nice things.
Lastly, despite the fact that I work in the media, I would love a slow news day. Just one would help.
One where a leader isn’t trying to make sure he stays at the top of news feeds by posting outrageous falsehoods and provocations. One where I don’t have to worry about my friends and colleagues in the media being killed, hurt or arrested because they’re just doing their jobs. One where we think more about helping our fellow humans than depriving them of their rights.
And one where the most exciting email I open all day will be the one full of really bad puns. I miss that.