The anniversary of what has been styled the great US heave against democracy, the insurrection in the Capitol of Jan.6th 2021, won’t die any time soon in public memory if the owners of the narrative, for now at least, have their way.
Anyone looking at footage and raw facts of the event would surely be struck by the dichotomy between the footage and the inflated language used by correspondents for CNN and RTÉ, like Donie O’Sullivan, Brian O’Donovan.
What happened on January 6th last year, as power passed from the Republicans to the Democrats, after a rather shambolic election because of the pandemic, was a protest. It was a protest that broke acceptable boundaries to be sure, a protest that could fairly be described as a riot, but it was not an insurrection.
The detainment of an Irish government minister by a group of anti-water protesters, which included a member of the Dáil, in 2017 could just as well be described as an attack on democracy. Protests often spill over into serious disruption that impede the rights of others to go about their business. They quite frequently involve occupations of public buildings and not infrequently run the gamut of lawbreaking from trespass to arson to assault.
What happened in Washington on January the 6th 2021 was a protest that got out of hand as so many do, but which caused far less damage and harm to property and life than the wave of BLM protests that swept America during the previous year. In the final reckoning, only a single killing took place in the storming of the Capitol and that was the killing of one of the protesters.
The narrative spun by right-on commentators that up to five people died during the ‘takeover’ was fake news. Early reports claimed a police officer died as a result of injuries sustained in an altercation with protesters. The D.C. Chief Medical Examiner found that the officer in question died of natural causes and sustained no injuries during the episode. Yet, the spin of the gallant, hero policeman has been allowed to stand. Other casualties of the day were a handful of protestors who died as a result of ‘medical emergencies’ which shows just how battle ready these ‘insurgents’ were and how ridiculous the claim that this event was an attempt ‘to overthrow American democracy’, as it is still being described one year later.
Insurrections in this day and age are not led by people with backpacks armed with nothing more than the random sticks and poles they find on their march. Given that this particular army of citizens are presumed to own guns by the truckload, that surely says something about both their intent and the ad hoc nature of the event.
But for commentators like RTÉ’s Brian O’Donovan and Donie O’Sullivan of CNN, this was the epochal signal of manic populism that would ring round the world of rightist politics, even though the only shot fired was by a member of the Capitol’s security and the only person killed was one of the protesters. Too much of a useful parallel with the coups of history, ranging from the storming of the Bastille to the military takeovers of seats of government ever since, to wind up their fevered imaginations. So Donie and Brian waxed eloquent in faux shock and horror and presented this rag taggle army of protesters as the most serious threat to American democracy since the Al-qaeda attack of 9/11.
To the more detached observers of history, it will surely appear very strange that these same pundits saw no great harm in the BLM, ‘mostly peaceful’ protests that caused billions of dollars of damage to property, destroyed livelihoods and claimed 25 lives during the nationwide protests of 2020. Some of these protests also involved the takeover of government buildings and the establishment of extra-governmental zones in US cities. By any reasonable reckoning, such activities posed a much more substantive threat to the rule of law, the safety of citizens and the fabric of democratic institutions, especially agencies of law enforcement. Neither incidentally did they comment on the boarding up of buildings, both public and private, in Washington on the night of the election which anticipated what might happen in the event of a Trump, not a Biden, victory and the presence of shadowy figures gathering in doorways who were not ‘proud boys’ or MAGA cheerleaders.
There is a whole new journalistic industry established around the pursuit of ‘extreme right’ propagandists and activists. Is there any other category of rightist opinion? It is a clear fight between baddies and goodies with no gray areas to be explored. Donie O’Sullivan continues to cover Trump rallies seeking out daft conspiracy theorists who believe that Biden operates from a film set rather than the actual oval office and White House. If Donie O’Sullivan took his trade more seriously he would know that deranged thinking is not the preserve of any strand of political thought. It should be noted however that recent reports suggest this particular theory may not be without some foundation in fact. Some observers have noted that the view from the window in the oval office during some of Biden’s press releases does not quite match the actual view.
The fact is America is divided close to 50/50 politically and the divide does not coincide between the sane and insane. Maybe he thinks it does ? He would know better if he asked more questions of more people instead of looking to validate his political bias and the bias of his network. Sensationalising and catastrophising the News does no harm to ratings of course. Can such pundits really believe that half of America is certifiably as mad as the half dozen mavericks they manage to single out for his person to person interviews? Do they think that only such people voted for Donald Trump or might vote for him or someone like him in future if the alternative was a Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?
If the Donies and Brians really wanted to know what shapes politics in America today they would ask what we might call ‘normal people’ why they feel they have to choose a Trump over a Clinton or Biden. What are the platforms and policies they want no truck with? What are the non-negotiable values the Democrats must respect if these voters are to trust them again? You are unlikely to find such people at Trump rallies. They are probably too busy living their lives to attend rallies of any kind. Yet, these are the people who change governments. These are people who voted for Obama before they switched to Trump. These are the people who read newspapers and follow events and form views and trust their own instincts above the hyper-ventilating effusions of Brians and Donies and their ilk.
Questions like this are the stuff of real, open-minded, investigative journalism, the lack of which arguably poses a far greater threat to democratic institutions. In fact, an honest and genuinely enquiring media is itself a democratic institution. Its collapse is something we need to be far more concerned about than random outbursts of unrest and violence whose context it is their remit to objectively explore and explain, not spin in the service of political ideology.
Brian O’Donovan’s newly-published book, ‘Four Years in the Cauldron’, about’ living in a country shaped by guns, God, far-fetched conspiracy theories and the running sore of racism’ reduces the complexity and depth of American life to a grotesque, ideology serving caricature that shows the truly deplorable depths into which the honorable fourth estate of media and journalism has sunk.