As Jan. 6th hearings begin, the Washington press is trying to ‘both-sides’ an insurrection

Supporters of then-president Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo: Blink O'fanaye/Flickr

First published at Press Run

One of the country’s most important Congressional inquiries in history began last week when the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol gaveled into session. Tasked with determining how the insurrection was planned, why it unfolded, and who was to blame, the investigation will likely detail how Trump and Republicans eagerly fueled the deadly day.

But the press is doing its best to portray the investigation as a partisan event, featuring sniping from Both Sides. (A feud!) “Jan. 6 Select Committee to Open Investigation Amid Political Chaos and Controversy,” read a Washington Post headline, insisting a “cloud” hung over the proceedings.  

“What terrible, inaccurate framing,” tweeted Cornell University professor of American history Larry Glickman. “The story is not the supposed “cloud” but that the GOP has done everything possible to stonewall an investigation. Stop obfuscating GOP responsibility.”

So many media players will not accept the obvious fact that most Republicans don’t want a faithful accounting of the insurrection and Trump’s role in it. Republicans aren’t using smoke and mirrors to disguise their true intentions either. As usual, they’re being upfront in pushing their un-democratic agenda.

It’s just that journalists don’t want to acknowledge the disturbing reality, that the party they so desperately want to portray as being a mainstream, center-right entity is doing everything possible to make sure the facts surrounding the ransacking of the U.S. Capitol — a riot launched in an effort to stop the certification of an American election — remain clouded for reasons of self-preservation.

It’s much easier, and politically safer, to cover the Jan. 6 select committee as another case of partisan bickering and how Congress is dysfunctional:

  • “Congress’ effort to investigate the January 6th attack on the Capitol has turned into another political battle.” (NBC News)
  • “It was also the latest evidence of how poisonous relations have become between the two parties, especially in the House” (New York Times)

For the D.C. press, the story isn’t that the Republican Party for months has moved to block bipartisan investigations into political violence, it’s that Democrats and Republicans can’t get along.

That absurd framing exploded into view last week when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) canned two GOP choices — Reps. Jim Banks (R-Indiana) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — from serving on the committee because they had already publicly condemned any investigation. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) then pulled his nominations of all other Republicans and declared none would serve.

When that news broke, reporters clutched their pearls, aghast at the idea that the investigation might go forward without Republicans. Beltway reporters explicitly embraced the right-wing’s performative outrage as their own, claiming Pelosi’s move had “stunned the Capitol,” and sent off  “shock waves” as Politico announced, claiming the entire controversy was (surprise!) a “gift” for Republicans. Politico even got ahead of the story, reporting that Pelosi’s move was “guaranteed to spark major backlash” from Republicans. Why wait for the actual backlash when you can hype it beforehand?

CNN’s Chris Cillizza threw up his hands, announcing the House select committee’s final report was already useless because Pelosi wouldn’t allow two pro-insurrection Republicans to serve on the panel. (Should the 9/11 Commission have included 9/11 Truthers on the panel?)

In truth, the GOP pullout means the crucial inquiry will be free from internal attempts to derail, delay, and obfuscate by the members hand-picked by McCarthy to expressly prevent a clear accounting. If journalists cared about the investigation itself instead of they shallow optics surrounding it, they wouldn’t have been so distraught by the news Republicans wanted out.

They also wouldn’t have equated that GOP withdrawal with the investigation having “collapsed,” as ABC News reported. It was “in chaos” and “crumbling,” NBC News added. “Bipartisan House probe of Jan. 6 insurrection falls apart,” the Post declared.

Those statements were all categorically false. The panel was never in danger of not happening — of “collapsing” or “crumbling.” But in the eyes of the Beltway press, if Republicans were angry about the panel and were not part of the personnel, then the investigation didn’t really exist, which is a stunning supposition to make.

For the record, two Republicans, and Trump critics, will serve on the select committee, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). That means the media emphasis on the investigation not being bipartisan was a waste of time.

In an effort to push the Both Sides narrative and to give credence to the GOP’s phony outrage, the press also overlooked a key fact. In May, Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly not to support the creation of an elite, independent Jan. 6 commission, akin to the one that delved into the 9/11 attacks. In blocking the common-sense move by the Senate to sponsor a truly bipartisan investigation, Republicans knew that Pelosi and Democrats would then create a House select committee, and they knew Pelosi would have final say over which Republicans served. None of that was a surprise.

By ignoring that key context though, the press perpetuated GOP rhetoric that Pelosi had “stunned” members.

Republicans are trying to cover-up the origins and blame for some of the most dangerous political violence in this country’s history, and the media are helping.