Conservative media decry Capitol riot, but grievances remain

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Violent protesters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. It's been a stunning day as a number of lawmakers and then the mob of protesters tried to overturn America's presidential election, undercut the nation's democracy and keep Democrat Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK – Media outlets that appeal to conservatives offered condemnations, explanations and deflections following the U.S. Capitol riot by President Donald Trump's supporters, but little introspection.

Dealing with the shocking breach of the national landmark was a complex task for outlets aimed at Trump's base, many of whom are suspicious of more mainstream news sources. Most were clear: the violence was indefensible.

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“No one should defend it or even attempt to excuse it under the guise of ‘hey, this is what you get when people get really mad,’” wrote Mark Davis in a story headlined “A Day of Rage, A Day of Shame” on the Town Hall web site.

Still, Davis wrote that “the indefensible behavior of the rioters does not erase the righteous grievance of millions of Americans who have lost faith in an election system cast to the winds of political opportunism.”

Similarly, Fox News Channel's Tucker Carlson said that voting is democracy's pressure relief valve but trouble ensues when people lose faith in the act.

“Millions of Americans sincerely believe the last election was fake,” Carlson said. “You can dismiss them as crazy, you can call them conspiracy theorists, you can kick them off Twitter, but that won't change their minds.”

Opponents would rather silence these people — many of whom have made Carlson television's top-rated political opinion host — than understand them, he said.

“It's not your fault,” he said. “It's their fault.”

There was little talk, though, about how none of the allegations of widespread voter fraud have been found true. To the contrary, Red State's Mike Ford said it was “not even debatable" that November's presidential election was stolen from President Donald Trump.

Results were certified in all 50 states, many by Republican officials, without finding major problems and the president has consistently had his challenges to the election rejected by state and federal courts.

Carlson's colleague, Sean Hannity, denounced the violence. Like his show has consistently over the past few months, however, he amplified Trump's claims of wrongdoing. Hannity said the vast majority of people who attended Trump's rally in Washington were peaceful. While he talked, the screen flashed a picture of a demonstrator holding a flag that depicted a Rambo-like Trump clutching a rocket launcher.

While Fox's Laura Ingraham said there are legitimate concerns about the election, “if you were a Trump supporter hoping to display your support for the president, well, today’s antics at the Capitol did just the opposite.”

Fox highlighted its lineup of prime-time opinion stars Wednesday, in contrast to networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC, which focused more on members of Congress speaking about the election certification.

A number of Fox personalities expressed disgust in the riot's wake, including Stuart Varney, Karl Rove and Geraldo Rivera. “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade on Thursday said Trump's behavior since the election has been “terrible.”

Fox did not make an executive available to talk about the network's approach.

Several figures in conservative media suggested liberal politicians and mainstream media outlets are more outraged when Trump supporters are violent than they were about civil rights demonstrations last summer.

Leading Newsmax's website for part of Thursday was a story headlined “Media Have Hypocritical Double Standard on Trump vs. BLM Protests.”

Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, objected to that approach in a tweet on Thursday: “This is not a time for calling out double standards. This is a time for standards. Respecting the home of Congress is the lowest possible standard for American civilization.”

Another popular theme was the suggestion, to date unsubstantiated, that Antifa demonstrators infiltrated the crowd at the Capitol to cause trouble. “Were left-wing provocateurs leading the way into the Capitol?” questioned Thomas Lifson of American Thinker.

Newsmax has discussed that theory on its website and TV network. But its personalities have been instructed to note that the company has no evidence that Antifa was in any way involved, said Chris Ruddy, the company's CEO.

In much the same way that Trump's critics have accused him of inciting Wednesday's riot, media outlets that appeal to conservatives face questions about the impact repeated coverage of the president's election claims have on his fans.

Ruddy said it has been an important issue to cover since it has consumed so much of the president's time.

“I think our coverage has been fair,” he said. “We've been going out of our way to get other sides of this.”

Howard Polskin, whose website “The Righting” follows conservative media, said he's seen no examples of second-guessing following the riot, no questioning about the effect of the attention paid to Trump's unfounded claim that the election was stolen from him.

“It doesn't seem like a note that they hit,” he said.

Many conservative media figures have sold themselves as truth-tellers and admitting error isn't good for business, said Brian Rosenwald, author of “Talk Radio America” and a scholar in residence at the University of Pennsylvania.

Neither is bucking a popular president, he said.

“Introspection and regret would require peeling back the curtain and admitting that in the interest of putting on the best show possible, they often use hyperbolic or ... extreme presentations because they are more gripping or entertaining than nuance,” Rosenwald said.

The king of talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, on Thursday dismissed demonstrators at the Capitol who “breached the doors and took some selfies,” which he depicted as far less violent as civil rights demonstrations last summer.

“There's a lot of conservatives on social media who say that any violence or aggression at all is unacceptable, regardless of the circumstances,” Limbaugh said. “I'm glad Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, the actual Tea Party guys, the men at Lexington and Concord — didn't feel that way.”


Associated Press writers Lynn Elber in Los Angeles and Jocelyn Noveck in New York contributed to this report.

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