By Katie Tobin
The attack on the Capitol building last Wednesday has undoubtedly left the US, and the rest of the world, in shock. However, much of the controversy surrounding the events was not on the attackers themselves, but on the media coverage of the siege.
After BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg tweeted that it “looks like scuffles inside the Capitol”, many Twitter users expressed their anger at how the attacks had been downplayed by Kuenssberg. Dr Hannah Murray replied “this is grossly irresponsible. It’s domestic terrorism and a coup. Do your job.” James Felton suggested that the siege on the capitol was a scuffle “in the same way that 9/11 was a bit of a ruckus”.
Additional critique of the media coverage surrounding the event predominantly focused on the downplaying of the violence, despite the ample airtime given to the “rioters” and “looters” of the Black Lives Matter protests.
In June, YouTuber Jake Paul was charged with criminal trespassing and unlawful assembly by police after being spotted amongst vandals in Scottsdale, Arizona. Many proponents of the BLM movement argued that individuals, such as Paul, were detracting focus from the core issue of systemic violence and racism by behaving in such a way. As a result, much of the media coverage turned from the numerous peaceful protests of focus on the increasing violence which spawned as a result, much of which was far removed from the original cause.
Yet, a significant proportion of the media coverage of the Capitol siege has drastically downplayed to violence and atrocities that have taken place. Many advocates of the Blue Lives Matter movement, a response to efforts to defund the police following a string of brutal murders and unjust use of force against Black people, were seen rampaging the Capitol, brandishing pro-police flags. Officer Brian D. Sicknick died of injuries sustained from the rampage, and another officer later took his life as a result of the siege.
The murder of Officer Sicknick has brought to light disturbing truths. Avid Trump and Blue Lives Matter supporters turning on the police was inevitable: it was ultimately a declaration of who, not what behaviour, deserves impunity and who deserves violence. Those who unconditionally advocated for the police and their use of force, even in the light of George Floyd’s murder, were never really advocating for police, but their use of violence against Black people.
As much of the BLM was brandished as anti-police and inciting anarchy in the media, the downplaying of the two police officers’ deaths speaks volumes. Instead of depicting the attackers as violent, racist, or insubordinate, they believe themselves to be the upholders of justice and democracy. Trump’s repeated insistence that he had won the election has disturbingly resonated with many Americans who believe that the siege on the Capitol was a necessary feat to ensure his security as POTUS.
In her article “How Western media would have covered the storming of the U.S. Capitol if it had happened in another country”, The Washington Post’s Global Opinions Editor Karen Attiah explored how much of the surrounding media coverage had drastically downplayed the siege on the Capitol. In the piece, Countering Violent Extremism expert Carlotta Lucas suggests that “America likes to use overwhelming force to subdue and arrest masses of Black and White protesters who march against oppression.”
She continues: “but we saw police forces letting dangerous White extremists into one of the most important buildings in America. When it comes to guarding against White extremist violence, America’s so-called thin blue line becomes damn near microscopic.”
It is imperative to critically view the media coverage of the Capitol siege, particularly when there was such conflating coverage surrounding the Black Lives Matter protests, many of which were peaceful. To label the siege as a “scuffle” is an injustice as it not only ignores the unnecessary deaths and violence caused by the attacks but the attack on wider democracy. Let us hope that the attacks will not be viewed as favourably in history.