January 6th Media Criticism Nolan Higdon

A January 6th Spectacle Won’t Save Democracy

On the surface, the hearing is a powerful example of democracy in action, but what happened on January 6th and what it means for democracy is hindered by the establishment news media and political classes’ fixation on Donald Trump. 

By Nolan Higdon / Original to ScheerPost

The televised hearings on the events of January 6, 2021 (January 6th) on the alleged insurrection at the Capitol after the 2020 election illustrates the sclerotic state of American politics and news media. It occurs at a time when democracies are weakening and disappearing. Regardless of one’s party affiliation or ideology, questions about a violent attempt to disrupt or ignore the democratic process are as serious as they are consequential. On the surface, the hearing is a powerful example of democracy in action, but what happened on January 6th and what it means for democracy is hindered by the establishment news media and political classes’ fixation on Donald Trump.  Indeed, they are addicted to the benefits of focusing on Trump all the time – so is Trump himself. Meanwhile, the public remains in the unenviable position of being inundated with propaganda while lacking a background in critical media literacy education.

Americans are not media literate. For the most part, their schools do not mandate critical media literacy education. Writers have long warned that having a media illiterate citizenry threatens a democracy’s viability because voters are unable to discern fact from fiction, entertainment from reality. Indeed, numerous scholars and journalists have argued that it was these conditions that enabled Trump to become president of the United States. A long time media figure and reality television personality, Trump engaged in delivering sensationalistic content that the news media could not avoid. For four years, the news media enjoyed a massive increase in their audience size for covering every aspect of Trump’s life.  Some later issued a mea culpa, but all suffered from a huge reduction of their audience once Trump’s presidency concluded by nearly half in some cases.

The Democratic Party engaged in what was known as a pied piper strategy to make Trump the 2016 nominee because they thought he was the best opponent to ensure Hillary Clinton’s victory. As evidenced by the 2020 election, antipathy for Trump drives Democratic Party voter participation like abortion and immigration animate Republicans. That Democrats rely on the “we’re not Trump” strategy has them facing dismal prospects for 2022 voter participation.

The June 9, 2022 hearing is a unique opportunity for the news media and Democratic Party to retain some of the audience and voters they lost during the Trump presidency. Following the events of January 6th – where a pro-Trump crowd overpowered Capitol Police and made their way into the U.S. Capital that would ultimately lead to the death of seven people – the Democratic Party has debated and investigated who was responsible for these horrific events as a main focus, which some argue comes at the expense of key issues about which voters are more concerned. 

The investigation in the House of Representatives– which the Democratic Party currently controls – presented its case to the American public June 9th on primetime television. They promised a compelling case based on never before seen evidence that Trump played a pivotal role in the deadly events at the Capitol on January 6th. Liberal audiences hoped it would not be a repeat of Robert Mueller’s investigation, which turned out to be a 21st century version of Geraldo Rivera’s televised opening of Al Capone’s vault, only to find it empty. 

Presumably, to draw a larger audience, the Democrats chose a primetime slot for the hearing. They hired former ABC News President James Goldston to produce the hearings and transform them into a media spectacle. MSNBC and CNN broadcast the hearing uninterrupted. The Democratic Party hyped the hearing proclaiming “It’ll change history,” as Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger put it. California Representative Adam Schiff promised to show a “multipronged effort to overturn a presidential election.” For its part, CNN bannered the event “Attack on Democracy: The January 6th Hearing.”

Mimicking a news anchor person, investigators at the hearing sat behind their desks making claims and playing videos of archive footage, relevant testimony from Trump officials, and highly produced and emotionally powerful footage of events at the Capitol. Continuing to act as a news anchor, Rep. Bennie Thompson created a big historical precedent for the hearing to fulfill. He quoted Abraham Lincoln and John Winthrop as he argued that the events of January 6th were as consequential as the Civil War, War of 1812, the 9/11 attacks, and investigations into the Ku Klux Klan. Representative Lynn Cheney– A Republican despised by Trump supporters for voting to impeach Trump– was chosen to make the case that viewers would be wise to stay tuned. She outlined what was coming in the days ahead promising that the investigators would prove that Trump had colluded with right wing groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers before January 6th.  After a short break, the investigators returned to interview witnesses in a traditional congressional hearing format.  

Watching CNN and MSNBC, it was difficult to tell where the Democratic Party talking points ended and journalism began. Acting as stenographers for those in power, the banner on the screen and the talking heads rehashed what the lawmakers said and offered almost no critique or critical questions. For example, they did not question why this is not an investigation into the failures of the Capitol Police. Worse, Democratic Party apparatchiks and supporting organizations aired commercials aimed at getting donations and votes from viewers. Fox News Channel, acting in the favor of Republicans, chose not to cover the hearing. Instead they lampooned the validity and purpose of the hearing, downplaying that democracy was threatened on January 6th. Interestingly, less than five minutes after the hearing adjourned for the evening, they claimed– without providing evidence– that the hearing was a ratings “flop.” 

The problems with American democracy are real and threat of civil war is not one to take lightly. The case by investigators was powerful, but it will make little difference if the U.S. does not address the systemic problems that threaten democracy. First and foremost, the public must be able to think critically about everything, especially media. This necessitates a national effort to implement critical media literacy education, where students are taught how to think not what to think. For their part, the news media and politicians need to give citizens a reason to have faith in journalists and the government.  . Investigators’ revelations will be meaningless if people do not have faith in the political process and news media. That necessitates systemic changes to governance and journalism. CNN and MSNBC’s broadcast will have almost no impact if it only reaches supporters of the Democratic Party. News media outlets needs to expand their audience by offering the public a diversity of views from investigative journalists who seek to “comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.” Instead of asking party members, and society in general, to vote blue no matter who, the Democratic Party needs to solidify human rights and improve people’s material conditions. They need to take legal action against governmental grifting, especially when it comes from “their side.” These changes represent a more viable strategy for saving democracy than a media spectacle aimed at preaching to the choir.   

<strong>Nolan Higdon</strong>
Nolan Higdon

Nolan Higdon is a Project Censored judge and contributor. He is a lecturer in Merrill College and the Education Department at University of California, Santa Cruz and co-author of Let’s Agree to Disagree: A Critical Thinking Guide to Communication, Conflict Management, and Critical Literacy.

20 comments

  1. As an agile thinker, I try very hard to think for myself on political matters. That said, the performance by both parties on behalf of the needs of the American people has me just as disappointed as anyone else. I believe that the attention should be on Trump because he was the president of the United States at the time of the incident, and it’s clear by his words and actions he had a hand in it. It is imperative that he is held accountable for that horrible day. All of the coup plotters, including him, should be punished to show that no one is above the law in this country.

    1. As you know, Hope, in the US the ‘rich’ are above the law.

      Consider how many laws Trump broke before he was President, and, yet, not a single day in jail. Remember the Trump-Epstein links? Epstein dies because he had the ‘goods’ on too many rich people, and they were afraid he would squeal.

      But, that’s the tip of the iceberg. The wealthy have been stealing from the rest of the country since Rockefeller’s dad sold ‘Seneca Oil’ (snake oil) as a medicine and killed who knows how many people in order to get rich.

      1. Daedalus,
        I agree with you. The U.S. oligarchical rule is out of the closet.

      2. However, it’s not so ‘out of the closet’ that the media can’t ignore it. Of course not! Our ‘media’ is owned by billionaires.

        Fortunately, we can still say this without being killed. Given the Assange thing, however, our current discourse could mean torture and death.

        What a Great Country! So different from the one our ‘founders’ tried to establish,so far from the vision of Thomas Paine (who Washington begged to save his butt). AND, that even doesn’t include our history of slavery (Paine hated that) and the genocide of the native population.

        Sorry for the tirade. I’m old and just tired of American Hypocrisy.

    2. @Hope Primas
      So we should care that a bunch of unhinged nutcases held a threatening demonstration (or whatever it was) against the corrupt politicians in D.C. who sell us and the Earth down the river every second so they can garner more money and power for themselves? Um, no thanks. A pox on all of them, but this is nothing but a distraction from real issues.

      1. @Jeff
        I won’t argue with you about the importance of holding all insurrectionists accountable for treason. My point of view still stands. On both sides of the isle politicians are selling us and our earth down the river. Everything else is a distraction. I think the main thing is for the American people to wake up and stop hating, fighting and blaming each other. Divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the playbooks.

      2. @Hope
        I don’t understand your position, because your statements are totally contradictory. If you care about the Jan 6 issue, you’re playing the divide-and-conquer game they want you to play. The hearings are basically Democrats v. Republicans, with the exception of Republicans who don’t like Trump.

      3. @Hope
        And perhaps I should clarify MY position. I don’t recognize the legitimacy of the U.S. or its government. We’re living on stolen land, and the only authority I recognize here is that of the traditional indigenous people, and more important of nature. Screw the U.S., the most evil nation-state in existence and one of the most evil of all time, I couldn’t care less if its government gets overthrown. Nor do I like brain-dead and/or mean spirited Trump supporters. As I said, a pox on all of them.

      4. To Jeff,
        So why, please tell me, are you working on “prop. repres.” in a gov’t , “the most evil nation-state in existence and one of the most evil of all time,” that you don’t give a s*** about?

      5. To Jeff,
        ” ,,, threatening demonstration …” C’mon Jeff, it was an attempted coup, however inept …. an attempt to re-install an ousted Pres … or do you think the election was “stolen” from him – apparently he also believed the “system was rigged” against him, this “honest” fellow (as Greenwald calls him) …

        Indeed there are more serious threats to us all, none of which are being dealt with by our “leaders”, “honest” or otherwise, but to simply shrug and ignore this incident is to blind ourselves to what is brewing …

      6. @SH
        This is nothing but a Democratic Party distraction to take your mind off real issues. There was no chance of these idiots succeeding in a coup, and there are serious questions about why cops opened the gate for them, why there were so few cops there when they knew this was happening, etc.

        More fundamentally, I don’t give a damn which group of a-holes takes power, I thoroughly hate them all. Sorry that you’re obsessed with Trump, but I’m not, he was only worse than normal in superficial ways. I don’t recognize the authority or legitimacy of the U.S., this is stolen Native land. So these jerks can all kill each other as far as I’m concerned.

      7. To Jeff,
        I am not all “obsessed with Trump” – whether they succeeded or not, they tried and your point about there being elements suggestive of an “inside job” makes it more interesting if nothing else – I am not so sure he is “worse than normal” only more transparent about it …
        I am waiting to hear why you want to bother with “propor. repres.” in a system you clearly have no use for …

  2. And, today the British Govt. just ordered the extradition of Assange to the US. Somehow, I don’t think that’s gonna promote honest, critical journalislm.

    1. To Daedalus,
      And of course the MSM prefers to let Assange drop off the radar screen …
      One of Trump’s worse crimes was proceeding with the extradition request for Assange – with Biden now as a “co-conspirator”

      These hearings will make a nice transcript that you, too, can have a copy of for only $29.95 – but if you order now you can have 2, one to use as a doorstop …

      As for making a difference – in any one’s mind, don’t think so – and will they prosecute? Naw, don’t think so either ….

  3. This is dedicated to all those who have to squelch an urge to throw a shoe at their TV when the MSNBC bobbleheads whine about losing “our democracy.”

    BACKGROUND:

    The US was not founded as, nor ever meant to be — a democracy — which the sainted founders saw as mob rule. It was meant to be a government dominated and operated by rich, white men, and voting rights for some time were limited to white, propertied males. “Men of quality” was their phrase.

    Democratic reforms since then are largely the result of the Civil War, and the struggles of women and Black people and the Communist-led labor movement to gain suffrage and equal treatment.

    All of these reforms, paid for with blood and determination, cannot erase the inherent Constitutional facts about the US.

    The way the Senate is structured virtually assures white minority rule, and control by the most out-of-touch elements of the population. As a last resort, the filibuster. Gerrymandering of Congressional districts tops off the structural fraud, this is all a con game.

    FACT:

    No one can be elected to a major office in the US without the substantial backing of moneyed interests: the elections of Barack Obama and Joe Biden cost one billion dollars each.

    The US is actually a racially segregated, increasingly backward oligarchy.

    Academia and — remarkably through all the “democracy”miasma — a goodly portion of the population — know this to be true.

    Major Study Finds The US Is An Oligarchy
    https://www.businessinsider.com/major-study-finds-that-the-us-is-an-oligarchy-2014-4

    Some 80 million non-voters agree.

    A majority of them said they believe it makes no difference who is elected president and that things will go on just as they did before. Two-thirds agree, for example, that voting has little to do with the way that real decisions are made in this country; they are 21 points more likely to say so than people who voted.

    Most in China Call Their Nation A Democracy, Most in U.S. Say America Isn’t
    https://www.newsweek.com/most-china-call-their-nation-democracy-most-us-say-america-isnt-1711176

    Tellingly, many people both here and in China see “democracy” defined as a system that works in their interests rather than the vacuous powdered-wig blather usually presented to us.

    What this suggests is that the populace is already primed to understand and reject bourgeois “democracy” for the fraudulent game it is. This is fundamentally different from believing that Trump was the victim of fraud — it rejects the legitimacy of the system itself.

    Explains why these hearings are unlikely to substantially affect the upcoming elections — people at large don’t actually believe that “democracy” is more important than inflation or other issues that directly affect them, their lives and those of their children.

    Trump may end up indicted and even imprisoned (unlikely, but possible) but that will have zero impact on the fact that the system itself is rotten, a transparently dishonest racket that serves the interests of corporations and their political concubines.

    Segue to George Carlin

  4. Nolan, I’m as unimpressed as you.

    In fact I posted a comment to Jamelle Bouie’s column this morning on “these ‘Times’ they are a-changing” (too slowly to be significant):

    Jamelle, since there is no mention of empire here, I “don’t have a dog (or dogs) in this fight”.

    Maybe I’ll jump in if anything serious come’s up in the future comments on your column, Jamelle.

    1. Now if something like ‘Critical Empire Theory’ were to be addressed — then we might get somewhere more serious.

  5. when protestors oppose the fascist rigged election on jan 6 the nazis produce an investigation to support the status quo oligarchy..liberals obviously the most evil/gascist in USA—obvious to all Marxists

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