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David Zurawik is The Baltimore Sun’s media critic.
Challenger, 911, the brutal death of George Floyd as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, immigrant children in cages at the Southern border, Baltimore burning in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray. These were all images that seared themselves into my memory and rattled my soul.
But in more than 30 years of writing about media coverage of some of the worst moments in recent history, I have never been as heartsick and angry as I was Wednesday watching TV and streamed coverage of the takeover of the Capitol by a mob of Donald Trump supporters who had been incited by the president.
Other images forced me to rethink some part of my belief system, but Wednesday’s called into question my whole system of beliefs about the democracy I served my entire professional career as a journalist.
How is it that we could let one man bring us to this kind of disgusting mob violence and anarchy? Is our democracy that fragile? Some shining city on a hill ordained and specially blessed by God we are. Forget America, the beautiful. This is America, the ugly, stupid and dangerous. That’s who we are after four years of normalizing the shameful behavior of President Trump. Oh yeah, let’s show the rest of the world how great our brand of democracy would be for them.
Where was law enforcement all afternoon as the mob broke into the Capitol, shut down congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election as president and had members of Congress locked in their offices “sheltering in place,” as the Capitol Police described it.
Capitol Police said they were not prepared for such an assault. But what about federal troops? Were they unprepared, too, or were they not allowed to intervene by their angry commander in chief, the man who had thrown the match that ignited the fire of mob violence during a midday speech Wednesday?
Thankfully, media were prepared. A-team anchors were in place by 9 a.m. EST at cable channels. And by 1 p.m., correspondents and cameras seemed to be everywhere capturing our national shame as our long celebrated ability to transfer power peacefully was made a mockery of right before our eyes by hundreds of cameras.
I loved the anger, passion and refusal to observe phony journalistic niceties at CNN’s anchor desk.
No one spoke to what I was feeling better than CNN’s Jake Tapper, who told one correspondent not to refer to members of the mob as protesters.
They are members of an “armed insurrection, an attempted coup,” he said,
“This is violence inspired by Trump,” Tapper added.
Correspondent Manu Raju, who was in the Capitol when it was locked down, was a model of steady, factual reporting.
But as well as cable TV performed, some of the most powerful images of this horrible assault on democracy were captured by still photographers working for Getty and AP. Both photographed images of Capitol Police standing behind a barricaded door with guns drawn protecting the Chamber of the House against protesters trying to storm the door. If you didn’t know how disruptive, dangerous and criminal this mob was, these images captured it.
CNN showed images of members of the mob high-fiving each other, laughing and giggling as they walked away from the Capitol as the sun started to set in Washington Wednesday. CNN’s Anderson Cooper said they should be ashamed of what they did, not giving each other high-fives. Indeed, it is frightening that there are that many of our fellow citizens who don’t understand — or don’t care about — the shame they brought on themselves and our nation.