Thursday, July 09, 2020

'Carnage,' 'radicals,' 'overthrow the government': How Fox and other conservative media cover the protests

Jun 03. 2020
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By The Washington Post · Paul Farhi, Elahe Izadi · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, MEDIA 

Conservative news outlets and pundits covering the protests erupting across the country this week have mostly emphasized images of destruction and chaos, blaming "organized" elements for the mayhem and framing President Donald Trump's calls for a military response as necessary to gain order.

Echoing Trump, some were quick to attribute the violence, without much evidence, to "antifa," the loosely knit faction of far-left activists known for physically confronting far-right radicals that Trump attempted to designate a domestic terrorist organization on Sunday.

"Unfortunately, far-left radicals unleashed this carnage, this destruction across American cities," asserted Sean Hannity, Fox News' most popular primetime opinion host, on Monday night. His colleague, Laura Ingraham, went so far as to call it an attempt to "overthrow" the government.

The Washington Times, meanwhile, cited "speculation" that "domestic agitators" such as antifa, anarchists and even right-wing white supremacist groups were instigating vandalism and looting amid otherwise peaceful protests. 

The newspaper also attributed the disorder to "black-market rings such as drug cartels and organized crime, or foreign agents from China or Russia seeking to destabilize the nation before the presidential election." It offered no sources or official corroboration for this.

The coverage and commentary largely ignored the root causes of the anger fueling the protests and depicted the death of a black Minneapolis resident, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer as an isolated and tragic incident rather than part of a pattern of excessive force used against unarmed black people. 

But unlike previous high-profile deaths of unarmed black men by police, few in the conservative media world defended former Minneapolis' officer Derek Chauvin's actions. Mirroring rhetoric from Trump and other Republican leaders, Hannity and several other Fox News hosts called Floyd's death a tragedy and said there should be justice for it.

"This is universal agreement. What happened to George Floyd should never have happened," Hannity said - before pivoting back to the subject of street mayhem: "This is not honoring him and it's not about him. You governors and you mayors, get your asses to work and get order and protect (your) cities, protect the people in your cities and protect property."

Ingraham, who had previously used her program to praise demonstrators protesting coronavirus stay-at-home orders, said Monday night that "criminals and the domestic terrorists" were using Floyd's death to "murder America."

"The aim of these criminal enterprises, including antifa, but not limited to antifa, is to undermine confidence in our institutions of government at all levels, local, state, and federal," she said. "These ... acts of violence are part of a coordinated effort to eventually overthrow the United States government. It's well-funded and it's well organized on social media."

Fox News makes a point of distinguishing between its outspokenly conservative opinion hosts and its news division, which it touts for its neutral journalism sensibilities. But while images of peaceful protesters being forced from Lafayette Square ahead of Trump's photo op at St. John's church filled newscasts on other channels, Fox largely downplayed it 

As Trump walked from the White House toward the church in a scene broadcast live on Fox Monday evening, anchor-host Martha MacCallum had former George W. Bush political adviser Karl Rove help narrate the scene. There was no mention by the two about how the square, moments earlier, had been full of protestors who were cleared out by authorities using tear gas and rubber bullets. Instead, they talked at length about the church and how a fire in its basement the previous night had caused minor damage.

Trump was "retaking this territory where we saw such extraordinary and shocking lawlessness with no police" in previous days, MacCallum said. She referred to the walk as a "journey."

"This is a stunning image right now," she continued. "We are watching as President Trump walks by areas that have been denigrated with graffiti that lie right between the White House and St. John's."

MacCallum said Tuesday that she was unaware of how the square had been cleared before making her comments Monday evening.

Some outlets focused on violence aimed at police during the unrest. Breitbart.com, a pro-Trump site once described as "a platform for the alt-right" by Steve Bannon, its former chairman and Trump's former campaign chairman, highlighted such violence in several cities. Its lead headline Tuesday morning was "Las Vegas: Rioter shoots officer in the head from behind." Other entries: "St. Louis PD: 4 officers shot overnight," "Retired captain killed trying to stop looters," and "NYPD officer rushed by 4 men, onlookers taunt."

The Daily Caller published stories such as "Americans arm themselves against rioters as America faces seventh straight night of violence." The story included a report about "white vigilantes" armed with baseball bats to "guard" a Philadelphia police precinct.

Likewise, The Blaze, a news and commentary site founded by former Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, focused headlines and articles on rioters and looters, as well as business owners arming themselves, such as bakery owners in Cleveland. Other coverage highlighted findings in the official medical examiner's autopsy that Floyd had "fentanyl intoxication" and had recently used methamphetamines before his death. The official cause of death, a heart attack, has been disputed by an examiner hired by the Floyd family.

A somewhat discordant note to the generally laudatory coverage of Trump's response to the unrest was struck by the Washington Examiner, whose editorial comments are typically pro-Trump. Opinion writer Kaylee McGhee expressed disappointment in Trump.

"Trump has had so many opportunities to lead over the past week, but he has squandered each of them," she wrote . "He remained on the sidelines for too long, and then fumbled his return to the public eye. This lack of communication and coordination is its own kind of crisis, and one that will only make the present conflict worse."

 

 

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