Covering Pro-Trump Mobs, the News Media Became a Target
Posted January 6, 2021 11:21 p.m. EST
Smashed cameras. Threats. The words “Murder the Media” scratched into a door of the Capitol.
As Trump supporters rampaged Wednesday, incited by the president’s false claims of a stolen election, they hit on a secondary target: journalists.
Members of the news media who were reporting from the streets and squares of Washington were threatened and surrounded, and their colleagues inside the Capitol were forced to shelter in secure locations for hours.
A video taken by William Turton, a Bloomberg News reporter, showed a crowd outside the building advancing on a camera crew, yelling, “Get out of here,” and smashing equipment. Paul McLeod, a Buzzfeed News reporter, shared a photo of a noose the group had fashioned out of a camera cord and hung from a tree.
Some in the mob chanted “CNN sucks” as they stomped on cameras, although the equipment was labeled with stickers from The Associated Press. (A spokesman for The AP confirmed that its equipment had been stolen and destroyed, adding that none of its staff members had been injured.)
Turton, who was in Washington to report on disinformation, said in an interview that those in the crowd had turned their attention to the small media pen after police had pushed them out of the Capitol building.
“After that happened, they chased anyone with a camera out of there,” he said. “I saw this Italian TV crew they chased out, and I knew they were Italian because I actually took the Amtrak down with them.”
Shomari Stone, a reporter for NBC News in Washington, also witnessed the incident. “I have to tell you, this was an attack on the First Amendment, and I’ve never seen this before,” he said in a broadcast segment.
Chip Reid, of CBS News, reported that he had worn protective gear that he had last used while covering conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It is so disturbing to have to wear a helmet and flak jacket on the grounds of the United States Capitol,” he said.
He described “a scary moment" Wednesday when a protester had told him that law enforcement officers would not protect journalists. “There were no police around us — we were on our own,” Reid said. “We high-tailed it out of there.” He described the pro-Trump agitators as “absolutely, ferociously angry at the media.”
MSNBC anchor Yasmin Vossoughian said on air outside the Capitol that she and her team had worn clothing unmarked by MSNBC or NBC insignia. “We knew there might be pushback, some hostility toward us,” she said, “because, as you well know, the president is continuously talking about the fake news media and telling people not to trust the media.”
Flanked by two security guards later in the day, she said she had had “real interesting engagements” with some protesters, despite being heckled with profanities by others.
President Donald Trump and his allies have fanned the flames of anti-media sentiment, regularly labeling news outlets as “the enemy of the people.” On Wednesday, during an appearance on Fox News, former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin described the events of the day as “mayhem,” adding that “a lot of it is the media’s fault.”
Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement Wednesday that journalists in Washington had been subject to intimidation while facing the possibility of escalating attacks. “Journalists and news crews covering these events, which are of paramount public interest, must be able to do so freely and safely, with the support and protection of law enforcement,” he said.
Zoeann Murphy, a video journalist with The Washington Post, posted on Twitter that she and a colleague had been detained by police for filming protests outside the Capitol after the 6 p.m. curfew but had quickly been released.
Journalists who were covering the counting of the electoral votes inside the Capitol building sought shelter from the violent protesters who had smashed their way in. Haley Talbot, an NBC producer, took refuge in a congressional representative’s office with five other reporters. She called into MSNBC’s broadcast and described a “dire situation” earlier that had required her and others to grab gas masks while evading those pounding on the glass door of the House chamber.
The threats and attacks were not limited to Washington. Canadian outlet CTV News reported that a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. photographer had been punched in the face while covering a small rally of Trump supporters in Vancouver, British Columbia. Sara Gentzler, a reporter with The Olympian in Washington state, wrote on Twitter that she and another journalist had been accosted at a protest in Olympia, Washington, by an armed man who told them that the news media were not welcome. He added that he had pepper-sprayed other reporters earlier and said he would kill her and other journalists “in the next year.”
Rick Egan, a photographer who has worked for The Salt Lake Tribune for more than 36 years, was documenting a mostly peaceful gathering outside Utah’s state Capitol when he was shoved, verbally attacked and pepper-sprayed in the eyes by protesters unhappy with the results of the presidential election.
“That is not freedom of speech,” Lauren Gustus, the publication’s executive editor, wrote in an article about the incident. “It is a physical and verbal attack on a journalist who was asked by his editor to cover the events at the Capitol, protests that mirrored others across the country and emanated from the chaos in Washington, D.C.”