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Weekly reads from CJR for January 14, 2021

Documenting a siege on the Capitol

Last week, facing thousands of supporters at a “Save America Rally,” Donald Trump declared, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” From there, the herd marched on toward the Capitol, where rioters stormed the building in a vengeful, seditious assault, taking selfies all the while. “We are the news now,” they cried. The crowd produced unedited, unfiltered livestreams, as Ian Karbal wrote, “capturing images of itself for other members of the mob.” They also posed gleefully for press photographers. “The crowd seemed ready for a photo opportunity,” Shinhee Kang observed. “Democracy was under siege by a spectacle of costumes, body paint, and an unknown number of weapons.” Kang spoke with Saul Loeb, a staff photographer for Agence France-Presse, who found a man sitting in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a boot up on her desk: “He wasn’t upset that I was taking his picture,” Loeb said. The image soon went viral.

By the end, as Savannah Jacobson wrote, “Five people have died as a result of the mob’s attack. The Capitol was breached, property destroyed.” And the vulnerability of American democracy had been rendered as a chilling display. Kyle Pope, the editor and publisher of CJR, made an appeal for self-reflection among journalists: “Even the media people who didn’t elevate Trump’s rigged-election nonsense,” he argued, “are going to have to grapple with their own complicity in the Trump story.” From the outside, the foreign press depicted the events with the kind of undaunted clarity—as Feven Merid noted, the Times of India referred to the insurrectionists as “stormtroopers”—that American reporters would be wise to apply consistently within.
––Betsy Morais, managing editor


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