In the year since an insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, Fox News has publicly insisted it has done its part to condemn the havoc wrought by the MAGA mob that day.
Sure, Tucker Carlson has spent the entire year pushing revisionism about Jan. 6, suggesting the Capitol siege was a “false flag” orchestrated by federal agents and prompting “concerns” from Fox colleagues along with the outraged departure of two long-time Fox contributors and potentially the exit of Chris Wallace.
But by and large, the network, especially its “straight news side,” censured the Jan. 6 violence, including on-air denunciations of the riots that evening, as the network has repeatedly claimed. Even Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, the Fox News stars whose worried Jan. 6 texts to the Trump White House have become part of a House committee’s investigation, have been consistent in condemning the attack. (Of course, broadly condemning the violence has never translated into any effort to hold its main instigator accountable.)
And yet, it’s easy to forget how Fox’s coverage played out as the siege itself unfolded.
In fact, at the same exact time rioters fought with police and stormed the Capitol—smashing windows, ransacking offices, and physically attacking law enforcement—the network’s daytime news hosts downplayed or completely misread the violence and, at times, even seemed to cheer on the MAGA mob.
In the early afternoon of Jan. 6, 2021, following Trump’s bombastic “Stop the Steal” speech, in which he urged his followers to “fight” for him and stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory, thousands of MAGA heads swarmed the Capitol. It didn’t take long for the seditious mob, some of whom were yelling “Hang Mike Pence,” to overwhelm police officers and breach the building.
Despite the chaotic scene unfolding before their eyes in real time, the network’s much-touted “hard news” team kicked off its coverage of the events at the Capitol by suggesting there was nothing of concern, early on labeling it a “peaceful” protest.
Over wide-angle footage of the mob violently clashing with police officers, clouds of tear gas visible in the foreground, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich touted the “energy” of the MAGA mob and how “it can be funneled to places where it can make a difference next time around.”
Daytime anchor Harris Faulkner gushed over her colleague’s remarks: “Yeah, I love the positivity of that,” she said.
Moments later—and perhaps unaware that just minutes earlier rioters broke through windows of the Capitol and entered the building, forcing the Senate to gavel into recess and Vice President Pence to be removed from the floor—chief political anchor Bret Baier reported: “It’s not like it’s a siege. It seems like they are protesting.”
Baier further suggested the gathering “doesn’t appear to be violent,” and fellow anchor Martha MacCallum echoed her colleague’s remarks, claiming “it remains peaceful” even as the pair reported that an injured police officer had just been carried away.
Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins, reporting from the streets outside the Capitol, further asserted that everything was fine and calm amid clearly growing chaos.
“It has been peaceful, everything we have seen so far has been nothing but peaceful, but they are definitely fired up,” Jenkins exclaimed. “The chants I heard the most today was, ‘Fight for Trump.’ That is what many feel they are doing here, protesting. We will see where the day goes.”
Eventually, Baier acknowledged that while they labeled it “peaceful” on air, “we’re having a couple reports of people being injured in this breach of the security.” The veteran newsman also noted at that time that demonstrators had pushed their way inside the building and more cops had been called. Fox News correspondent Chad Pergam added that “the mob has overtaken the process of trying to certify the Electoral College—security here at the United States Capitol has failed,” delivering a bit more reality to the network’s viewers.
Even then, as the pandemonium became more apparent, the on-air news team shifted from emphasizing the rioters’ supposed “peaceful” behavior to valorizing and justifying the MAGA mob.
“There is tear gas being used in the rotunda, members are being told to get the gas masks under their seats, the other question, where is the vice president?” MacCallum said. “We were told he was rushed out of the chamber… This answers the question: I was under the assumption they would be safe in the chamber, that was before we realized people had breached the building and were walking through the rotunda.”
The anchor added: “This is a huge victory for these protesters. They have disrupted the system in an enormous way!”
MacCallum also offered up some rationalization for the rioters, noting how “these people were told that today was going to overturn the election” and “when you hear the passion in their voices, you can understand why they are severely disappointed.”
The star anchor ultimately condemned the coup attempt after it became fully apparent, but other news personalities continued to uncritically serve up MAGA-friendly reports on the chaos.
“One of the points that the demonstrators are making is that this is different from what we've seen with the BLM-type demonstrations because aside from some of the things that were broken getting into the Capitol and, disregarding the reports now of the woman who was shot, but aside from the things that were broken getting into the Capitol in terms of doors, they say there is no vandalism taking place,” Fox News reporter Mike Tobin relayed on air. “This is people sending a message.”
He then noted: “I'm just reflecting their viewpoints and what people have said to me out here.”
But in fact, as the network’s coverage that day gradually shifted from the dayside news team to Fox’s opinion programming, pundits and hosts began adopting the whataboutist comparison to Black Lives Matter protests—a source of constant Fox News outrage that summer—in an apparent effort to downplay the severity or deflect blame away from Trump and his allies.
“A lot of the people who are, I’m glad, condemning any violence or intrusion into federal installations and so forth were markedly silent when there was widespread violence and pushing back on police and National Guard troops and attempts to breach that fence right outside the White House perimeter,” Ingraham huffed during a late afternoon call-in to a news broadcast.
Pavlich parroted Ingraham moments later, insisting the Capitol attack was the same as BLM protests, and grumbling that “the Biden campaign refused to condemn the violence and the burning of our cities all summer long until the polling showed it was affecting their campaign.”
By the time the network’s massively popular Trump-boosting primetime hosts took to the air, however, the narrative had fully shifted to placing the blame squarely on anyone but Trump and his supporters.
“Millions of Americans sincerely believe the last election was fake. You can dismiss them as crazy, call them conspiracy theorists, kick them off Twitter, that won’t change their minds,” Tucker Carlson blared that evening. “Rather than try to change their minds to convince them and reassure them the system is real, democracy works, as he would do if you cared about the country, our new leaders will try to silence them. What happened today will be used by people taking power to justify stripping you with the rights you were born with as un-American.”
He concluded his fiery monologue with this missive: “It is not your fault, it is their fault!”
Ingraham and Hannity, both of whom privately texted Trump’s chief of staff earlier that day to beg him to get Trump to halt the riots, suggested on air that left-wing activists and antifa were actually to blame for the violence.
“We knew this would happen when you had a huge group of people descending on Capitol Hill, when you have members of the Trump support organizations and antifa threatening to show up at the same time,” Ingraham claimed at one point that day. “We’ll learn more to the extent that that happened. I’m getting a sense that there’s clearly a big split in the MAGA groups that have come to peacefully protest with whoever is behind this intrusion in the Capitol, which by any account is unacceptable.”
During her 10 p.m. program that evening, Ingraham doubled down, claiming she’s “never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets” or “knee pads,” adding that she’s “been to a lot of these rallies.”
And having already told his afternoon radio show’s listeners that he “heard reports” that antifa “might even wear MAGA gear” during the Jan. 6 demonstration, Hannity said that evening on Fox News that it was possibly “bad actors” on the “radical left” who had infiltrated a peaceful MAGA crowd.
The antifa claims weren’t just limited to the network’s provocative opinion hosts, of course. Senior political analyst Brit Hume, who spent decades with ABC and Fox as a news anchor, tweeted to his followers that night: “Do not be surprised if we learn in the days ahead that the Trump rioters were infiltrated by leftist extremists.”