This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
Rather than behaving responsibly during a moment of crisis, the New York Times printed inflammatory, unconfirmed gossip. It fanned fear, and fed hysteria.
Victor Davis Hanson is a California-based classical scholar who has long taught military history. He writes books, and a nationally syndicated column. In addition to receiving fan mail, he receives its opposite.
Over at VictorHanson.com, there’s an ongoing series of blog posts titled The Angry Reader. The latest installment features a venomous, profane letter which begins this way: “Keep your shit views to yourself. You disgust me…”
Hanson’s response is both satisfying and illuminating. Pointing out that he gets paid to share his opinions, he calmly encourages this Really, Really Angry Reader to simply tune him out: “There is a huge world out there on the Internet and air waves, and there is no need for you to self-inflict by fixating on me.”
Then he proceeds, quietly and firmly, to dismantle the mainstream-media-disseminated propaganda upon which her worldview relies. Specifically, he challenges her characterization of what happened in Washington, DC during the January 6 riot.
The backstory is that prominent media outlets recklessly reported that Brian Sicknick, a 42-year-old police officer, had been bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. “He Dreamed of Being a Police Officer, Then Was Killed by a Pro-Trump Mob declared the New York Times. It described a bloody head wound, after which Sicknick was rushed to hospital and placed on life support.
These highly inflammatory accusations, treated as gospel and blasted around the world, were utterly fake news. The Times‘ only basis for them was the say-so of anonymous “law enforcement officials.”
As Hanson explains to his Really, Really Angry Reader, although we don’t yet know the cause of Sicknick’s tragic death (autopsy results still haven’t been released), he “certainly did not die from head trauma from a weaponized fire extinguisher.”
ProPublica‘s account of events, published the same day as the Times story, quotes Sicknick’s brother – not anonymous sources. Ken Sicknick says Brian texted him hours after the riot to say that although he’d been pepper sprayed twice, he was fine. On the following day, says ProPublica, Sicknick’s family received news that he’d developed a blood clot, had had a stroke, as was now hospitalized and on a ventilator.
A Press Release issued by the Capitol Police, announcing his death at about 9:30 pm on January 7th, curiously contradicts both these accounts. It says Sicknick:
was injured while physically engaging with protesters. He returned to his division office and collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.
In early February, CNN reported that, according to another anonymous “law enforcement official,” medical examiners “did not find signs that the officer sustained any blunt force trauma, so investigators believe that early reports that he was fatally struck by a fire extinguisher are not true” (bold added).
Why won’t anyone speak on the record about this matter? Why is crisp, credible information unavailable?
Amid all this murkiness, what’s crystal clear is that the New York Times isn’t a reliable source of information. During a moment of crisis, it chose to print unconfirmed gossip. Rather than proceeding carefully and responsibly, it promoted hysteria and inflamed passions.
Which is why calm, steady people such as Hanson are so important. Hanson is a conservative, yet it’s worth noting that his understanding of the January 6 events aligns with that of left-leaning journalist, Glenn Greenwald.
In False and Exaggerated Claims Still Being Spread About the Capitol Riot, Greenwald writes:
this horrifying story about a pro-Trump mob beating a police officer to death with a fire extinguisher was repeated over and over, by multiple journalists on television, in print, and on social media. It became arguably the single most-emphasized and known story of this event…It took on such importance for a clear reason: Sicknick’s death was the only example the media had of the pro-Trump mob deliberately killing anyone.
…The problem with this story is that it is false in all respects. From the start, there was almost no evidence to substantiate it…Despite this alleged brutal murder taking place in one of the most surveilled buildings on the planet, filled that day with hundreds of cellphones taping the events, nobody saw video of it. No photographs depicted it…But no matter. The fire extinguisher story was now a matter of lore. [italics in the original]
Similarly, both Hanson and Greenwald dispute the media’s characterization of these events as an ‘armed insurrection.’ Hanson invites his Really, Really Angry Reader to “please produce the evidence that at least one of those arrested in the Capitol either had used, or even possessed when arrested, a firearm.”
For his part, Greenwald notes that
there is no evidence of a single protester wielding let alone using a firearm inside the Capitol on that day…That fact makes a pretty large dent in the attempt to characterize this as an “armed insurrection”
…the most dramatic claims spread by the media to raise fear levels as high as possible and depict this as a violent insurrection have turned out to be unfounded… [bold added]
These are strange times. Journalists no longer care if their reports are true. The implications for society are alarming. They include Really, Really Angry Readers – people who believe in lots of things that didn’t actually happen.
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