NEW YORK – At one point Thursday afternoon, Rep. Adam Kinzinger was on CNN recounting what he was doing a year earlier when the U.S. Capitol was attacked. At the same time, MSNBC was reporting on the Justice Department probe into what led up to the riot.
Yet on Fox News Channel, the story was something else entirely. The network, stocked with hosts allied with former President Donald Trump, aired video of a painting dog to illustrate a discussion about people maxing out on screen time.
That slice of airtime was one of many television moments that unfolded on the first anniversary on the Jan. 6 insurrection, when a mob of Trump supporters violently swarmed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden's election victory. But it served as a potent illustration of how conservative media often refuses to acknowledge the severity of what happened last year.
The diverging approaches to coverage of the anniversary were clear from Thursday's earliest hours.
The anniversary was the top story on the morning news shows. Huddled against the cold, CNN “New Day” hosts John Berman and Brianna Keilar worked from an outdoor location overlooking the Capitol, while the events from a year earlier dominated discussion on MSNBC's “Morning Joe.”
Yet between 6:20 and 9 a.m. on the agenda-setting “Fox & Friends” show, the anniversary was mentioned twice — once in a news headline package and another as an aside by host Brian Kilmeade to suggest Biden wanted to direct attention to topics that were less damaging to him.
Instead, the show interviewed Lara Trump about how much time Biden spent in Delaware; spoke to a nurse fired for not being vaccinated against COVID-19; reported on the “credibility crisis” at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; brought on a former U.S. Marine who had criticized Biden's Afghanistan pullout; gave Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis time to “step up” and announce distribution of COVID test kits; and featured commentator Charles Payne saying that “every time Biden opens his mouth ... he insults the American people.”
The day’s centerpiece was Biden’s speech at the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, in which he delivered a particularly forceful critique of Trump. It was covered live on the largest broadcast and cable news networks, including Fox News.
Afterward, ABC anchor David Muir said, “You could clearly hear the passion in his voice as he was telling the American people what's at stake.” NBC's Savannah Guthrie said the attack on Trump was “pretty remarkable.”
“I believe, when we look back at Joe Biden's tenure as president, that may well become the strongest speech he has ever given,” said CNN analyst Gloria Borger. “It was from the heart.”
CNN's Laura Coates ridiculed Trump for a statement that said Biden “used my name today to try to further divide America” when Biden pointedly didn't name him. “All he heard during the entire speech was ‘did somebody say my name?’” Coates said.
The immediate reaction from Fox News anchor Dana Perino was that the speech was divisive and a missed opportunity.
“We've got a lot of challenges that we're dealing with,” she said. “You could have talked about the strength of our system.”
The anniversary comes as Fox News faces renewed ethical questions about the actions of some of the network's most prominent personalities on the day of the insurrection. The select congressional committee investigating the attack released texts this week showing host Sean Hannity privately advised former President Donald Trump before, during and after the assault. Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Kilmeade also reached out to Trump's chief of staff during the attack.
Other conservative networks were also eager Thursday to downplay the insurrection. On Newsmax, Tom Basile said Biden believes that a country is defined in its worst moments. He said Biden sees everyone involved in the attack as extremists and terrorists, “and I think the American people are going to chafe at that.”
Shortly after, Newsmax brought on Republican Rep. Andy Biggs to complain about the treatment of people being punished as criminals for their involvement in the riot.
Throughout the day, the differing priorities were reflected in the amount of time the story was covered. CNN and MSNBC, for example, spent considerable time airing speeches by Democratic lawmakers about their workplace being under siege; Fox virtually ignored them. The network did in the afternoon and evening hours feature interviews with two Republican Trump critics: Reps Liz Cheney and Kinzinger.
Talking points began to congeal: The Fox News website led with Vice President Kamala Harris' comparison of Jan. 6 to the attacks on Pearl Harbor and on Sept. 11, 2001, a hint that she'd soon be criticized for it.
The top headlines on the Breitbart.com news site were “Democrat Day of Hysteria,” “Kamala Unhinged” and “Dividin' Biden Blames Trump.” The lead story on RedState.com was headlined, “The Twisted Morality of Those Who Obsess over January 6th.”
Meanwhile, the Atlantic magazine issued a reader's guide to all of its coverage on the topic, including a recent cover story that warned “January 6 was Practice.”
The story dominated digital editions of The Washington Post and The New York Times. The Post maintained a blog of the day's events and an extensive photo package under the main headline "Biden Says Trump Spread ‘Web of Lies.’' The Times' headline noted that the commemorations underscored the nation's fracture.
"Nearly universal outrage has reverted to separate blue and red realities,” Peter Baker wrote in a news analysis.
Television Writer Lynn Elber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.