They likely won’t be charged for their role in the insurrection. But the people most responsible for the attack on the Capitol and on the world’s longest-running democracy were not the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, etc. or even Donald J. Trump. They didn’t use pepper spray, flag poles, spears, and riot shields to assault police officers.
They used microphones, cameras, and websites instead.
You see, the insurrection began long before January 6, 2021. It actually began in 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, when the Federal Communications Commission repealed the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC policy that originated in 1949 requiring broadcasters to present information in a fair and truthful manner that clearly distinguished news from opinion.
Once freed from the shackles of truth and fairness, broadcast media owners more concerned with politics, ratings, and money than journalistic integrity unleashed the likes of Rush Limbaugh to relentlessly attack the government and the so-called “pointy-headed liberals.” News and truth were replaced by opinion and lies based on fear, anger, and hate. And listeners who had long been conditioned to believe what they heard over the airwaves accepted those lies as fact.
Farmers and laborers were particularly vulnerable to the fiction that Rush was pedaling. Since they spent hours working alone, the radio was a welcome companion on their tractors and at their worksites. Already angry that prices of commodities had tanked in the 1970s and that worker’s salaries had not kept pace with inflation, they were easy prey for a radio host who blamed their problems on immigrants, inner city “thugs” and government bureaucrats.
And things soon got worse. Other unscrupulous actors, attracted by Rush’s booming ratings, joined him on the airwaves to denounce liberals and government under the guise of presenting the “real truth.” The “truth” mainstream media – aka responsible journalists – won’t tell you.
Then Rupert Murdoch and his conservative lapdog, Roger Ailes, entered the picture with Fox News. Though it claimed to be “Fair and Balanced”, it was neither. Certainly, it built a sizeable news gathering operation to fill its 24/7 programming schedule. But it constantly combined news with opinion making it all but impossible to distinguish one from the other. And, instead of hiring respected journalists to present the information, Ailes hired a team of carnival barkers, such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, and Tucker Carlson, to feed viewers a constant stream of far-right ideas and falsehoods.
Around the same time, there was tremendous growth in websites and social media where anyone with a computer or cellphone could make their opinions known. The more outrageous and sensational the opinions and the lies, the more clicks and money to be gained.
All of this combined to create a rightwing politician’s wet dream – a propaganda network that would be the envy of Nazi Germany’s Josef Goebbels. It was the perfect environment for an accomplished con man like Donald J. Trump.
Rush, Fox, and others used Trump to increase their ratings by further sensationalizing their racist anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminist, anti-government, anti-Democrat agenda. And he used them to give credibility to his lies and to grow his poll numbers. Even after entering the White House, Trump relied on them as his unofficial advisors.
It was this same cult of rightwing media bullies and buffoons who amplified and perpetuated Trump’s Big Lie. They decried the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. They encouraged attacks on state and county election officials. They advertised and promoted the January 6th “Stop the Steal” rally. And they reveled in the notion that rightwing extremists in Congress along with Vice-President Mike Pence could stop the certification of Biden’s win and reassign the selection of electoral votes to Republican-dominated state legislators.
They deserve every bit as much of the credit for the attempt to violently overthrow our government as any of the extremist militias and politicians whose shameful actions almost succeeded in destroying our democracy.
They must be held accountable. If the courts of law can’t do it, the courts of public opinion must.