Don Rogers: Readers angry about rally coverage
What were we thinking?
That’s the gentle version of a question many readers were asking in reaction to reporting on an ill-timed pro-Trump rally Wednesday in Grass Valley even as police were clearing out the mob that overran the U.S. Capitol.
Why the placement of the local rally over the news of the Trump supporters desecrating the Capitol, leading to five deaths? Why give them coverage at all? Why let them spout falsehoods with only what at least some found a weak rebuttal of those baseless claims in the story?
Some expressed their belief The Union was signaling support for the president. Republicans will note wryly that none of these people must have read my column over the past four years.
The criticisms themselves were familiar to what we’ve heard from conservative readers following similar page one coverage of even more Black Lives Matter protests.
Only the feedback may never have been this explosive, packed with so much fury. Of course, this is only the second time in U.S. history that the Capitol itself has been attacked: The British did during the war of 1812. And Trump supporters, whipped up by the president himself, came on Wednesday, a day of particular shame for the Republican Party.
So did we make a mistake going with a little local paper’s usual local focus first on this day? Hindsight suggests we sure did, no matter how old the news by the time editions landed at homes across the community.
But no, we don’t signal political favor in bearing witness to the top local event of the day. Besides, we’d have to be very confused indeed by this measure, covering Black Lives Matter rallies, for instance, in the same space in the same way.
We express our editorial opinions in the opinion section, and we did Saturday in the appropriate place, offering the rare, rare Our View on a national event or issue. Look there, and then criticize as you will for what we actually think.
Critics raised interesting points about covering what is said in the passion of the moment at rallies. Several declared that falsehoods should firmly be rebutted in the course of the story. Ironically, the reporter did just that, but in a more general statement about the president and his BS than some thought complete enough.
This is tricky stuff, critics who find it simple aside. Even The New York Times failed by these critics’ standard Sunday in recounting how the president’s rally turned into mayhem, with not so much as a sentence correcting a full page of assertions rife with falsehoods from the president and his supporters storming the People’s House.
Well, why? In part because a protest is not where the objective truth of what people are hollering will be found. That’s elsewhere. The Times, and all of us till now, recorded what the aggrieved had to say without so much tut-tutting over every possibly false comment. What is shouted and sometimes on signs at BLM demonstrations, anti-Trump, end-the-lockdown, and, yes, pro-Trump rallies always has inaccurate statements. The news is the protesters’ aggrievement more than whether they are right in their facts. Till now, perhaps.
But yes, as we all know by now, there remains no credible evidence or witnesses to this president’s baseless claims of widespread fraud, unless you count his own, which is right out there in the open. Just listen. Certainly Georgia’s top elections official, a Republican, got an earful.
Let’s channel him a moment. “That’s just not true, Mr. President.”
Finally, one argument against what we view as doing our job to bear witness to notable events and issues in our community was that the protesters in Brunswick were in league with the insurrectionists. Except, um, that’s not true. They were engaging in peaceful protest.
The fact remains almost no Republicans would join in such despicable behavior, just as almost no Democrat would throw a Molotov cocktail.
Whatever one may think about why a fellow citizen is demonstrating, peaceful assembly is a hallowed American right. We don’t have to like it. Maybe that’s precisely why we need to see it.
But this is only my view. Some readers who weighed in with letters had plenty to say, below.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent, and Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.
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“You’ve heard me say this before: Every acre can and will burn someday in this state” — Cal Fire Director Thom Porter.