What the January 6 Texts Do and Don’t Show
On Monday night, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) created a media firestorm when she began reading aloud a series of texts sent to Trump White House chief-of-staff Mark Meadows during the Jan. 6 attack. Cheney is heading the congressional committee looking into that day’s events, and she voiced the findings at a televised meeting.
The texts, supplied to the committee by Meadows, revealed pleas from Fox News hosts and Donald Trump Jr. to get then President Trump to call off the pro-Trump rioters who were storming the Capitol.
“Mark, the President needs to tell people in the Capitol to go Home. This is hurting all of us,” texted Laura Ingraham. “He is destroying his legacy.”
“Can he make a statement, ask people to leave the Capitol,” texted Sean Hannity.
“Please get him on TV,” Brian Kilmeade urged. “Destroying everything you have accomplished.”
“He’s got to condemn this sh*t ASAP,” texted the president’s son. “The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.” In a reply, Meadows agreed with Don Jr.’s sentiments.
As has been reported, Trump and his team received several other similar pleas from members of congress who were trapped inside the Capitol at the time. But it was hours before Trump heeded their calls.
The texts have understandably generated a lot of reaction, with both sides of the political aisle expressing what they think is and isn’t significant about them. I figured I’d take a quick minute to do the same.
Let’s start with what the texts don’t show.
They don’t show that there was “a coordinated conspiracy to overthrow the government springing from Fox News and its ilk.”
They don’t show that there was “collusion” between President Trump, Fox News, and rioters during the attack.
They don’t show that the collective right is pro-riot or pro-violence.
Who’s insisting otherwise, in regard to the texts? Well, I’m not really sure. But a number of media-conservatives are insisting that these are indeed valid counter-arguments to criticism directed at Fox and Trump supporters over the story.
Personally, what I find significant is what the texts do show (and I’m not talking about how cozy Fox News personalities were with the administration, or the weirdness of Trump’s own son not having a direct line to his dad).
The texts show that some commentators who’ve spent the last year downplaying the attack, and Trump’s role and responsibility in it, were fully aware of how serious the situation was that day. They recognized gross negligence in Trump’s inaction, and they understood who the rioters were (not Antifa, as some of them later suggested to Fox's audience). And because they knew the rioters were faithful Trump supporters, they understood that Trump had it within his power to stop them.
On January 6, these media personalities took a short break from their regularly scheduled cable-news personas (which had included two months of entertaining Trump’s false claims of a “rigged election” — the narrative that caused the riot), and actually tried to do the right thing at an important time in U.S. history.
They even framed their appeals smartly, casting the situation as harmful to Trump's legacy and accomplishments — things a man of his runaway ego would assuredly find more important than the safety of those trapped inside the building.
One cheer for the Fox hosts.
But in front of the cameras, in the months since, it’s been a different story. On these people's shows, Trump has been largely absolved of any wrong-doing related to January 6. The violence that occurred that day has been minimized, trivialized, and attributed mostly to a security lapse. Trump’s impeachment has been described as an act of “psychotic rage”, and congressional investigations (even the notion of them) have been wholly dismissed as partisan “witch hunts.” The handful of Republicans that supported either or both initiatives have been branded as liberals, RINOs, and traitors.
Ingraham even famously mocked the testimony of Capitol police officers — some of whom went through hell that day — as performance art.
On Monday night, hours after the texts story broke in a very big way, both Hannity and Ingraham ignored it on their respective shows. Hannity even had Mark Meadows on as a guest, and mentioned nothing about their January 6th correspondence. I suspect they’ll be publicly pressured into bringing it up (maybe even tonight), but it isn’t hard to understand why they may have chosen not to.
The answer isn't fear of hypocrisy. If that were a concern, they and many of their cable-news colleagues would have chosen a different line of work long ago.
This morning, a friend said to me about the story, “The saddest part to me is that instead of Trump's behavior being scandalous, the Fox people involved are afraid that the texts will cause their audience to abandon them for failing to support Trump on 1/6.”