Throughout 2020, members of the media consistently downplayed, made excuses for and at times bolstered violent left-wing riots that shook America. The same media quickly and forcefully condemned Wednesday the Trump supporters who descended on and stormed the U.S. Capitol, often using the term they had avoided for so long — rioting.
Riots hit America following the death of George Floyd in late May, with destruction targeting both big and small cities: New York, Washington, D.C., Kenosha, Portland and more.
Despite videos showing the riots, the media consistently downplayed them. As multiple buildings in Minneapolis burned to the ground behind him, MSNBC’s Ali Velshi declared the scene to be “not, generally speaking, unruly” in May.
“I want to be clear on how I characterize this,” Velshi said as he stood in front of a burning building. “This is mostly a protest. It is not, generally speaking, unruly but fires have been started and this crowd is relishing that.”
When supporters of President Donald Trump rioted Wednesday and broke into the Capitol, Velshi had a very different description, labeling the situation with a variety of strong words:
Words I will use on TV tonight:
I am hearing from fellow journalists who are being told not to use these words. Resists attempts to censor your language. Democracy depends on bearing witness & holding power to account.
— Ali Velshi (@AliVelshi) January 7, 2021
“Resists [sic] attempts to censor your language. Democracy depends on bearing witness & holding power to account,” he declared. Later, Velshi condemned journalists who didn’t use similar language and who tried to normalize the situation, despite him doing so in Minneapolis.
“Any journalist who sugar coats their language or normalizes what has happened today isn’t doing their job,” Velshi tweeted. “Our job is to bear witness & tell the truth: Trump is attempting a coup, and inciting violence.”
CNN, too, worked to downplay and justify rioting throughout 2020. In August, a CNN chyron boldly called the riots in Kenosha, which saw multiple buildings burn to the ground, as “fiery but mostly peaceful.”
CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez spoke to viewers with a gas mask around his neck and goggles on his head as a building burned in the background.
“Our country was started because, the Boston Tea Party,” Lemon said. “Rioting. So do not get it twisted and think this is something that has never happened before and this is so terrible and these savages and all of that. This is how this country was started.”
Only when rioting began to affect President-elect Joe Biden’s chances at winning the 2020 election did Lemon call for condemnation.
CNN’s Don Lemon says that the riots across the country have to stop because it might hurt the Democrats’ chances in November:
“It’s showing up in the polling. It’s showing up in the focus groups.”pic.twitter.com/s6lea8slwr
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) August 26, 2020
The network’s host Brian Stelter played a role, too, claiming in July that the “right-wing media” was simply playing “up Portland protest ‘violence.'”
“Right-wing media ramped up its coverage of scattered unrest in Portland, Oregon last week at roughly the same time that federal officers descended on the downtown area,” Stelter wrote on July 20, despite video evidence showing consistent unrest in the city. “[Fox News’ Sean] Hannity and other Fox hosts evidently decided that a small group of self-described anarchists suddenly deserved national news coverage.”
The network’s coverage of the Wednesday riot showed a stark difference to these examples. Lemon wondered incredulously why “everyone [is] saying they’re shocked by this,” adding that “this was inevitable.”
CNN’s Chris Cuomo seemed to defend how the network covered previous riots, tweeting, “Remind me when they stormed the capitol and somehow went unchecked most of the time?” (RELATED: Here Are 31 Times The Media Pushed Narratives Downplaying Riots And Looting After George Floyd’s Death)
At one point during riots in 2020, he asked viewers to “show me where it says that protesters are supposed to be polite and peaceful.” But, Cuomo’s attitude had a big shift when Trump supporters rioted on Wednesday.
“Protestors use speech. Angry. Not peaceful often … outraged, cursing … and that is protected. Sedition is not. Criminality is not. These were mobs that trashed the capitol and got light treatment for it. This is where we are. And it is ugly,” Cuomo tweeted.
I dont. Protestors use speech. Angry. Not peaceful often…outraged, cursing…and that is protected. Sedition is not. Criminality is not. These were mobs that trashed the capitol and got light treatment for it. This is where we are. And it is ugly. https://t.co/tOmG2odfOB
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) January 7, 2021
Meanwhile, the network as a whole finally called an event for what it was: A riot. (RELATED: Media Downplays Ongoing Violence In Portland, Claims ‘Right-Wing’ Outlets Are Playing Up The Unrest)
Cable news was not the only group to downplay the 2020 riots but forcefully condemn the Capitol riot. As rioting began to break out following Floyd’s death, Rolling Stone republished an article titled “9 Historical Triumphs to Make You Rethink Property Destruction.”
Rolling Stone editors added a note when it republished: “Protests erupted in Minneapolis, and have since spread across the country. Once again, some are criticizing the destruction of property as somehow equal — or worse — than the destruction of lives.”
No such article appeared during the Trump riots. Instead, the publication published an article declaring that “The Attempted Coup at the Capitol Proves This Is the United States of QAnon.”
“A mob descended on Washington D.C. today, proving that internet conspiracy theories can have violent, real-life consequences,” the article reads.
Mother Jones attacked the use of the word “riot” back in June in an article titled: “The Reliably Racist Cherry-Picking of the Word ‘Riot.'”
“From ‘rioters’ to ‘looters,’ newsrooms across the country are turning to headlines and tropes historically used to single out and vilify communities of color protesting police brutality,” according to the article, which claimed the word should be “used situationally.”
The same publication spared no hesitation in using the word to describe the Capitol riot.
“At Today’s Riot, Trump’s Trolls Turned Their Violent Fantasies Into Reality,” one article was titled.
Media Research Center executive editor Tim Graham condemned the sudden shift in coverage in a statement to Fox News, saying that “it’s not hard to find prominent voices on the left who are suddenly finding lawlessness inexcusable, after suggesting it was excusable if it forwarded their agenda.”
“They used words like ‘rebellion’ to glamourize unrest,” he said.
Many others were quick to point out the differences, too, with journalist Megyn Kelly writing that the “media’s hypocrisy in condemning riots so indignantly after downplaying violent BLM riots all summer is obvious.”
“The double standard with regard to rioting in the media (it’s good when it’s BLM, it’s bad when it’s Trump supporters) is egregious. And vice versa for those who engage in whataboutism,” commentator Ben Shapiro noted.