Skip to main content

Media and January 6th

Recap & Highlights

by Felicity Gancedo and Katherine Furl

On April 12, the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life hosted an event entitled Media and January 6th. Many contributors and co-editors of the Media and January 6th volume gathered to have panel discussions throughout the day.

Rather than treating January 6th as an isolated, “unprecedented” event, the panelists engaged in a deep and multifaceted examination of the state of American democracy. They called for a robust reevaluation of what democracy means in America, suggesting that a genuinely democratic society in the U.S. would involve an ongoing, critical examination of its foundational structures. The panelists advocated for a deeper reflection on the nature of democracy, who has historically been allowed to participate, and how these factors contributed to the events of January 6th.

All of the panels are available on the YouTube playlist Media and January 6th.

Read about each panel below.

Three photos of various panelists at table talking

Understanding January 6th

Hosted by CITAP Principal Investigator Shannon McGregor, the day’s first panel featured Dr. Scott Althaus (University of Illinois), Dr. Danielle Brown (Michigan State University), and CITAP Principal Investigators Drs. Alice Marwick and Francesca Tripodi. Dr. Althaus shared how his team at the Cline Center for Advanced Social Research considered the events of January 6th an attempted coup according to five criteria established in 2013. Dr. Brown compared and contrasted media representations of January 6th and BLM protests and activism, calling attention to the anti-Black, racist contexts in which terms like “riot” have been historically deployed. Dr. Marwick highlights how the concept of “radicalization” emerged in the context of post-9/11, widespread Islamophobia, and fear of the “Other;” as such, “far-right radicalization” misconstrues the normative, mainstream aspects of many far-right tenets. Dr. Tripodi considers how search engines can legitimate and validate preexisting worldviews, and how politicians can wield the power of search engines to organize socially harmful efforts. Dr. McGregor considers how oversaturation of the term “unprecedented” in media coverage of January 6th can lend the events a false sense of exceptionalism—something panelists note is dangerous insofar as it pushes a patriotic mythology of the contemporary American political climate rather than face reality.

“I think that the concept—our understanding—of what democracy is has been very whitewashed, and doesn’t recognize that the exclusionary powers that many are fighting against is baked into that system. So it’s often working as intended when it excludes. It was not created for all to participate in—there were very specific things put into place to ensure that not everyone got to vote. And so I think just recognizing that the normality of what we think of as democracy isn’t even really what was created in that space.” – Dr. Francesca Tripodi

Watch the Panel

Three photos of various panelists at table talking

Researching Threats to Democracy

Hosted by Dr. Rebekah Tromble (George Washington University), the second panel featured speakers Dr. Regina Lawrence, (University of Oregon, Portland), Dr. Jennifer Stromer-Galley (Syracuse University), Dr. Yunkang Yang (Texas A&M University), and Dr. Dave Karpf (George Washington University). Speakers emphasize the urgency with which researchers must meet this current sociopolitical moment to ensure the continued health of U.S. democracy. Dr. Lawrence asserts the attack on democracy did not end on January 6th, but was rather “a particularly conspicuous moment in a longstanding and ongoing assault on democracy.” Dr. Stromer-Galley reiterates the importance of considering the role of communication in the lead-up to January 6th, and argues former President Trump’s claims of a stolen election laid the groundwork for public distrust in the U.S. electoral process, creating the conditions for the attack on the Capitol. Dr. Yang considers the role of right-wing media outlets in whitewashing and redirecting blame related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Dr. Karpf contends it is necessary for there to be consequences for both Capitol rioters as well as politicians and other elites facilitating the contexts in which events like those occurring on January 6th are made possible.

“So what we [Regina and Whitney Phillips] essentially argue in the short chapter is that all of the efforts by legislators, researchers, journalists, etc., to reconstruct exactly what happened on January 6th are obviously very important—as Shannon and others have said earlier today; folks have to be accountable for what happened. But the attack on democracy didn’t end on January 6th. In order to best understand it, and to continue to illuminate what’s going on, we need to be thinking about January 6th as a particularly conspicuous moment in a long-standing and ongoing assault on democracy.” -Regina Lawrence

Watch the Panel

Defending Democracy

Hosted by Dr. Khadijah Costley White (Rutgers University), the third panel featured speakers Dr. Meredith Clark (Northeastern University), Dr. Silvio Waisbord (George Washington University), and Dr. Paul E. Johnson (University of Pittsburgh). Dr. Costley White opened the panel by imploring us to not just protect the democracy we have, but also are vigilant in recognizing the failures of our democracy both historically and at present. Dr. Clark reiterates this, noting the need to confront U.S. journalism’s legacy of normalizing the disposability of children, as well as Black death and dehumanization. Dr. Waisbord invites us to ask important questions as we work to defend democracy, including: Are we making progress? If yes, how do we know? And do enemies of democracy fear current informational approaches? Dr. Johnson considers the historical trajectory of “democracy” becoming a bad word in the U.S., how the January 6th coup is a logical extension of this trajectory, and how the journalistic and political paradox of tolerance versus how this can be abused as an anti-democratic weapon.

“The First Amendment is being gamed and weaponized in ways that people have not had to deal with, because they always saw themselves as part of “the people”…
If we had recognized and taught from the very beginning that this is a very limited right or freedom, I don’t think we would be in this mess right now. But what we have done is allow ourselves to imagine that we’re all part of the public, that everyone shares in this equally, that everyone has this protection—we don’t and we never did.
Until we correct that assumption, we are going to continue to be gamed by thinking we all have a buy-in in this, that we’re all experiencing it the same way. The system never was that way—the foundation was broken from the very beginning.” -Meredith Clark

Watch the Panel

Three photos of various panelists at table talking

Media, January 6th, and American History

In the event’s closing conversation, CITAP principal investigators Drs. Daniel Kreiss and Tressie McMillan Cottom and Dr. Dannagal Young (University of Delaware) consider past conversations throughout the day, how they relate to January 6, and how we may move forward. Dr. Young discusses the demand side of misinformation, and how many turn to the “Big Lie” that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen to satisfy fundamental needs for comprehension, control, and community. Dr. Cottom underscores the importance of acknowledging that, even if participants in the January 6th coup were unsuccessful in accomplishing all of their goals, that does not mean they did not accomplish some of their aims. Dr. Kreiss recenters the long history of political violence in the U.S., and noting the continued fragility of the U.S. as a democracy that is truly accessible to all across ethnoracial boundaries.

“It’s only by acknowledging that January 6th was political violence with political objectives rooted in political history can we actually start the hard work of creating an inclusive, equitable, multiracial democracy where differences are articulated in terms of adversaries and not enemies.” -Daniel Kreiss

Watch the Panel