The false and exaggerated claims still being spread about the Capitol riot

What took place at the Capitol on January 6 was undoubtedly a politically motivated riot. As such, it should not be controversial to regard it as a dangerous episode. Any time force or violence is introduced into what ought to be the peaceful resolution of political conflicts, it should be lamented and condemned.

But none of that justifies lying about what happened that day, especially by the news media. Condemning that riot does not allow, let alone require, echoing false claims in order to render the event more menacing and serious than it actually was. There is no circumstance or motive that justifies the dissemination of false claims by journalists. The more consequential the event, the less justified, and more harmful, serial journalistic falsehoods are.

Yet this is exactly what has happened, and continues to happen, since that riot almost seven weeks ago. And anyone who tries to correct these falsehoods is instantly attacked with the cynical accusation that if you want only truthful reporting about what happened, then you’re trying to “minimize” what happened and are likely an apologist for if not a full-fledged supporter of the protesters themselves.

One of the most significant of these falsehoods was the tale — endorsed over and over without any caveats by the media for more than a month — that Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick was murdered by the pro-Trump mob when they beat him to death with a fire extinguisher. That claim was first published by The New York Times on January 8 in an article headlined “Capitol Police Officer Dies From Injuries in Pro-Trump Rampage.” It cited “two [anonymous] law enforcement officials” to claim that Sicknick died “with the mob rampaging through the halls of Congress” and after he “was struck with a fire extinguisher.”

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