In last Thursday’s news report, “DC mob protests election results,” Gerard Edic wrote, “The protesters ... overpowered Capitol Police, broke into the Capitol,” and “disrupted and temporarily delayed the ... vote count.” The headline and the lead paragraph both described the entire crowd as a “mob.” Further in, the article referred to rioters who perpetrated violence.
To call all the protesters a “mob” is to smear the whole crowd with guilt for the actions of a fraction.
Mr. Edic and the headline editor refused to believe Susan Spiller’s report on location that “out of the thousands of people present, only ‘a small percentage ... did some bad things.’” Instead, in his lead sentence, Mr. Edic wrote Mrs. Spiller into the mob.
When a news reporter fails to be accurate, he is about as useful as a house painter hired to paint window frames, but he covers the glass with paint, too. The window got painted, but can anyone see through it? Mr. Edic’s news story got written, but who is any wiser for reading it?
At the same time, I commend the Commonwealth for showing the photograph of 10 of the protesters who traveled from North Mississippi to Washington, D.C. A picture is harder to twist.
Also, the Commonwealth interviewed a character witness who testified that Mrs. Spiller is not “the type ... to assault the Capitol and attack” the mechanisms of self-government. No question about it. And she did no such thing. But the same could and should have been said of the vast majority of people who went to D.C. to declare they have been convinced by evidence that elections in six states lacked integrity.
The vast majority of protesters were not a mob, did not riot and did not intrude into the U.S. Capitol building.
I realize that, when she spoke to Mr. Edic the first time, Mrs. Spiller spoke beyond her knowledge when she denied any violence. She was unaware that some people were violently breaking windows and ransacking offices.
And she stepped into the same error Mr. Edic committed when she used the word “we” to refer to all who showed up at the demonstration. She mistakenly included agitators who overwhelmed police officers and damaged the Capitol building because she was unaware that had happened.
For Mrs. Spiller, it was a mistake made in ignorance. For Gerard Edic, it was a deliberate smear to paint the whole crowd of protesters the same color as the breakaway faction that intruded into the Capitol building.
A protest on the Mall and on the grounds outside the Capitol building by many thousands of people was an actual event. An intrusion into the Capitol building by a few hundred rioters was also. The two events are not works of fiction that news reporters and editors are privileged to re-invent as one event with the same cast of characters.
Journalists pitted the reputation of the Commonwealth against the reputation of Susan Spiller. That’s not a contest to enter lightly. Whether prominent or obscure, however, no one’s reputation is to be trifled with.