Newsrooms have begun to specialize in covering challenges to the right to vote, administration of elections and disinformation.
The hearings held by the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol are more than a didactic narrative about the attempted coup d’état orchestrated by Donald Trump.
The well-produced spectacle of testimony interspersed with videos and graphics makes the fact that the invasion of the Capitol was the first act, not the culmination, of an unusual authoritarian upheaval even more clear.
The November midterms look to be one of the most insecure in recent memory, with state legislatures trying to guarantee that the failure to steal the 2020 election doesn’t repeat itself.
American media, whose failure to expose the danger represented by a playboy candidate with a resume containing decades of dirty business in New York and an obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails are a lamentable chapter in the history of the free press, seems to be emerging from the gullibility that cost so much.
In at least two major American newsrooms, a new editorial focus is joining traditional beats such as finance and sports. It is the Democracy beat, something unimaginable here 10 years ago. At The New York Times, the team of reporters enlisted to cover elections this year was described by the major English-language newspaper as the “Democracy Team.”
The Associated Press, the oldest and largest wire service in the country, named reporter Tom Verdin as its Democracy News Editor, assigned to cover “challenges to the right to vote, the administration of elections and disinformation.”
In the case of The New York Times, the change of tone is notable given the newspaper’s influence. In March 2017, with Trump recently installed in the White House, then-Executive Editor Dean Baquet ridiculed his competitor, The Washington Post, for its new and prescient slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” printed below the masthead. “Their slogan … sounds like the next Batman movie,” Baquet lashed out sarcastically.
In an interview on American public radio, Baquet’s successor, Joe Kahn, recently recognized that independent journalism does not exist in a society that is not free. For this reason, he explained, journalists are not impartial about the risk to the country of losing liberty.
The Trump years, in the U.S. and in Brazil, with Trump in the White House and his subservient clone sitting terrified today in the Planalto, exposed much about how fragile democratic systems are; they depend on a social consensus, not just on laws and a free press deluded about its role.*
Extremist voices that support fascism through the ballot box have gained ground in the name of listening to both sides. The side that acts to promote the coup d’état does not need an editorial perch; it needs handcuffs and legitimate prosecution before a court of law. Spreading disinformation from whomever wants to terrorize a part of the population is not objectivity; it is washing one’s hands of the demolition in progress.
We will not completely know the historic impact the Jan. 6 commission will have this year at the polls, or on the 2024 presidential election. To have a beneficial impact on the future, the commission needs to expose what the political press waited so long to admit: Trump happened because the system was rotten.
He was the boil we could see. The bacteria had already been infecting the body of American politics for decades.
*Editor’s note: The original language version of this article is available with a paid subscription.
**Editor’s note: The Planalto is the official workplace of the president of Brazil.