Journalists are tying themselves in knots about what words to use, what to call the actions yesterday, what to call the people who incited and engaged in them. Choosing the words is the ultimate job of the journalist.
Let me propose a historical way to view what is occurring now. I am coming to see #BlackLivesMatter as the recent culmination of the long American Racial Reformation. The Martin Luthers of our time are Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, who made #BLM a movement, and Stacey Abrams and especially the Black women who have finally brought our electoral victories, and so many more who have fought for so long. Their new tools include — just include — social media. Their cause is equity and reparation.
What we saw at the Capitol on January 6 was the Counter-Reformation, an effort by institutions — the Republican Party — and people — white men — to hold onto the power they see themselves losing at last. Their tools are Donald Trump, right-wing media (at the same time, they are the tools of Rupert Murdoch), the complacency and fear of mass media, and intimidation and violence. Their cause is white supremacy.
Journalists love to say they are writing the “first draft of history.” That is journalists saying that they ignore history, that everything they report is new, thus news. Our job must be to put current events in context. To report on Donald Trump and his incitement of violence and sedition and as anything less than a racist coup aimed at burning down the institutions of democracy and resurrecting Jim Crow is wrong and irresponsible. It is a lie of omission. It is not journalism.
Yet we see editors fretting about the fine points. See CBS:
“Overly dramatic?” How could one not express the day as dramatic? How could one see what occurred as anything other than an attempt to stop and take over government: a coup? This is paternalistic pandering by the editors at CBS. It is irresponsible.
On the other hand, Marty Baron of the Washington Post told his journalists to use “mob” not “protestor.” Good. The again, the L.A. Times allowed the insurgents to call what they engaged in “a second revolution.” Not good.
In the midst of it all, I tweeted asking journalists to select the right words. Among mine: Coup. Insurgent. Insurrection. Fascist. Terrorist. Traitor. Sedition. Racist.
Has the institution of journalism learned nothing after four years of avoiding the words “lie” and “liar”, “racist” and “white supremacy” — not to mention “narcissism” and “insanity”?
Now is the time to stand up and call a coup a coup in the hopes that it does not get worse. I pray we are not at the beginning of a Thirty Years’ War.