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Congress and the media after Jan. 6

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This week marked a year since a pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol, trying to keep the lawfully elected Joe Biden from taking office as president. President Biden marked the occasion Thursday with a strongly worded speech to urge Americans not just to remember what happened that day but to see the threat posed to American democracy as he does, as ongoing. Here's part of what he said on Thursday.

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JOE BIDEN: I did not seek this fight brought to this Capitol one year ago today, but I will not shrink from it, either. I will stand in this breach. I will defend this nation. I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.

MARTIN: Needless to say, that violent attack took place in the context of deep divisions in this country, divisions that had been stoked or enabled by any number of forces. But those forces has to include the media. So we thought it appropriate to start the program today with a look within, to be frank, to consider how the media is or should be covering this critical moment and these divisions going forward. It's a big topic, but we thought we'd home in on Congress because that's where the attack took place. And that's also where the repercussions continue, with some members demanding accountability for what took place and others dismissing it and even denying that it happened. For that, we've called two veteran congressional reporters who were both at the Capitol the day of the attack. Kadia Goba is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News, and Paul Kane is a senior congressional correspondent and columnist for The Washington Post. And they're both with us now. Thank you both so much for joining us.

PAUL KANE: Thank you for hosting us.

KADIA GOBA: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Congress has seen intense conflict before, I mean, throughout history, I mean, I think, you know, over any number of things - the Vietnam War, certainly over slavery. You know, but now it's not unusual for members of Congress to make outright false statements - about the 2020 election, about COVID-19, about vaccines, about each other. And if they're not outright false, they're certainly incendiary. How do you think the media is handling that? Kadia, how do you think the media should handle that? I mean, does your news organization have a philosophy about that?

GOBA: Yeah. It's an ongoing struggle, right? So because in order to debunk a lie, you have to give life to it. You have to write about it. So journalists - well, I'll speak to - for myself. I'm always at odds at what's too much coverage about - on misinformation or the people that spew the misinformation versus what's not enough. And this is something I came across covering the presidential election, covering Trump.

I think my editors at BuzzFeed News have the right idea. They're just always asking the question, have our readers seen this before? So not only is it about not amplifying misinformation but also not rewriting the same story just to knock it down again, which, I mean, after a while, it just starts to result in diminishing returns. So I think that's one way to handle it.

MARTIN: Paul, where are you on this? - because you're both a reporter, and you're also a columnist. You have a local audience, and you also have a national audience. And you see this argument playing out all the time. On the one hand, people say, why are you giving these statements air? You know, why are you kind of giving these statements any kind of a platform at all? But other people say, if you're not creating a record, how are you - how can you demand accountability if people don't know that these things are being said? Where do - how do you think about this?

KANE: Look, Michel, I wish we had a better answer. And I wish we had a more fulsome, detailed policy on it at The Post, but the reality is it's kind of ad hoc. It's kind of case by case. You know, I think of Congresswoman Boebert and when she was caught telling just a completely made-up story about riding an elevator with Ilhan Omar and, you know, of a fake Capitol Police officer being worried that Omar was actually a terrorist.

MARTIN: Basically, just to catch people up, Lauren Boebert is a member of Congress from Colorado. She made this - what she obviously considered a joke sort of implying that Ilhan Omar, because she is a Muslim, is somehow - you know, had a backpack, and so therefore she said that she was, you know, scared and plotting. This was played up for laughs, and it's obviously racist and offensive.

KANE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Obviously racist and offensive. And now the question becomes what should be done about this? But members are still arguing about whether she should be censured or sanctioned in some way for this. Similarly, it was a similar incident earlier where another member distributed an anime that implied that a colleague of his should be harmed. I mean, so there have been a number of these incidents. So just to catch people up on that, your take on that is what? Like, how to how to handle that?

KANE: It's really difficult because you can't ignore these things. But at the same time, the whole adage that, you know, sunshine is the best disinfectant is an adage that's built on the idea that there is shame, that people will be shamed by sunshine, and they will then clean up their act. Well, Boebert initially - when it first came out about, you know, the leaked video showing her making up this story about Ilhan Omar, she kind of apologized, and it almost looked like there was - this was going to be a moment. And they were going - she wanted to have an in-person meeting, and this was all going to happen.

Well, that didn't happen. They had a call. It fell apart, and Boebert started yelling at her. And rather than being shamed, ultimately, what came out of it was Boebert being energized. She felt validated by all of this, and she doubled and tripled down on the behavior. And so that's where you get into this, like, weird, you know, terrible catch-22 or whatever metaphor you want to use because if we keep giving air and oxygen to this in order to try and explain how bad it is, their actions, if there's no shame, then there's no disinfectant. And I don't know where the line is. I'm not sure how to handle it. And we've grappled with this for several years now, and we don't have an answer. And, you know, Kadia is being, you know, brutally honest, too. In BuzzFeed, they try to have a system, but it's not a perfect one.

MARTIN: So it just - I'm just saying, hearing from both of you, that this is still an ongoing struggle. There really is no sort of hard-and-fast rule that you feel like you can apply to these changing circumstances. I just wanted to ask each of you, is there something that is fundamentally different about the way you do your job after January 6 and before January 6? Is there something that has sort of fundamentally changed for you in doing this work as a result of what happened last year? Kadia, do you want to start?

GOBA: Sure. Yeah. I'm very pointed with my questions nowadays. I am writing, trying to be unique in writing smart stories that just don't amplify the misinformation. Buzzfeed News is really big on, like, misinformation and, like, trying to dissect it.

MARTIN: Big on highlighting misinformation, is that what you mean?

GOBA: Correct - and trying to dissect it, right? Just trying to understand where it's coming from, who it's impacting. I think one of the biggest challenges in the newsroom is how do we reach the audience that is reading the misleading information, right? I think the best examples are exploring some of that misinformation and showing how people got there and maybe what they're doing as a result of being bombarded with misinformation. I think, like, stories about familial splits are really strong - you know, where the parent is, like, ostracized because they have been watching certain types of television all day long, and they just have been convinced that the election is stolen, things like that. I didn't think about writing those stories two years ago when I came to DC.

MARTIN: Paul, what about you? Is there something that's fundamentally changed for you in the way you do your job as a result of what happened last year?

KANE: You know, I'll be honest. When it comes to stories about what happened on January 6 in the last year, it's harder, you know? We lived it - Kadia, me and couple thousand others of - that were inside the building that day. And, you know, I think about watching that vote to award the Congressional Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal to the police that were there that day protecting us.

MARTIN: And what about going forward, as you look forward to covering the events of this year, not only the sort of the policy events of this year but the sort of midterm elections? Is there something that you think is fundamentally different or that has - you - just something that you feel is fundamentally necessary?

KANE: I think, you know, the - misinformation is going to be a key thing as to whether or not that continues to play a role. You know, the voters who are in these purple-ish swing districts that are going to determine the majority in Congress, you know, I don't know how much they're still impacted by that day. And instead, are they really just - do they really just want the Biden administration to finally get its testing regimen down pat and so their kids can go back to school and they can fully reopen their suburban office parks? I don't know yet whether January 6 is going to play a big role in those elections. And that's something that I'm kind of waiting to see.

MARTIN: That was Paul Kane, senior congressional correspondent and columnist for The Washington Post, and Kadia Goba, political reporter for BuzzFeed News. Thank you both so much for doing this with us, and thank you both for your work.

KANE: Thank you.

GOBA: Thank you for having us.

(SOUNDBITE OF DARDUST'S "LOST AND FOUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.