On CNN, White House reporter Jim Acosta called it a “bonfire of the insanities.” NBC anchor Lester Holt told viewers it resembled “a coup attempt”

From a Washington Post story by Jeremy Barr and Paul Farhi headlined “From historic day to ‘insurrection,’ how the mob takeover of the Capitol unfolded in news coverage”:

A day that began with a series of news events long in the making — a protest rally, a congressional vote — unexpectedly morphed into chaos on Wednesday, prompting a slow-dawning reaction by the TV networks and the rest of the media.

As many screens were fixed on the joint session of Congress debating challenges to Joe Biden’s electoral victory, the story began to change about 1:15 p.m.: Protesters from a rally promoted by President Trump began to converge by the thousands on the U.S. Capitol, cheered on by Trump himself.

What began as Trump-orchestrated stagecraft quickly turned into mob action that had TV commentators grasping for ever more extreme adjectives — “insurrection,” “anarchism,” “domestic terrorism.”. . .

Late-arriving law enforcement officials, including National Guard troops, appeared to restore some order around sunset, but not before a series of disturbing images rolled across TV screens. The footage included video of rioters smashing windows to enter the Capitol and interlopers roaming about unimpeded in the House and Senate chambers and occupying offices, including that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

On CNN, White House reporter Jim Acosta called it a “bonfire of the insanities.” Anchor Jake Tapper termed it “a disgraceful moment in U.S. history.” NBC anchor Lester Holt told viewers it resembled “a coup attempt”. . .

The chaos picked up steam at an hour when most of the television networks focused primarily on the congressional process. It took time for many reporters and producers to realize what was going on and shift their coverage as congressional correspondents turned into war correspondents, phoning in reports as they ducked for cover. . . .

At 2:22 p.m., the situation was still calm enough for Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins to observe: “It has been peaceful, I should point out. Everything we have seen so far has been nothing but peaceful.”. . .

The tone began to change within minutes.

As the confusion mounted, the networks were forced to adjust on the fly. At one point, Fox News anchor Dana Perino was overheard saying, “Do we have Bret?,” referring to co-anchor Bret Baier. At another point, she said, “Who? I can’t hear.”

MSNBC anchor Katy Tur said she wasn’t aware of the impending chaos until she saw Vice President Pence rushed out of the Chamber, and she interrupted the broadcast to shift gears. “I realized that the situation was suddenly a whole lot more dire than angry protesters outside the Capitol.”

Reporters, anchors and commentators on all the major broadcast and cable news networks were quick to call out the behavior of the rioters in fierce, direct language — even on Fox News, until recently the president’s favorite television channel.

Baier, who bemoaned the “dangerous situation,” criticized Trump and said he needed to do more than send a tweet asking his supporters to not attack police officers. “He said he was a law-and-order candidate,” Baier said. “This is anything but law and order.”

CNN’s Tapper blamed Trump for encouraging the rampage, saying that his rhetoric at the “Stop the Steal” rally on the White House Ellipse amounted to “spilling fuel like the Exxon Valdez” on a volatile situation.

“We are watching an attempt at sedition,” Tapper said. “We are watching an attempt at a bloodless coup.” He called the event a “shameful, disgusting situation,” but said that it was “eminently predictable” based on the actions and words of the president, who had told his supporters not to give up the fight.

He later mused openly about whether it was time for Trump’s Cabinet to invoke the Constitution’s 25th Amendment and remove him from office two weeks before Biden’s inauguration. . . .

On MSNBC, viewers saw photos of police officers with guns drawn. A woman with a bloodied face was seen being brought out of the Capitol on a stretcher.

Chuck Todd, who hosts an afternoon show on MSNBC, described them as “terrorists and protesters” who were “terrorizing this country.”. . .

On ABC, congressional correspondent Mary Bruce started talking about “protesters” but caught herself: “We should point out that’s probably not the word we should be using — these anarchists. . . .”

On CNBC, anchor Shepard Smith teed up the president’s just-released video encouraging his supporters at the Capitol to disperse. But when it opened with Trump’s familiar false claims about the election — “an election that was stolen from us” — Smith cut it short.

“Stop! Stop the tape,” Smith said. “That is not true. And we are not airing it.”. . .

CNN tried to sum up the events of the afternoon in just six words: “INSURRECTION IN WASHINGTON FOLLOWING TRUMP ENCOURAGEMENT.”

Jeremy Barr covers breaking news about the media industry for The Washington Post.

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post’s media reporter. He started at The Post in 1988 and has been a financial reporter, a political reporter and a Style reporter.

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