NEW YORK (AP) – The storming of the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump aired widely on television Wednesday, with shocking images of guns drawn in the House of Representatives and head-to-head clashes with police.
The scenes of chaos and fear at the headquarters of the national government, which left four dead including a woman shot, were soon broadcast, but journalists wondered if it was something to be surprised about.
“It’s hard to believe this is happening,” said CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “This is unprecedented, it is dangerous, and it is so, so embarrassing to the United States of America.”
Social media giants Twitter and Facebook took the unprecedented step of suspending Trump’s privileges to post messages on their platforms, at least temporarily. Both companies said Trump had violated their policies.
Reporters had gathered to follow the electoral college vote tally in Congress to seal President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, an event that is often routine but became tense when some Trump political allies questioned the votes.
As that debate unfolded, the attention of the press shifted outside Congress, where supporters who had gathered to hear a president agitated and furious at his defeat began to head to the Capitol. They climbed the steps of the building, where a person was holding a banner that read “Fight for Trump.”
After forcing into the building, photos emerged of security guards protecting politicians inside and pointing their weapons at protesters. As politicians took cover behind their desks, the crowd smashed windows and kept climbing into the building. Newsmax showed impressive footage of police officers and rioters clashing in the Capitol rotunda.
“The mob has bypassed the process to try to certify the electoral college,” said Fox News Channel reporter Chad Pergram. “Security here at the United States Capitol has failed.”
In the face of Trump’s speech and his two months of unfounded accusations that the election was rigged, several journalists questioned why authorities seemed so ill-prepared.
“What shocked me was how easy this was,” said NBC’s Chuck Todd.
As footage of people banging on the Capitol door was broadcast, ABC News host George Stephanopoulos said: “This is not Ukraine, this is not Belarus.”
There were debates in the country’s newsrooms over what terminology to use to describe those who stormed the Capitol. Protesters? Rioters? A mob? CNN’s Jake Tapper said “we call them terrorists.” NBC’s Lester Holt noted that “there are some elements of a coup attempt.”
CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell conducted an extraordinary interview with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, asking if he had asked Trump to do anything to stop his supporters and confronting whether the allegations are false widespread electoral fraud had led to this.
“I’m just wondering if anyone is … going to call things by name and I’m giving it a chance now,” O’Donnell said.
Biden spoke to the nation, followed by Trump. The president asked his supporters to abide by the law and go home, but also told them he “loved” them and repeated his accusations of a stolen election. Tapper wondered if CNN should have carried that message.
On CNBC, Shepard Smith ordered the recording of Trump’s message to stop midway through. “Stop the tape,” he said. “That is not true, and we are not going to broadcast it.”
CNN’s Abby Phillip went further, saying that Americans should question whether Trump is capable of ruling the country for the next two weeks.
“It is inciting violence against the government itself, anarchy, vandalism and it is also completely missing in terms of its main job, which is to keep the country safe,” he said.
Even as the building was attacked, Trump supporters in the press questioned who was responsible. On One America News Network, host Dan Ball said the violence was nothing like last year’s civil rights protests and suggested, without evidence, that perhaps protesters from the far-left Antifa movement who may have masqueraded as supporters Trump to attack the Capitol.
“We don’t have all the information,” he said.
Before the scale of the violence inside the Capitol was known, Fox host Martha MacCallum called the raid a “great victory” for protesters. He said they had “disrupted the system in a huge way” and that it was an escalation of protests that included a demonstration outside the home of Republican Senator Josh Hawley.
There were tense moments for reporters outside the Capitol. A Fox News reporter asked a man to stop blocking his camera. A team from The Associated Press had their equipment robbed and destroyed.
The deep divisions in the country were highlighted in the media before and after the protesters arrived at the Capitol. Fox News Channel, Newsmax and OANN presented the President’s speech on Wednesday live. CNN and MSNBC ignored the president’s words.
When Congress resumed the debate Wednesday night, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC presented a portion of Utah Senator Mitt Romney’s speech condemning the objections to the certification of the vote. Fox did not show Romney.
The country’s major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, devoted their entire primetime to the drama in Washington.
AP journalists Lynn Elber in Los Angeles, and Tali Arbel and Mona Lisa Malone in New York contributed to this report.