When a woman in red MAGA hat and a rhinestone jacket glittered past reporters on Wednesday afternoon, they swarmed. Cameras and recording devices went into the air. Asked whether she believed in Joe Biden’s inaugural promise to be a president for all Americans, the woman replied “not at all,” and launched into a diatribe about being silenced on social media. “Our voices aren’t being heard,” she said, as a line of other reporters waited their turn to interview her.
If you were a visitor to D.C. for Biden’s inauguration, chances are you were either there as law enforcement or as a reporter. The National Guard enveloped the city; I was there to capture the promised return of the far-right groups that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. So far, it hasn’t happened. There was no official pro-Trump event scheduled—the one right-wing group that applied for a permit didn’t respond to follow-up emails and secure it with the National Park Service—but a handful of Trump supporters did come. And when they did, MAGA-starved reporters didn’t miss their chance.
A few steps away, another reporter interviewed someone else with Trump gear and an American flag scarf. As she delivered her America First spiel—“it’s a movement of freedom in America who are standing for life and freedom”; “we’re passionate because we feel so misunderstood”—she gained an audience of at least half a dozen reporters.
I asked some of the reporters lining up what they hoped to get. “You have to show everyone’s truth, and the public can decide what’s true or not. That’s our job,” one told me—not quite a signal of a lesson learned the past four years. Another said, “I don’t want to pre-judge them.” I asked him if he was surprised by anything he’d heard that day. He admitted he wasn’t.
I’m in no position to judge. I’ve done my own work in the genre, more or less. But the desolate vibe in D.C. on Tuesday felt like the last gasp of an era of reporters desperately glommed on to a “misunderstood” political class—the same one that had been explaining itself over and over to an eager press for more than four years—with nothing else to sustain it. When the crowds didn’t show, no one seemed quite sure what to do. So they stuck to tradition, and queued up next to anyone who looked camera-ready in a red hat.
For my part, I did notice one Trump guy who managed to avoid the gathered journalists. I introduced myself. He declined to be interviewed, telling me, “I’m pissed off. Trump let me down.” Then he walked off, and I did too.
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