The Capitol Riot and Fox News

A large plurality of the network's viewers think left wingers trying to make Trump look bad are to blame.

MEDIAite’s Tommy Christopher points to a new poll showing a “Whopping 68% of Fox News Viewers Blame Jan. 6 on ‘Left-Wing Protesters Trying To Make Trump Look Bad.’

A whopping 68% of Fox News viewers blame the Jan. 6 attack on “Left-wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad,” the most of any viewership group by almost double.

Respondents to a new Yahoo! News/YouGov poll, were asked “How much are each of the following to blame for the January 6 attack on the Capitol?”

Among all respondents, the least-popular response was “Left wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad” with 43 percent saying they were to blame either “a great deal” or “some” for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

But in extended crosstabs for that poll, 68% of Fox News viewers said that “Left wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad” were to blame either “a great deal” or “some” for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

That’s more than double the 32% of CNN viewers and 25% of MSNBC viewers who say left-wing protesters were to blame either “a great deal” or “some” for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 37% of respondents who “don’t watch” any of the networks said the same.

Fox viewers were also least likely to say that then-President Donald Trump “is most to blame for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol?”, while MSNBC viewers were most likely to say so. Trump was also the top pick for most blame among all respondents.

Here’s the graphic breakdown:

That Fox and MSNBC viewers would have different takes is hardly surprising. These are people who self-select news filtered through an ideological prism and listen to highly partisan commentators. That’s naturally going to reinforce preexisting biases and shape one’s perception of new information. If you get most of your news from Fox at this stage,* you’re either pretty much all-in on the Big Lie or you’re a Democrat enjoying the dumpster fire.

But there’s more to it than that. While we see stark differences on other partisan questions, the differences aren’t as jolting.

Right direction/wrong track:

Biden job performance:

Generic party preference for the upcoming Congressional election:

Whether Trump should run again in 2024:

(An aside: that MSNBC viewers are far more interested in voting for Democrats in November than Fox News viewers are in voting for Republicans is interesting given the disastrous poll numbers for Democrats. Then again, they’re wildly more enthusiastic about Biden’s job performance than Democrats writ large.)

That there was a Democratic infiltrator or two among the rioters egging them on is true. But the idea that this was a significant contributor to the riot—let alone “most to blame”—is simply looney toons. Clearly, this idea is being pushed over and over again by Fox commentators. It’s far and away the plurality explanation their viewers have for the riots and barely a blip for those who watch CNN or eschew cable news altogether.

More Fox viewers think Biden is doing a good job (20%) and that the country is generally on the right track (15%) than think Trump was mostly responsible for the riot (10%). Hell, more say they’re going to vote Democratic in November (18%) than attribute the riots to Republican officeholders (16%). Even adding in the pro-Trump demonstrators and right-wing extremist groups only gets us to 38%—still five points shy of left-wing agitators. That’s not a partisan filter; it’s just nuts.

UPDATE (8:02): Two other minor points occur to me.

  1. Essentially as many Fox Newsers want Trump to run again (50%) as blame left wingers for the riot (48%); that’s well within the larger sampling margin, much less for the crosstab.
  2. I suppose it’s possible that a significant number of Fox Newsers are trolling the pollsters on this one question. But that seems unlikely, especially since this is the only question (I believe there were 18 with a breakdown by news source) where the answer was wildly out of sync with my expectations.

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*I’m operating under the assumption that these are people for whom cable news is their primary news source or at least people who watch these outlets regularly in preference to others. “Fox News” is not mentioned at all in the main survey and the crosstabs don’t tell me what question was asked to sort CNN/Fox/MSNBC/Don’t Watch.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    What’s most interesting to me is that Fox News viewers are also almost twice a likely to blame “right wing groups such as the Proud Boys” than other cohorts. Apparently, Fox News viewers don’t consider themselves to be “right wing extremists.” On the other hand, right wing people tend to see themselves as “the only true Americans, so that’s a factor.

    Still, I wonder how the Proud Boys feel about being the designated blamees.

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  2. Kathy says:

    This reminds me of the time over 30 years ago when Kuwait invaded itself to make Saddam look bad.

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  3. Jen says:

    I’m beginning to wish that there was a means to determine who buys into this sort of nonsense at the outset, so I can completely ignore everything they say. At this point, I wouldn’t trust these clowns in a discussion of the weather, or anything else.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: There’s a reasonable argument that the Proud Boys and their ilk are most responsible for the violence that day. But it wouldn’t have been possible to exploit the mob for that purpose if Trump hadn’t already summoned it.

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  5. CSK says:

    Apparently The Gateway Pundit, that very authoritative and credible source of news, is reporting that the Capitol police received a memo in advance of Jan. 6 saying that BLM members cleverly disguised as Trump supporters would be bussed to D.C. on Jan. 6.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    But it wouldn’t have been possible to exploit the mob for that purpose if Trump hadn’t already summoned it.

    Wait. Do you mean to tell me you still believe that Trump was not coordinating with the Proud Boys?

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  7. Arm The Homeless says:

    It’s always interesting to watch fascist myth making in process.

    Ashliiiiii Babbitt is meant to be the new Horst Wessel.

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  8. charon says:

    That there was a Democratic infiltrator or two among the rioters egging them on is true.

    I was not aware of that, do you have a cite, a reference?

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  9. charon says:

    @charon:

    There likely were a few Democrats present at the rally, but “egging on” an attack on the Capitol? – I’d like to see evidence of that.

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  10. Arm The Homeless says:

    @charon:

    I too would like to see the mythical ‘liberals’ that wanted Biden’s electoral college not to be certified.

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  11. Beth says:

    @charon:
    @Arm The Homeless:

    Or were so invested in stirring up the nonsense that they would risk arrest or harm just to create problems.

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  12. Scott F says:

    “Who is most to blame…” is a pollster‘s framing designed to move matters of fact & evidence into a matter of opinion and it strikes me as more dangerous than illuminating. There is a correct, fact-based answer on culpability for the insurrection being adjudicated by the Special Committee and the DOJ. “Left wing protesters” aren’t in scope in these reality based proceedings. The Leftist option shouldn’t be offered in the poll – it is like polling on what is most responsible for a trend in the weather and including Zeus.

    That Fox and MSNBC viewers would have different takes is hardly surprising. These are people who self-select news filtered through an ideological prism and listen to highly partisan commentators.

    It is important to note that the different take from the ideologically skewed viewers of MSNBC is much closer to the truth than any other cohort. I admire people who self-select reality.

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  13. MarkedMan says:

    @Scott F:

    The Leftist option shouldn’t be offered in the poll

    It should if you are interested in knowing how successful the Republicans and Fix News (but I repeat myself) have been in their efforts to sell lies.

    1
  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    Evidence means nothing to the true MAGAt because (I’ll say it again) this is not a political organization it is a cult, and you cannot be a cult member without subordinating not just your will, but your judgment, the workings of your internal thoughts, to that cult. MAGA is a cult offshoot of White Evangelical Christianity. The thought process is not rational, it is defiantly anti-rational. It is faith. If Trump himself came out and confessed it would not change the way the cult feels or thinks or acts.

    Cults don’t disappear suddenly, they erode lowly, over time, and they tend to die in the end simply by being ignored.

    We don’t need to change the minds of the culties, and we cannot because they no longer have anything like a rational mind capable of absorbing facts. It’s OK. We don’t need them. They are probably no more that 25% of voters, with another 10% not quite all-in, but in far enough. But that’s OK, too, we don’t need them, either.

    We need Democrats, D-leaning Indies, Indies motivated by abortion or other issues, and the half dozen still rational Republicans. Add that up and my guess is 60-65% are in the non-cult, still reachable, still rational population.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: I agree. I just find it interesting that their stock answer, other than the ridiculously untrue one was the Proud Boys. But I’m also not sure that “knowing who’s to blame” is particularly important considering that FG could have actually lead the charge personally, and he still wouldn’t be charged by the DOJ. FG in an orange jumpsuit simply isn’t gonna happen. Sorry. I’m not even sure he’ll get charged with financial crimes in NY.

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Beth: No, no, no. You’re missing the bigger picture here. The Democrats involved in stirring up the crowd are crisis actors sent by Biden specifically to rile them up. I’m sure they all had DC Police Chief contact cards to show if any of them got arrested.

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  17. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: It depends on what you mean. Way back in September 2020, I declared that Trump was essentially sending marching orders to the Proud Boys through public statements.

    Do I think he was privately coordinating specific actions on that day? I don’t think we have enough evidence to know but kind of doubt it. We’ve known for about three months now that the Proud Boys leadership didn’t actually plan to do anything regarding the Capitol until January 4. I think it’s quite possible that we’ll find that they were coordinating with Rudy Giuliani or someone else close to Trump. I don’t think he ever did his own dirty work.

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  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “No rational person would believe anything Tucker Carlson says.”*

    – Fox News in a court filing.

    *or something like that.

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  19. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think it’s quite possible that we’ll find that they were coordinating with Rudy Giuliani or someone else close to Trump. I don’t think he ever did his own dirty work.

    Yeah, Giuliani and Roger Stone, with a wink and nod from TFG.

  20. Scott F. says:

    @MarkedMan:
    I understand your point, but I would argue that any interest in learning the reach of Fox/GOP misinformation is outweighed by the political cost of the pollster suggesting that leftist infiltration of the mob is a valid possibility. As Michael notes, the cultists aren’t reachable and it isn’t necessary to reach them or lambaste Fox for pandering to them.

    But, the 27% of those polled who don’t watch the news now think that a leftist plot is a reasonable conclusion for what they saw that day or heard about later. This reachable population would have been better served if they understood that the participants who could be blamed for January 6th come from the right and ONLY the right.

    1
  21. James Joyner says:

    @charon: @Arm The Homeless: @Beth: I was thinking of the case of John Earl Sullivan, aka “Jaden X.” He was charged by DOJ but I haven’t seen any disposition. If I’ve seen this, Fox News viewers certainly have and it was quite probably played up big. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was another example or two. But, again, I find it preposterous that it was more than incidental to what happened that day.

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  22. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    Do I think he was privately coordinating specific actions on that day? I don’t think we have enough evidence to know but kind of doubt it.

    A week or so before he talked publicly about how they had “something” planned for Jan 6th, but he hoped they didn’t have to use it. There is now testimony that he took off-the-book calls with Stone in the days leading up to Jan 6th and perhaps even on the 6th. Stone was literally surrounded by Proud Boys in those days. “Stand back and stand by”. There were at least a dozen other indications that Trump was aware that violence CE was being planned, and he knew where he was supposed to be on the 6th. There was a reason he was desperate to get to the Capitol and it was because he was supposed to rally the mobs to hang Pence and whatever else his coup took.

    Do I think Trump was attempting to incite violence and willing to use whatever means was at hand? Certainly. Do I think he was making phone calls with violent and dangerous people like Stone, trying to get him to drum up violence? Absolutely. Do I think that despite his intent and his efforts it devolved into his typical shambolic mess? Absolutely.

    You’re a smart guy and so your reluctance to see it is forcing me to go over it again. But no, I can’t see that he wasn’t aware. Privately coordinating specific actions? No, there I agree with you. Trump has never shown any ability to organize literally anything, or handle any details. But an inept attempt is still criminal. We don’t let off bank robbers when they write their note on the back of their own withdrawal slip, and we shouldn’t absolve Trump from blame because he is an incompetent clown. People died that day. Hundreds of people are going to jail.

    It was days, maybe even more than a week, before January 6th that Trump made the comment about having something ready that they hoped he wouldn’t have to use and I made a comment (I think it was here) that something was up, that he intended violence. The events proved me out.

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  23. MarkedMan says:

    Trump, in his call to the Georgia Secretary of State, telling him that he has another way but they don’t need to use that, they don’t need to “shake up the world” if only Raffensberger would find 11,000 votes. This is from a publicly released transcript:

    Trump: No, we do have a way but I don’t want to get into it. We found a way in other states excuse me, but we don’t need it because we’re only down 11,000 votes so we don’t even need it. I personally think they’re corrupt as hell. But we don’t need that. Because all we have to do Cleta is find 11,000-plus votes. So we don’t need that. I’m not looking to shake up the whole world.

  24. de stijl says:

    “Big protest in on D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild.”

    Trump on Twitter

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  25. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan: I urge anyone who is interested to listen to the actual call and not just read the transcript. At the time, as soon as I heard those words come out of his mouth I was thinking, “Whoa, he’s talking about a coup.”

    1
  26. al Ameda says:

    @CSK:

    …. the Capitol police received a memo in advance of Jan. 6 saying that BLM members cleverly disguised as Trump supporters would be bussed to D.C. on Jan. 6.

    I believe that the memo was from the Desk of James Eastman, or maybe it was Jeffrey Clark, I get those two mixed up all the time.