Why Audiences Matter – The New York Times

The opportunity for the January 6 attack to serve as a unifying moment for the country has already been lost.

The initial bipartisan condemnation has given way to a partisan argument in which many congressional Republicans play down the attack. The official GOP organization described the riot as “legitimate political speech”, and Republican leaders such as Representative Kevin McCarthy quickly softened their initial denunciation. About half of Republican voters say it was a patriotic attempt to defend freedom.

But the facts about January 6th still matter. That day, a mob violently attacked the Capitol – smashing windows, punching police officers, threatening members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence – to try to prevent certification of a presidential election. The protesters justified their attack with lies about voter fraud and received encouragement from leading Republicans, including President Donald Trump and the wife of a Supreme Court justice.

Last night, a House committee investigating the attack held its first public hearing, and today’s bulletin covers the highlights. These hearings will not transform the politics of January 6, but they have the potential to affect public opinion at the margins. And margins can matter.

There are still many Republican voters who are outraged by what happened on January 6th. Nearly half say finding out what happened that day is important. Nearly 20 percent consider the attack an attempt to overthrow the government, according to a recent CBS News poll. About 40% accurately believe that voter fraud was not widespread in the 2020 elections.

“I actually think there’s an opportunity,” Sarah Longwell, Republican anti-Trump strategist, said this week on our colleague Kara Swisher’s podcast. The hearings, Longwell added, could help prosecute the case for how extreme some Republican politicians have become.

If Republican voters are divided on the attack and Democrats are almost uniformly horrified by it, politicians who make excuses for it remain in the minority. Candidates who base their campaigns on lies about voter fraud — as some are now doing in Arizona, Pennsylvania and elsewhere — will have a harder time winning elections. Future efforts to overturn an election will be less likely to succeed.

For the same reason, all the Republicans who have consistently denounced the attacks — like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the only two Republicans serving on the Jan. 6 committee — are especially important. They are demonstrating that it is possible to have very conservative views and still believe in honoring the election results. Until very recently, this combination was not uncommon: Ronald Reagan and many other Republicans won elections by gaining more votes.

The January 6 hearings are part of a larger struggle over the future of American democracy. Americans will likely never reach consensus on many polarizing political issues such as abortion, guns, immigration and religion. This is part of living in a democracy.

But if Americans do not agree that the rightful winner of an election should take office, and if the losing candidates refuse to participate in a peaceful transfer of power, the country will be in far bigger problems than any political disagreement.

It seems impossible to replicate online the feeling of walking into a bookstore and discovering new books and authors. But some apps are trying.

Several companies have tried to solve the problem, with mixed results, write Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth Harris in The Times. This week, the Tertúlia app came out. It uses a mixture of artificial intelligence and human curation to distill online conversations about books and point readers to those that might interest them.

But it is not easy. “I don’t think anyone has found an AI tool, algorithm or platform that does the job for you,” Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, which analyzes the book industry, told The Times.

Thank you for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

PS Kevin Quealy — a talented data journalist and friend of this newsletter — will be The Upshot’s next editor.

Leave a Comment