Chad Pergram, the Fox News congressional correspondent who had to barricade himself in a small studio at the Capitol during the riot last January, still feels “frustration and anger” when he thinks of the events of that day, which he said were “just as serious as 9/11.”
“I work in the U.S. Capitol. It is my place of work,” he told TheWrap. “I’ve worked here for years and it’s one thing to have something bad happen at any place of work. It’s something else to have something happen in the U.S. Capitol — a place that you’ve spent so much of your life and devoted so much of your life to — and see it desecrated in that way. That does make me angry and it still stings sometimes.”
He reflected on how “seeing the rioters and the mob coming through the building” is “part of the story” of the Capitol now, in the same way the statues of former presidents within its walls are.
In the year since the Capitol riot, Pergram said he has doubled down on providing context in his reporting — even as on-air personalities at his network such as Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have misstated facts about the riot or downplayed the severity of the event.
Last month, longtime Fox News anchor Chris Wallace exited for a new job at CNN after raising objections to Carlson’s Fox Nation special “Patriot Purge,” which made false and unsubstantiated claims about the Capitol riot; longtime Fox News contributors Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes also left the network to protest “Patriot Purge,” citing concern that the program will “lead to violence.”
Pergram’s dedication to reporting on the Capitol riot extends to his choice of language, too. “I remember very early on in the reporting, I caught myself. I started to call them ‘protesters’ — this was on Jan. 6 — and I’m like, ‘No, these aren’t protesters. Protesters are people who show up and stand outside and have a right to do so and have a sign or whatever,’” he said.
“These weren’t protesters and so it has made me more attuned to the specificity of language, making sure that you use the right words to describe something, even if sometimes it offends people or that’s not the story they want to hear,” he said. “I mean, I think I was always dedicated to that and always did a pretty good job of that, but that has made me more aware of that and how important it is to get that right word.”
And Pergram said it’s important for journalists to emphasize that what happened last Jan. 6 “was not just a riot,” given the mob’s attempt to disrupt the democratic process. “To have a riot any day would be bad enough at the Capitol, but to have arrived on the day that you meet to certify the Electoral College in a joint session of Congress, which is the pinnacle of the transfer of the peaceful transfer of power, that needed to be emphasized more,” he said. “This was just not a riot. This was not as deadly as 9/11 or something of that nature, but it was just as serious as 9/11 because of the political consequences which will echo for decades. And that’s something that needs to be, I think, emphasized in the reporting.”
Over the past year, Pergram acknowledged that he’s spoken a number of people — he didn’t identify any by name — who have “tried to diminish this, who have tried to mollycoddle this.”
As a firsthand witness to the violence, he said he has the credibility to make clear how serious Jan. 6, 2021 really was. “Some of them get it,” he said, but some of them don’t.
“That’s why it’s important to have people on the ground reporting,” he said. “:I come back to context here. And if that’s the case, I think that would have some resonance with folks. The idea that you were taught the Capitol is a citadel of democracy around the world. And what’s the message that people say? They always thought the security risk up here was from terrorists, from overseas or airplanes or something, or a bomb. The weapons that day were human beings and thoughts and that’s perhaps the scariest thing of all.”