It looks like they did it again.
Like so many fabricated storylines intended to damage Donald Trump and his supporters, the New York Times cited anonymous sources to support a shocking claim in an article alleging Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was murdered by a Trump “insurrectionist” on January 6.
“[P]ro-Trump rioters attacked that citadel of democracy, overpowered Mr. Sicknick, 42, and struck him in the head with a fire extinguisher, according to two law enforcement officials,” Times reporters claimed January 8, the day after Sicknick died. “With a bloody gash in his head, Mr. Sicknick was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. He died on Thursday evening.”
That horrifying account quickly made its way into the vernacular of journalists, lawmakers, political pundits, and regular Americans without dispute. CNN, as Raheem Kassam detailed here, for weeks repeated the line as fact. Ditto for MSNBC. In a tirade earlier this week, “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough called Donald Trump a “cop killer” and raged that GOP Senators wouldn’t vote to convict. “When you . . . bash police officers’ brains with fire extinguishers, you don’t get a mulligan,” Scarborough fumed in response to Senator Mike Lee’s comment that the president deserved a pass.
The Washington Post editorial board couldn’t get the basics of the sketchy story straight. “Officer Sicknick was pummeled by a rioter wielding a fire extinguisher, according to witnesses,” the paper alleged, even though the Times cited law enforcement officials and not on-the-ground witnesses. The Wall Street Journal also published the claim repeatedly.
Conservatives Took the Bait
Building on the Times-seeded Sicknick story, so-called conservative opinion outlets insisted Sicknick had been murdered. In a column advising Democrats how to frame impeachment, National Review’s Andrew McCarthy suggested Sicknick should be the “face of impeachment” because he was “murdered” by Trump-supporting thugs.
“An impeachment manager opening the presentation to the Senate could have declared without hesitation: ‘When Officer Sicknick needed a president, Donald Trump was missing in action. When America needed a commander-in-chief to protect the seat of its democracy, Donald Trump wouldn’t be disturbed—he was busy watching television,’” McCarthy wrote on January 17.
Tiana Lowe, a writer for the Washington Examiner, accused Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) of inciting the “murder” of Officer Sicknick. “When he told followers to ‘STAND UP,’ they listened and murdered a cop while storming the Capitol. He lost. Make him pay,” she tweeted January 8.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle mourned Sicknick and demanded the killer or killers be found. “I hope the perpetrator who claimed Officer Sicknick’s life is brought to justice,” Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said in a January 8 statement. When radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) to respond to the news “rioters . . . murder[ed] a Capitol policeman,” Sasse, a NeverTrumper, blamed the president for “blood” shed at the Capitol that day.
House impeachment managers included the Times article as evidence in its trial memorandum. “The insurrectionists killed a Capitol Police officer by striking him in the head with a fire extinguisher,” congressional Democrats wrote. It’s unclear whether Trump’s legal team will dispute that allegation.
The Narrative Unravels
But the narrative about what happened to Sicknick is quickly unraveling, as I wrote earlier this week. Not only is CNN, the network that helped perpetuate the initial storyline for more than a month, questioning the circumstances about Sicknick’s death, so too is the New York Times.
“Though law enforcement officials initially said Officer Sicknick was struck with a fire extinguisher, police sources and investigators are at odds over whether he was hit,” the Times reported February 11.
Medical experts have said he did not die of blunt force trauma, according to one law enforcement official. Investigators have found little evidence to back up the attack with the fire extinguisher as the cause of death, the official said. Instead, they increasingly suspect that a factor was Officer Sicknick being sprayed in the face by some sort of irritant, like mace or bear spray, the law enforcement official said. The development, reported earlier by CNN, has complicated efforts to arrest suspects in Officer Sicknick’s death, as both the police and rioters used spray in the siege. It is difficult to prove who sprayed irritant on Officer Sicknick.
In fact, the Times has slowly backed away from its original reporting without acknowledging its sole culpability in launching the narrative. The paper’s extensive coverage of Sicknick’s memorial at the Capitol included no mention of the fire extinguisher attack.
“Officer Sicknick was ‘injured while physically engaging with protesters,’ after which he returned to his division office, the Capitol Police said. There, Officer Sicknick collapsed and later died in the hospital,” one reporter wrote February 3.
Reliably Fake News
Will the New York Times once again find itself culpable for planting another false story related to Donald Trump?
The paper of record was a superspreader of fake news about Trump-Russia collusion; the Times also joined the mob against the Covington Catholic High School teens. “[A] throng of cheering and jeering high school boys, predominantly white and wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ gear, surrounding a Native American elder,” the Times reported January 19, 2019. (Nick Sandmann, the boy in the video, is suing the Times for defamation.)
And of course, who could forget the Times’ assault on Brett Kavanaugh including now-debunked allegations by accusers such as Julie Swetnick.
But as egregious as those examples undoubtedly are, none would top the twisted and sick exploitation of the untimely death of a police officer in a deranged crusade to vilify Donald Trump, Senate Republicans, and millions of Americans who voted for the president.
Will the Times come clean and retract its previous reporting? We will ask.