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Some police deaths are more worrisome to Fox News than others

Mourners pay their respects during a congressional tribute to the late Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who lies in honor in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. (Kevin Dietsch/AFP/Getty Images)
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Clarification: Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick suffered two strokes and died of natural causes the day after he confronted rioters during the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to the D.C. medical examiner. Initial reports that rioters attacked him with a fire extinguisher, cited in an earlier version of this story, proved to be incorrect. This story has been updated.

The details surrounding the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick are still somewhat murky. On Jan. 6, Sicknick confronted a violent mob of Trump supporters as they overran the U.S. Capitol armed with ax handles, bats, metal batons and powerful chemical irritants, among other weapons. He died the following day.

Sicknick wasn’t the only officer caught in the attempted insurrection that followed President Donald Trump’s false insistences that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from him. The union representing Capitol Police officers says that 140 officers suffered injuries, including broken bones and a heart attack, during the riot. Two officers later died by suicide.

On Tuesday, Sicknick became the fifth private citizen to lie in honor in the Capitol building’s Rotunda. Two other members of the Capitol Police force were similarly honored in 1998 after being shot to death guarding the building.

Late in the evening, President Biden and first lady Jill Biden came to the Capitol to pay their respects to Sicknick. CNN, which had been covering the event, showed the Bidens as they arrived.

MSNBC showed the same scene simultaneously: Biden stopping at the table holding Sicknick’s remains, then putting his hand on his heart before crossing himself.

At Fox News, viewers saw something a bit briefer.

Laura Ingraham, hosting during the 10 p.m. hour, when Biden arrived, continued with her program as usual, interviewing a doctor who spent much of last year advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus. (A few minutes before, she’d interviewed Scott Atlas.) As she went to commercial, the network quickly cut to Biden in the Rotunda, with Ingraham describing the scene before promoting the segments coming up after the commercial break. (Among them: an appearance by South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R).)

And that was it. Sean Hannity, whose program airs in the hour before Ingraham, briefly showed the scene in the Rotunda as he handed things over to his colleague. He had spent his show interviewing Eric Trump and mocking the use of the term “insurrection” to describe the Capitol violence.

That so little time was spent on Sicknick isn’t really surprising. Over the past month, data compiled by the Internet Archive indicate that Fox News has been much less likely than its competitors to talk about Sicknick. In fact, both CNN and MSNBC have mentioned him about twice as much as Fox.

Fox News has been similarly much less likely to mention the Capitol attack over the past month and has devoted less time talking about police than CNN or MSNBC, though in the month after protests erupted over the death of George Floyd in police custody last year, Fox News was more likely to talk about police than was CNN or MSNBC.

In fact, Fox News has been consistently more likely to spend time talking about police officers killed in the line of duty than have been CNN or MSNBC. Month after month since January 2020, Fox News has dedicated more coverage to the subject than the other networks, with two exceptions: June 2020, when the protests were in full swing, and January 2021, when the attack on the Capitol happened and Sicknick died.

The data for CNN and MSNBC makes clear that something exceptional happened in both of those months. The data for Fox does not.

Over the past four years, Fox has run thousands of segments focused on the killing of police officers. Since Jan. 1, 2017, in fact, the network has run a segment mentioning an officer being killed on 827 different days, according to analysis of the Internet Archive data by the Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer. It did so on 11 days last month, the same regularity with which it mentioned the subject last August.

We don’t need to dig very deep to understand why Sicknick’s death might not be seen as warranting the channel’s undivided attention. He died after confronting thousands of Trump supporters who believed that the presidential election was being stolen from Trump, a false claim actively promoted by Trump himself and boosted by Trump’s allies, including Fox News. The network repeatedly aired coverage expressing skepticism about the results of the election, bolstering Trump’s allegations even if only indirectly. The eagerness of Fox hosts to distance themselves from the violence at the Capitol was manifested by the effort in the hours that followed to suggest that it was left-wing agitators who had spurred the violence. (It wasn’t.)

Normally, incidents of violence against police officers bolster the narrative preferred by the network’s stars. The political movement focused on addressing systemic racism within police departments — Black Lives Matter — spawned an opposing movement dubbed Blue Lives Matter. Police officers killed and injured in the line of duty were used to reinforce the risks those officers faced and, by extension, the need to offer support to police officers, particularly in the face of questions being raised by Black Lives Matter.

During Trump’s presidency, a focus on the safety of police officers was rolled into the president’s political worldview. He clutched law enforcement tight as he argued that his presidency was in essence the only barrier between order and chaos. Fox News hosts were happy to kindle that fire.

Then the Capitol was overrun by Trump supporters and Sicknick died. Fox News’s team appears not to be terribly interested in talking about any of that, and so it often doesn’t.