Kevin Roberts, Ph.D., is president of The Heritage Foundation.
The Daily Signal is featuring the latest episode of “The Kevin Roberts Show.” The podcast includes an interview with Townhall reporter Julio Rosas, author of “Fiery But Mostly Peaceful: The 2020 Riots and the Gaslighting of America.”
Kevin Roberts: For this episode, we’re going to talk about something we consume every day. We watch it, we read it, we listen to it on our computers, on phones, and our televisions, and—if you like me—on talk radio. It’s the news.
More specifically, though, we’re going to talk about what’s wrong with so many legacy and corporate media outlets. It’s disappointing to say the least, but unfortunately, it’s become all too common.
So how do we confront the fact that so much of what we consume is advancing someone’s political agenda rather than revealing the truth? At a time when we need solid facts, Americans are often poorly served. What should we do when we feel we have no reliable sources to turn to? Are there still media outlets we can trust?
To answer those questions we’ll talk to someone who is doing shoe-leather reporting and journalism the way it’s supposed to be. Julio Rosas, a reporter for Townhall, is someone who’s been on the front lines of critical stories.
In an ideal world, we’d expect all our news and media outlets to be fair and honest. After all, we depend on the information they convey to be factual and accurate. Unfortunately, that could be hard to come by. So many of our major networks are less focused on the truth than they are on an agenda they’re bent on pushing. You don’t need me to tell you that, just turn on your television.
And the American people agree. Trust in media has dropped precipitously over the past decade; more so with Republicans and conservatives than anyone else. That’s probably because the news media framed decent people whose views don’t align with their own as radicals, gaslighting millions of Americans in the process.
Just take the “Freedom Convoy” in Canada, for example. Most of the protesters are reasonable people taking a stand against an oppressive and unfair COVID mandate. Much of the media, however, has portrayed them as radicals and extremists bent on disorder and fueling conspiracies about public health.
Or take their coverage of the Biden administration. Joe Biden’s presidency has been marked by disaster after disaster. He’s been indecisive and dishonest. His administration’s incompetence combined with a historic left-wing radicalism is causing misery and hardship across the country. Do they hold him and his administration under the same scruples with which they did President Donald Trump?
How about we recall the summer of 2020. We watched cities around our country burn. Angry mobs ravaged communities, places we call home, by looting stores and wreaking havoc. Major news networks told us these were just “mostly peaceful protests,” but in Portland they sieged a federal courthouse. In Kenosha, they literally burned businesses to the ground. In Seattle, they established an autonomous zone purely for anarchy.
Joining me on the show was someone who was actually there, Townhall journalist and U.S. Marine veteran Julio Rosas.
I had the chance to speak with Julio just a couple of weeks ago at the Conservative Political Action Conference about his experience on the ground in Kenosha as a journalist. He spoke about the violence, the coverage of it, and the state of news and media in this country and where Americans who want accurate reporting can find it.
Julio, thanks for the work you do. You’re one of the great patriots in the country. I think a lot of our viewers, of course, see you and your work, read your work. And it’s just a pleasure to have you on our show at The Heritage Foundation.
I want to cut to the chase because you’re a guy who, while you’re optimistic like most of us, you also believe that, because of your optimism, we’ve got to diagnose some problems straight up.
Julio Rosas: Absolutely.
Roberts: And one of the problems is, as you went to Kenosha, which of course was ground zero, as I would say, you saw some of our fellow Americans in their worst situation. That is to say some of our fellow Americans initiating violence and their worst behavior. And other Americans—business owners, people who were just minding their own business—really suffering from that. I want to give you an opportunity to address our audience and give us a sense of what it was like. But then secondly, if we should have some optimism about America getting past that point?
Rosas: I mean, Kenosha, I feel out of all the riots that I covered in 2020 and even 2021, I feel really heartbroken about that city, because it’s not Minneapolis. It wasn’t Portland. It wasn’t Seattle. It’s literally this blue-collar town in Wisconsin that not a lot of people knew about it. And actually, I knew about it before it became the Kenosha that people know about today.
So just knowing that it’s a town about 100,000 people, it’s in between Milwaukee, it’s in between Chicago, I just knew that … the local and even the county authorities were not going to be able to handle the riots that were going to come toward them.
That’s why I booked the first flight there. And when I got there, I mean, it was very familiar because at that point, I’d been to Minneapolis, I’d been to all these other places, but it was also very much a small town. And one of the dichotomies between that was, it has a very nice lakefront area. So you look out, you see—
Roberts: People forget that.
Rosas: You see a lake, you see a nice, beautiful lake, and then you turn around and there’s just like devastation right behind you. And it just went on and on until the Kyle Rittenhouse shootings, which I also saw.
But overall, it was just an average American town that has seen what happens when the American workforce moves overseas and all that. So they’re just clinging on. And then obviously, they were also suffering from the COVID restrictions, too. So they just got kicked when they were down. Kenosha was one of the worst aspects in terms of that.
With the optimism … obviously it’s not, thankfully not, completely destroyed. It doesn’t look like Aleppo or anything like that, but they’re resilient, right? I mean, they are Americans and they’ve been able to persevere through the media circus that followed the riots and then through the media circus, which basically I was a part of, during the Rittenhouse trail.
Roberts: Yeah, but you were on the right side for that media circus.
Rosas: Well, yeah. I mean, it’s just the facts of what happened that night.
But it was nice to see, being back there, some of the places that some of the people—and reconnecting with them—that I interviewed the year prior and seeing some of the other businesses that were destroyed or were heavily damaged and the business owners actually making a comeback in that area. And I think that’s a good thing to also highlight when covering these types of events.
Roberts: I’m curious how recent it was that you returned to Kenosha.
Rosas: So, I wrote a book, “Fiery but Mostly Peaceful,” and for research for that book, obviously, I talk about my experience during the riots, but I also documented some of the aftermath and the recovery. And I was there at different points.
And it was weird because, obviously, being there and now all of a sudden it’s just a normal average day, there’s no craziness happening … when there’s sunlight. But especially when I was covering the Rittenhouse trial at the courthouse, it was really weird being back there because now everything that happened in 2020 was back at the forefront and it was very much on people’s minds.
And so, like I said, it was good to see the progress that was being made in the recovery efforts for them. But I mean, like I said, they’re just your everyday Americans and they understood why they were in the media again. And they understood why what happened to them wasn’t really great but they just wanted to move on. And who can blame them because it was a very traumatic experience. And really what Kenosha told the country is that if it can happen in a place like that, it can happen anywhere.
Roberts: That’s right. In fact, I was going to ask you that question. One of my best friends who also does policy work and is a great communications fellow, like you, Josh Trevino in Texas, was the first to alert me to that reality about Kenosha. That is what you just said. He said, “Kevin, if that violence can happen in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it can happen in any place in the United States.”
And I think that’s the crucial thing for people who are watching this or … maybe someone who’s not yet read your book to understand, that that isn’t just some strange place where this strange set of circumstances came together. It could happen anywhere. And that’s why I think you’ve probably been motivated to pursue that work.
Rosas: Right. And unfortunately, the country in 2020 was just a tinderbox. … You had the election, you had the emergence of COVID and all that. So, I mean, really, if it wasn’t George Floyd there, I think there would’ve been something else to have set things off.
But that was a problem with Kenosha, because that wasn’t the first place. That was far from the first place that was experiencing a riot. And that’s why there was frustration of why it took so long for actual law enforcement help, why it took the National Guard a lot longer, why the Democratic governor only called up 150 National Guardsmen—which is, I mean, in my experience, that’s not nearly enough, even for a town of that size.
You need to overwhelm that place or else then there’s going to be an absence of law and order. And then it’s going to create conditions like the Rittenhouse case where, yeah, people saw what they initially saw or they heard.
But even today, even today is so shocking to see how much people believe falsehoods and lies about that case. And whether he should have been there or not, it doesn’t really matter, just because he was there. And why was he there? Because there was literally no law and order. And again, that’s what was so disturbing about that, that this wasn’t some major city. It was just a medium-sized town on the lake.
Roberts: Yeah. A cross section of America, if you will.
Roberts: I remember in that same year leaving the White House, there were thousands of people there for President Trump’s acceptance speech or some part of the [Republican National Convention]. And look, that’s my political bias. I would protect, I would like to think, to the death the right of people on the other side to do the same.
But this is the point, I wasn’t too far away as I was leaving the White House that night from Sen. [Rand] Paul and his wife, who were assaulted. And I was walking back to the hotel and my teenage son was at the hotel and I only had four blocks to go. And he was texting me. He said, “Dad, I’m not sure how you’re even going to get to the hotel.” And I was thinking, “What is he talking about?”
These people were so violent. They were so vulgar. I was so embarrassed as an American. I asked one of them as politely as I could, because I didn’t want to engage them, “Why are you here? I mean, you can be mad at me. That’s fine. Let’s not get into any physical altercation. Why are you here?” “Because of you, because you’re evil.”
And you wonder, what is it about America today that would cause people to say that? And not that it hurt my feelings as much as it really disappointed me as an American, that it seems as if we can’t even have political disagreements, however stark they may be, without resorting to a bunch of nonsense and a bunch of violence.
The question for you, Julio, is, do you see us being able to turn the corner ever from this really bad spot that you’ve seen up close and personal?
Rosas: I mean, it’s hard, right? Because you’re right. That person that you interacted with, they just didn’t think that one day. They’ve learned [it]. Is it the people that they hang around and what they consume, whether it’s on social media or whether it’s other parts of the media?
So to be fully honest with you, because, hey, I deal with facts. I’m unoptimistic. I’m not optimistic about that. And it’s because, and maybe this would be because I’m pretty jaded because—
Roberts: Because of what you saw.
Rosas: Because … I saw it repeated over and over and over again. And then seeing the reaction to—I mean, the perfect example was when I was outside the Minneapolis Third Precinct, when it was evacuated, when it was ordered to be evacuated at the start of everything. And I posted the video of the officers and they were attacked as they were leaving and all that.
And there were quite a few people on Twitter that were just ecstatic about it. They’re like, “Oh, heck yeah,” because this is what they wanted, because they wanted to burn down the police station. … That’s no small beans, especially in a major American city.
And the problem with that is that OK, you can be mad at the police with George Floyd, but even when they achieved their objective that they wanted to do, guess what they did? They didn’t go home. They just continued the rampage because they already got their primary target, so they went after secondary targets, which was just—
Roberts: Which was easy, right?
Rosas: Which was a lot easier. It was small businesses because there was literally no police left. So that’s an extreme example, but I wouldn’t say it’s a rare example, unfortunately, because then that’s how the CHAZ/CHOP [the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, also known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest] in Seattle was created.
Because again, it was similar. The rioters were battling the Seattle police for days on end. And so they thought, “Well, we’ll just leave.” And so, thankfully, that police station wasn’t burned down, but again, they felt so emboldened to do something like that, the rioters, because, well, they did in Minneapolis. So … it daisy chains and it puts us in a very bad spot.
The last riot I covered was in April of last year in Brooklyn Center [in Minnesota], right before the Derek Chauvin verdict. And there hasn’t been that many major riots since then, but I personally, I’m concerned about the 2024 election and depending on who wins that.
I mean, so to answer, to fully come back to your question, I’m not optimistic about whether we can really reconcile a large part of political differences to the point where there’s no humanity to it.
Roberts: Just a follow-up question, which is not to pressure or put you on the spot. I’m genuinely curious, as I know our audience will be. Let’s say, what we do at Heritage often when we’re struck with these diagnoses of problems that just seem insurmountable is say, “OK, I’m going to give you a magic wand. Here’s the magic wand. The magic wand can be for policy. It can be for culture or society.” What’s that one thing or those two things, if you’re going to wave your magic wand, to make you more optimistic about correcting that problem?
Rosas: I would say that we’d have a more honest media.
Roberts: Ah, there we go.
Rosas: That, to me, is No. 1 because I see every day, as someone who lives and breathes media and looks at it—because I understand that a lot of average Americans who actually have actual lives, they’re not watching the news as closely as I am. And honestly, that’s better for them.
But it’s so weird seeing how a lot of times media gets all these little things wrong, whether on purpose or not. But it’s like, “Well, that’s not really true.” … But that builds up over time.
And then you have the extreme cases, like the example of the Rittenhouse case where people were saying, “Oh, he brought an AR-15 over state lines,” which, if they watched the trial at all, they would’ve found out that no, the rifle was bought and stayed in Wisconsin the whole time. The only time it crossed the state line was when Rittenhouse turned himself in to police in Illinois.
So that builds a narrative of some vigilante, white supremacist, mass shooter, which Kyle Rittenhouse is far from.
And so, if I had that wand, I would definitely say just having a better media, a media that understood by and large that they have a lot of power, they have a lot of influence, especially with social media now plugged into that.
Because people just scroll and they may not read the full story. They might just see the headline, then, “OK, good enough,” and then they scroll past it. But even that headline might not be correct. So if they really understood just how much power they have, and maybe they do and maybe that’s why they do it—I don’t know. I don’t know.
Roberts: Fair point.
Rosas: There’s a lot of questions about that. But it’s just, I get really frustrated, especially as someone who was at these events. And people who weren’t and then they’re saying, “Well, here’s how it went down.” I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no.”
And again, that’s part of the reason why I wrote the book, because I was at all these different places and seeing it firsthand and experiencing firsthand and people need to know what actually happened at these events.
Roberts: Well, thanks for the explanation. And it’s actually a perfect segue into the next question I wanted to be sure to cover with you. And that is media coverage about the Biden administration.
Here we are a year and some change into the Biden-Harris administration. I mean, I’ll just posit that the media coverage is biased. I think almost everyone would agree with that. That’s unfortunate. What’s your assessment, A, of how bad that bias is and B, how we fix it? So, yet another question about how we fix a problem.
Rosas: I mean, yeah, it’s bad. And we expected that. We expected as much that they were going to cover for him. I mean, the most recent example, I don’t know if this is going to date it too much, but The Washington Post had this headline about how the Ukraine crisis is responsible for the inflation and the supply chain. We’ve had this problem for a long time, actually, before all this. And so, I mean, that’s just a recent example.
But again, it just builds up over time. And so I think the really only time I’ve seen the media really actually go after Biden was during the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and at the start of the border crisis back in March of last year—well, back when it really gained steam in March of last year. But since then, obviously, it’s moved on. And so, they have their moments, not saying that they don’t.
Now, how do we fix it? Go to Townhall.com. … I mean, the media consumers have to go with people who are trustworthy. Because that’s the only way they’re going to respond, through the money and with advertisements.
I think there’s just such an inherent problem with … the biases and how it’s just, “Well, it’s just the way it’s always been and we’re just going to continue it on because.” And then also, it’s the people that work within it, right? And so I’m not saying that people who are biased are bad people, but it does harm the country.
Roberts: That’s right.
Rosas: And it goes back to the example with Kenosha. Part of the reason why the outrage was so much was because over and over, they kept saying Jacob Blake was an unarmed black man, and he wasn’t. And now, it was hard to tell on the video that first came out. OK, he may appear to have been armed, but they didn’t say that. They said, “He was unarmed.”
Rosas: Definitively. Over and over again. I mean, do you not think that incited some people to go out into the streets? So again, I think it goes back to, they need to learn the responsibility and understand the power that they have, because it really does influence the discourse. It influences policy.
And if they’re not going to be truthful about it, then you’ve got to go search for other sources. And that’s tough. I understand there’s a lot of places out there, but I mean, you’ve got to just go with whoever has shown repeatedly, like, “No, we are going to stick to the facts and we’re going to give you that perspective.”
Roberts: And I will say, and I don’t mean this to be solicitous, and I would say it not in your presence, your work is a great example of that. Thankfully, there are a lot of people, actually, across the spectrum. There are a few left-of-center journalists still who are very focused on reporting the objective facts. They have their bias, like we all do, but they check them at the door.
But this is the point, people are looking for places to go for news. I mean, they go to The Daily Signal, but you also mentioned Townhall.com. It has some Heritage roots. We would plug it even if it didn’t because it’s awesome.
So tell us about the work you’re doing at Townhall. Maybe some stories, some projects that may be coming down the pike for our audience to really be paying attention to as they’re looking for those fact-based sources.
Rosas: Since the riots have subsided, thankfully, I’ve been focusing very heavily on the border crisis. I’ve been down to the border multiple times, from San Diego to Tijuana, to down to Brownsville, Texas. I mean, every place in between.
And the reason why I do that is because, like I said, the media was actually pretty good at covering it back in March. But because it became old and because the Biden administration has done a really bad job with the border—and actually, I like to say that the border of crisis was the administration’s first crisis because they literally, Day One, just undid everything.
But it’s an everyday thing. And I mean, it’s happening right now as we speak, where people are crossing over, people being able to get away from Border Patrol, more drugs are coming into the country. The 18- to 45-year-olds or 50-year-olds, their No. 1 cause of death is fentanyl. And that’s all coming through the southern border.
It is just insane how much people don’t really understand. They might know, but they’re not fully understanding that a southern open border like that does affect way beyond the border towns. And so that’s why I like to go down there, because, one, it’s important to see that firsthand, but it’s also to better convey, “Hey, this is going to come to a town near you, whether it’s the people or whether it’s the drugs or whoever or whatever.” So that’s why I like to focus on that a lot.
I’m hoping to go back to the border sometime in March. And we have a VIP subscription that people can sign up for. They get exclusive access to content. But the reason why that money’s important, it goes toward funding trips like mine so that I can actually go down there because it is, I mean, it’s a lot of money—the flights, hotels, rental car.
Roberts: It’s essential that you be down there on the ground. That’s part of getting the facts in order to do your good reporting.
Rosas: Absolutely. And the only other time the media really focused on the border was during the Del Rio crisis in September of last year, when all those Haitians were stuck under that bridge.
And I can tell you that I had never seen anything like that before. It was literally 12,000 people under a bridge. And it was a Third World refugee camp. But the only reason why they were there was because there was no place to put them because there’s so many that cross over. And that finally got the attention, like, “Oh, well, maybe we should cover this.”
Roberts: But it took something like that in order to break through, right?
Rosas: But we have like 12,000 people on a daily basis crossing over at all different parts. So, it may not be all at once like that, but … that level and that number is still very much happening even to this day.
Roberts: Well, Julio, I’d sit here and talk to you for a few hours, but you’re a busy guy and we’re relying on you to go report the facts. I just want to thank you for your work. Thank you for joining me and I look forward to having you back sometime.
Rosas: No, thank you.
This article is republished with permission from our friends at The Daily Signal
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