Guest column: Man bites dog

The Daily Ardmoreite
Tony Choate

More than a century ago, famed New York Sun editor Charles A. Dana responded to a question about what constitutes news in this way. 

“If you should see a dog biting a man, don’t write it up. But if you should see a man biting a dog, spare not money, men nor telegraph tolls to get the details to the Sun office.”

This phrase explains what becomes an obvious point on some reflection. Even in today’s world of 24-hour news, reporters are not able to cover every aspect of daily life.

Therefore, stories about unusual events are more likely to qualify as news stories editors, publishers and broadcasters believe will draw the interest of the readers, listeners and viewers who pay the bills.

That idea helps explain why much of the news about the January 6 investigation has focused on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark.

While these individuals have become famous for their efforts to obstruct the investigation, January 6th Select Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson pointed out that they are exceptions during a recent meeting to consider contempt of Congress charges against Clark.

“I want to underscore how isolated Mr. Clark is," Thompson said. "The Select Committee has heard from more than 250 witnesses. They include two of Mr. Clark’s supervisors at the Justice Department. A former White House Chief of Staff is even cooperating with our probe.”

Some individuals have gone further in cooperating with the investigation. For instance, Jacob Hiles provided testimony and records of communications that supported two counts of obstruction of Justice against Capitol Police Officer Michel Riley.

A long-time veteran of the force, officer Riley resigned in the face of evidence he had advised Hiles to delete digital evidence he had been in the Capitol illegally to avoid prosecution.

The indictment includes a message allegedly from Riley to Hiles. “Hey, [Person 1], im a capitol police officer who agrees with your political stance. Take down the part about being in the building they are currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to charged. Just looking out!”

Although he took part in the riot and entered the Capitol illegally, Hiles turned himself in to the FBI within two weeks of January 6 and pleaded guilty to his role in the riot.

He has demonstrated remorse by cooperating with the justice department and providing testimony and evidence to a grand jury.

Hiles seems to be an exception among the almost 700 defendants who have been charged for their role in the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Politico reported U.S. Attorney Mary Dohrmann wrote the following in a Monday Court filing.

“Absent Hiles’ forthrightness, both in preserving records of communications by him and Riley, and in addressing sensitive inquiries from law enforcement, prosecution of Riley — a now-former U.S. Capitol Police Officer — may not have been possible,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Dohrmann wrote.

Testimony from Hiles became newsworthy in part because it provides evidence that a United States Capitol Police officer chose his allegiance to a politician over his allegiance to the United States Constitution and his responsibility to defend the rule of law.

To date, it seems former officer Riley’s apparent betrayal of America may be the exception among those officers responsible for defending members of Congress.

Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows and Jeffrey Clark have all resisted requests to testify before the committee.

Steve Bannon has been charged with criminal contempt of Congress, which may have influenced former Trump chief of Staff Mark Meadows to begin at least partially cooperating with the investigation.

Jeffrey Clark, who was a central figure in promoting disinformation about the election, has at the  date of this writing refused to cooperate.

Chairman Thompson explained in his statement why Clark should be compelled to cooperate.  

“While he was an Assistant Attorney General at the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark was reportedly at the center of efforts to spread misinformation about last year’s election and derail the peaceful transfer of power. There’s evidence that he wanted to push state legislatures to delay certification, to use the bully pulpit of the Justice Department to spread unfounded allegations about voter fraud.”

Stories about exceptional examples of obstruction and exceptional examples of cooperation will garner most of the headlines, while most of the daily work of the committee goes unnoticed. However, Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney’s testimony promises more headlines soon.

“We anticipate next year, we will be conducting multiple weeks of public hearings, setting out for the American people in vivid color exactly what happened, every minute of the day on January 6th, here at the Capitol and at the White House, and what led to that violent attack.”