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2017-08-17 17:05:13
How the Media Captured Charlottesville and Its Aftermath

The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that exploded into chaos and violence that culminated in the death of a 32-year-old woman, ended in a matter of hours.

The onslaught of media reports about Saturday’s demonstration by white nationalists and its fallout, however, has stretched on for days. And there are few signs it will stop anytime soon.

Indeed, some of the coverage itself has become news — or at least commanded the internet’s fleeting attention. There was a horrifying still photograph of the violence, a chilling documentary video, and of course, a series of defiant tweets from President Trump that continued into Thursday.

And then there was Tuesday’s news conference — a combative give-and-take between the news media and Mr. Trump, which Kyle Pope, the editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, described as “a moment that’s going to have a legacy.”

“Trump has already forced several moments of reckoning on journalists,” Mr. Pope said. “What happened this weekend is another one of these seminal moments, another step in this very odd progression.”

Taken together, the frenetic, disjointed ways the most striking media moments from Charlottesville and its aftermath unfolded and went viral — across many mediums and at lightning speed — seems emblematic of the way we consume news today.

So, in case you missed them amid the week’s many stories, we’ve compiled a few of the most memorable:

As tensions mounted around Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park on Saturday, Ryan M. Kelly stepped onto the sidewalk. Photographing Saturday’s rally was to be his final assignment for the The Daily Progress newspaper in Charlottesville; he had accepted a job as the digital and social media coordinator at a brewery, where, as he noted on Twitter, he would “get paid to geek out about beer.”

Then a Dodge Challenger came screeching past Mr. Kelly. It plowed into a crowd of people in what Attorney General Jeff Sessions would later call an “evil” act of domestic terrorism that would leave one woman, Heather D. Heyer, dead and injure at least 19 other people.

“Out of instinct, I began taking photos,” Mr. Kelly wrote in an account for the Columbia Journalism Review. “I just brought the camera to my eye and just mashed the shutter down.”

The image he captured — of a man frozen in midair before a fall, of the Challenger barreling through more victims in its path, of shoes having been knocked off their wearers’ feet — was republished widely by news outlets across the country.

Other indelible images would emerge throughout the weekend.

But Mr. Kelly’s picture was quickly deemed “The photo from Charlottesville that will define this moment in American history.”

With menacing music in the background, a pitch-black screen turns aglow by fire. White men marching with torches chant, “You will not replace us!”

Then, for the next 20 minutes or so, Elle Reeve, correspondent for “Vice News Tonight,” guides viewers through the weekend’s events — including from her place embedded among the white nationalist leaders who helped organize the demonstration.

“I think that a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here, frankly,” Christopher Cantwell, a man identified in the episode as a white nationalist, said Sunday after the rally had resulted in three fatalities. His opponents, he said, “want violence, and the right is just meeting market demand.”

The unvarnished look at the alt-right and its leaders, which aired Monday on HBO, struck a chord with the public. By Thursday afternoon, a Vice News spokeswoman said that the episode had received more than 36 million views across all platforms — including HBO, Facebook and YouTube.

CNN hailed the Charlottesville coverage as a “breakout moment” for Vice News.

“I knew we had something pretty unique and pretty horrifying,” Josh Tyrangiel, the Vice executive overseeing news, told the network.

By Tuesday morning, President Trump returned to his favorite social media platform, Twitter, to share a cartoon of a train running over a person with a CNN logo covering the head.

The tweet was deleted minutes later and a White House official said it had been posted inadvertently.

Mr. Trump took to Twitter again Wednesday to repost other people’s messages that assailed the mainstream media and congratulated a Fox News program for pulling in good ratings.

Nothing that Mr. Trump tweeted on either day would garner him as much attention as what he said on Tuesday night.

At an event at Trump Tower where he expected to discuss infrastructure, Mr. Trump asked for questions — something his aides, including his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, had not expected.

Photographs quickly surfaced of Mr. Kelly, looking grim, as he listened as reporters call out questions and Mr. Trump respond by blaming “both sides” for the deadly violence in Charlottesville.

Soon, media outlets were collecting images of Mr. Kelly and analyzing his facial expressions.

Among the most popular images was one shot by freelance photojournalist Al Drago, who was on assignment at Trump Tower for The Times. By Wednesday, a tweet he sent of the photo had been shared more than 2,600 times.

In a telephone interview Wednesday night, Mr. Drago said he had been taking photos of the president with different lenses when he looked to his left and saw Mr. Kelly with his arms crossed, staring intently at Mr. Trump.

“I started shooting a couple photos of him and he started to look down a little more,” Mr. Drago said of Mr. Kelly. “It was a pensive stare that helped show the mood of the news event we were in.”

People can draw their own conclusions about what Mr. Kelly was thinking, the photographer said, but “when you see his body language like that, you know something’s up.”

During what The Times described as a “wild, street-corner shouting match of a news conference,” Mr. Trump defended those who had gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, criticized “alt-left” groups that he claimed were “very, very violent” and questioned whether the movement to pull down Confederate statues would lead to the desecration of memorials to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Mr. Pope, the Columbia Journalism Review editor, said that although the news conference was “messy” and “uncomfortable at times,” it was “appropriate to the moment” and a template for reporters moving forward.

“If someone is saying something that is demonstrably false, we don’t have the obligation to let it unspool; we have the right to stop it,” he said.

“I saw a guttural, emotional reaction from reporters to the news conference in a way I haven’t seen before,” he added. “There was something unleashed on both sides that is new.”

As evidence, Mr. Pope pointed to stories by The Times and The Washington Post about Mr. Trump's remarks that garnered attention for their bluntness.

CNN, meanwhile, has not shied away from labeling Mr. Trump‘s remarks as “off the rails” in banners that stretch across the television screen. As the network cut away from Mr. Trump’s news conference on Tuesday, the anchor Jake Tapper reacted simply by saying: “Wow.”

Even some right-leaning television hosts could not hide their surprise. On Fox News, Kat Timpf said, “I’m still in the phase where I’m wondering if it was actually real life.” Co-hosts of the network’s show “The Specialists” shook their heads. And later on Fox News, the commentator Charles Krauthammer said, “What Trump did today was a moral disgrace.”

On his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson came to the president’s defense, arguing that Mr. Trump had “fired back at the media” before discussing famous historical figures, including Jefferson and Plato, who owned slaves.

And by Tuesday night, any of Mr. Trump’s other supporters looking for guidance on how to react were in luck. A copy of the talking points the White House sent out to Republicans in Congress was leaked.