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“This Place Rules” Is a People’s History of January 6

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Andrew Callaghan annoys others reporters. That’s because he seems to have struck a nerve.

The 25-year-old documentarian Andrew Callaghan has been pissing off reporters lately.

In his new HBO documentary, This Place Rules, Callaghan chronicles the events leading up to January 6, 2021, via dozens of man-on-the-street interviews with outlandish people of all stripes—from MAGA protesters to QAnon believers to self-proclaimed antifa members. In most scenes, Callaghan wears an ill-fitting suit and a bemused expression as he holds a microphone in the face of anyone willing to speak to him. There is something about him that causes people to burst into rants (and, too often, ad-libbed raps). But Callaghan’s interactions with conventional reporters have gone less smoothly than his chats with the masses.

In a recent interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, Callaghan said, “The movie’s not just about the Capitol riot and all that. It’s also about, like, media echo chambers, you know what I mean? And like the dangers of the 24-hour news cycle, and how, I think, mainstream media like Fox—and even CNN—competes for views by running constant, 24-hour news cycles based upon fear, division, outrage, and panic, probably to like, sell ads.”

Lemon, looking taken-aback, replied, “First of all, I don’t agree with what you’re saying, but I’m not exactly sure of how that played into people going into the Capitol and rioting on January 6. There’s nothing fake about CNN.” Lemon made a good point: The connection that Callaghan suggests between the 24-hour news cycle and the events of January 6 is tenuous. (His discussion of “echo chambers” also falls into a cliché that, as my colleague Ali Breland has written, ignores how social media actually works.)

Still, Lemon’s indignant response made it clear that Callaghan had struck a nerve. In an October 2022 poll from the New York Times, 59 percent of registered voters said the “mainstream media” was a major threat to democracy. An additional 25 percent said it was minor threat. That’s more than said the same about Donald Trump.

Callaghan fared no better in an extended interview with WBUR’s Robin Young in front of a live audience in Boston. Young questioned Callaghan’s decision to interview conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and to include footage of himself pouring whiskey into Jones’ mouth while Jones lifted weights. “What did you want to get from Alex Jones?” Young said, as the audience laughed. “I’m serious. I mean, this is one of the most despicable Americans in our history. How do you think the Sandy Hook parents would feel about drinking with him?” Callaghan replied that Mark Bankston, the attorney who represented Sandy Hook families against Jones in court (and dramatically revealed Jones’ lawyers’ incompetence), enjoyed the scene. But Callaghan’s response didn’t matter—it was clear from Young’s chastising tone that she had made up her mind on the ethics of interviewing Alex Jones before she asked the question.

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