Riot on the Hill: International Coverage of a U.S. Insurrection Attempt


On January 6, 2021, thousands of protesters violently breached the U.S. Capitol during a joint session of Congress convened to certify the election of Joe Biden. This study interrogates how the riot was covered by international media, particularly in countries accustomed to U.S. lectures on democracy, governance and human rights. Using strategic narratives and soft power as theoretical underpinnings, we qualitatively examined 122 articles from 71 media outlets across 31 countries and regions. We focused on narratives regarding America’s reputation, depiction of the event, underlying causes and political implications. Findings indicate media around the world overwhelmingly cast the riot as evidence of a weakening U.S. democracy. Most of the blame was directed at Trump, but also at the political class, failed economic policies, U.S. racism, and the fallibility of democracy. Chinese and Russian media narratives implied a fundamental failure of democratic governance and the West’s waning strength.


Presented to the International Division, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication