From “The crackdown before Trump’s photo op” (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

On June 1, peaceful protesters were violently dispersed from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. so that President Trump would have a clear path to walk over to Saint John’s Episcopal Church for a photo op of himself lazily holding up a Bible. (Specifically a Bible, not “his” Bible.) This was a major flashpoint amid the ongoing protest movement driven by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and many others, with D.C. under occupation by the National Guard and regular nightly attacks by police nationwide over (now recently lifted) municipal curfews. As with every contemporary breaking news story, the incident roiled social media, with reports coming in faster than most observers could possibly keep up with. It was only in the aftermath that a coherent portrait of the whole event could be put together.

Journalists and their outlets have toyed with different ways of approaching this friction, between the pressing need to address on-the-ground moments and the obvious benefits of being able to situate events in a wider context. Recently, some publications have taken to synthesizing the two elements, using primary sources not merely to tell stories, but also to reconstruct the stories on a beat by beat basis. The New York Times used this strategy to lay out the full details of Floyd’s murder. This week, the Washington Post did the same to explicate just what happened when authorities attacked demonstrators in Lafayette Square on Trump’s behalf.

The investigation “The crackdown before Trump’s photo op” was put together by reporters and editors Dalton Bennett, Sarah Cahlan, Aaron C. Davis, and Joyce Lee (with contributions by Atthar Mirza, Nick Kirkpatrick, and Alice Li). As it lays out the sequence of events on June 1, it not only explains each development as one leads to the other, but also illustrates them through a layered series of clearly annotated maps. Not only does the video show where police were in relation to protesters at each stage during that evening, but it also marks where each camera source was positioned at the time of its recording, helping to orient the viewer as to where everyone involved was, and at what time.

This approach is easy to dismiss as gimmicky or over-produced, but it’s actually enormously helpful, and could have utility even for reporting on less flashy subject matter. The video folds the immediacy of social media capture and witness into a legible narrative. It would be beneficial to see more journalism in this vein moving forward.

You can watch the full timeline video here:

Dan Schindel is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Brooklyn, and a former associate editor at Hyperallergic. His portfolio and links are here.

One reply on “What Actually Happened When Trump Staged a Bible Photo Op”

  1. The footage proves that the “peaceful” rioters were throwing projectiles at police. The “journalists” failed to edit all of them out.

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