The January 6 attack on the US Capitol was a historic event—and also a local story. So along with all of the big-name national reporters who have been covering events surrounding the insurrection, one somewhat unexpected figure has stood out: NBC4’s Scott MacFarlane.
Local television journalists don’t often get the leeway from their stations to stick with one topic for months, but MacFarlane—a longtime investigative reporter for DC’s NBC station—has broken story after story about the defendants, the Capitol Police, and other aspects of the attack. And he’s done much of this via something notably unfriendly to the visual needs of TV: legal documents.
“Usually, a story has declining interest and momentum as time goes by,” MacFarlane says. “This is the opposite.” He estimates he spends ten hours a day digging into paperwork, watching hearings, and speaking with sources, weaving all of this into reporting for his own station and for MSNBC. “It is the largest criminal investigation in American history,” he says. “And it’s in our city. We’ve got to mind that store.”
It’s also a story with personal resonance for MacFarlane, who grew up in New York state and moved to DC in 2005 to work on a House of Representatives subcommittee as a nonpolitical communications adviser. “I adored working in that complex,” he says. “Are Americans no longer going to be able to see their members of Congress face to face? That’s transformative.”
“A story like this takes a lot of homework,” says Pete Williams, the NBC News correspondent; he and MacFarlane share case filings and complement each other’s reporting. MacFarlane, he says, is “very good at tracking” accused rioters’ cases as they move through the courts.
MacFarlane is now looking toward the story’s next beats, including legal proceedings related to the more than 500 people who have been charged. One avenue to explore: how so many people without obvious financial resources could afford to fly to DC and stay in hotels around the time of the insurrection. Then there’s the growing false narrative on the right that someone other than Trump supporters was responsible for the attack. That slipperiness of reality is a big part of what keeps MacFarlane going. “That’s why I think my bosses have made this a priority,” he says. Their message? “Stay on this, keep going, keep digging. Because we need to make sure history isn’t rewritten.”
This article appears in the August 2021 issue of Washingtonian.