A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Thursday’s prime time presentation by the House’s 1/6 committee was the most Fox-centric hearing yet – and none of it was shown live by Fox.
House lawmakers brought up the right-wing network by name half a dozen times. They revealed, through witness testimony, that Donald Trump’s dining room TV was tuned to Fox during the siege of the Capitol. They confirmed what journalists like Maggie Haberman reported in the immediate aftermath of the riot: That Trump sat back and watched the show instead of upholding his oath of office.
For that reason, the committee members showed Fox clips repeatedly. They used Fox’s live coverage of the riot to lay out the timeline of events. And they showed previously published texts between Mark Meadows and Fox personalities like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham to underscore that so many of Trump’s allies urged him in real time to call off the mob.
Hannity was live on Fox when the texts were showcased – but he was busy talking about President Biden. The main Fox News Channel did not air a single minute of Thursday’s hearing. Live coverage was relegated to Fox Business, the low-rated sister channel. Other right-wing outlets, like Newsmax and The Daily Caller, also ignored the hearing. I know this is not surprising – right-wing media has been downplaying the riot aftermath almost ever since it happened – but it is still important to document, lest anyone think that the United States was united in watching this summer’s series of hearings about 1/6. Far from it.
As Rep. Adam Kinzinger said in his closing remarks, “The forces Donald Trump ignited that day have not gone away. The militant, intolerant ideologies. The militias. The alienation and the disaffection. The weird fantasies and disinformation. They’re all still out there, ready to go. That’s the elephant in the room.”
So with that in mind, here’s a survey of Thursday night’s TV landscape…
“If you’ve ever been in a TV control room, there’s a huge bank of monitors that shows everything that’s on TV,” Carlson told his viewers about midway through his Thursday program. He pretended to be surprised that the hearing was on. “One of our producers just said that on every other channel, they’re playing some kind of January 6th hearing,” he said. “January 6th? As if that’s the biggest thing going on in America right now.”
Carlson then said “no one wants to watch it” (untrue), said that on Jan. 6 “some guy in viking horns wandered around on mushrooms and made weird noises” and “that was kind of it” (untrue), and said that none of the attackers “had guns” (untrue). Carlson jammed all three of those falsehoods into 10 seconds. He concluded his screed by mocking the press, claiming that the riot “makes the people covering it feel like they lived through Vietnam.” He sneered: “More lifestyle liberal narcissism.” That was the only reference to the 1/6 hearing on Carlson’s show. The rest of the program was filled with the usual anti-vaccine, anti-immigrant type rhetoric one might expect.
One hour later, Hannity brought up the hearing repeatedly, but denounced the committee; blamed Democrats for security failures on Jan. 6; said Capitol Hill needs a “better perimeter” with fences and walls; condemned Dems for “violent rhetoric” in the past; said Congress should convene a committee about the summer of 2020’s riots; and called the 1/6 committee “a one-sided political smear that does nothing to improve our lives.” Later, his guest Mark Levin said “this is a rogue committee that is appointed by Nancy Pelosi to stop Donald Trump from running for president.”
When the House select committee held its first prime time hearing, back in June, Fox News stuck with its usual talk shows in a dramatic break with other major networks. It was Fox’s way of siding with its Trump-supporting audience. But on that night, Carlson and Hannity’s shows plastered live pictures of the hearing on screen, then proceeded to talk over it. The approach on Thursday night was noticeably different: Fox avoided any live pictures of the hearing.
Newsmax, a much smaller right-wing channel, also took a different tack on Thursday. Newsmax aired much of the first prime time hearing live, while criticizing it the rest of the time. But Newsmax largely ignored the follow-up prime time hearing and focused on other topics instead.
And yet, despite those best efforts, Thursday’s revelations will still seep through to at least some GOP media viewers and readers. For example, Fox’s midnight Eastern time program – although not nearly as popular as the prime time talk shows – did provide analysis of the hearing’s main findings…
If you were offline during the hearing, check out the CNN team’s takeaways here. CNN.com’s banner headline right now says “Trump refused to act as democracy was under attack.” The NYTimes.com headline is “Jan. 6 Panel Assails Trump’s ‘Complete Dereliction’ of Duty.” NBC’s banner says “Trump resisted aides’ pleas to call off the mob during the riot and refused to say the election was over the next day.”
After Rep. Liz Cheney closed the hearing with a reminder that “we cannot abandon the truth and remain a free nation,” CNN’s Jake Tapper began his recap by calling it “an evening of testimony that was, frankly, infuriating.” Trump lied about the election for months, then sent a mob to the Capitol with the “clear purpose of stopping the election, stopping democracy,” and then “refused to act to stop the violence.”
“There is no job of responsibility,” John Dickerson said on CBS, “where a failure this grave of your central task wouldn’t bounce you from the job immediately.” It is extraordinary that “you cannot say that out loud as a Republican right now without getting in trouble,” he added, acknowledging that GOP officials fear they’ll “end up like Liz Cheney, who is facing possibly losing her seat.”
“This isn’t a prosecution of the past,” his colleague Margaret Brennan said, “it’s a warning of the future.”
BRIAN LOWRY WRITES:
Perhaps I’ve been covering Hollywood too long, but like a lot of people out here (“The Big Bang Theory” co-creator Bill Prady among them), when Cheney announced additional hearings for September, my immediate thought was, “Successful show gets second-season pickup.”
>> Rep. Bennie Thompson, joining remotely due to Covid-19, said “we are pursuing many additional witnesses for testimony” and “we will reconvene in September, to continue laying out our findings to the American people.” Cheney said “we have much work yet to do, and we will see you all in September…”
CNN media analyst David Zurawik writes: “Another media takeaway from the hearings on the insurrection involves the role of TV in American life. While television was widely accepted as the principal storyteller of our national life during the last half of the 20th Century, many analysts have downplayed its importance with the rise of the Internet and social media during the last two decades. But these hearings have shown the enduring political and cultural power of the medium. This summer, at least, TV has been the principal storyteller of what happened on January 6, 2021. The dinosaur can still roar…”
BRIAN LOWRY WRITES:
One more thought: Those Trump outtakes really do give you a sense of his TV experience, where you can screw up a line, snap your fingers and do a retake. Seeing the clips, it’s hard not to think how much the producers shaping “The Apprentice” under Mark Burnett contributed to the image that helped sweep him into office…
“How ‘Stop the Steal’ Captured the American Right” is this week’s New York Times Magazine cover story. And author Charles Homans is my guest on this brand new episode of the “Reliable Sources” podcast.
Homans describes how the “Steal” movement predates Trump and will outlast him. In short, this strain of right-wing thinking is so much bigger than Trump and 1/6. Homans told me about his interviews with Trump supporters at rallies; why the conversations “quickly shift from ‘stolen election’ to abortion or Covid lockdowns;” and what might happen to “democratic trust in the system one step down the road.” Tune in via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your favorite app…