It’s showtime for the House Selection Committee on January 6th.
Over the past year, the group has heard testimony about the 2021 attack on the US Capitol and the involvement of then-President Trump as an alleged instigator determined to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
On Thursday, the results get a prime-time TV platform, a rarity for such proceedings, with three broadcast networks, Fox-owned TV stations, multiple cable networks and a multitude of streaming outlets showcasing opening times.
Even the Watergate hearings in 1973 rarely got a prime-time platform. ABC, CBS, and NBC switched daily coverage in response to viewer complaints that their soap operas and game shows were being preempted. Only the then emerging non-commercial PBS offered comprehensive coverage.
The current TV landscape bears little resemblance to a bygone era, when a few channels could capture the vast majority of the nation’s attention. But even in the fragmented television landscape – in a nation that has rarely been so politically divided – the decision to schedule the hearings to open during prime time, where they can potentially reach more than 20 million viewers, makes sense.
“Getting prime-time coverage is a really extraordinary statement,” said Tom Bettag, a veteran news producer and associate professor at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. “I think the committee would have to show the networks that they’re going to present things that people don’t know and that matter.”
Bettag noted that even the White House must work to secure a prime-time slot for a presidential address. TV news executives confirmed that was the case with the Jan. 6 committee, but they didn’t have many details about what was offered on Wednesday.
“We have a feeling that there will be new videos and testimonies from people who were there,” said Janelle Rodriguez, senior vice president, editorial for NBC News. “Ultimately, it’s a public service to offer this in real time.”
CBS News Washington bureau chief Mark Lima said he expects the prime-time presentation to last about 90 minutes and look more like a television show than a long, dry recitation of testimony. But there’s no doubting its newsworthiness.
“I think our inclination is [that] January 6 was an important moment in the history of our country,” he said. “The reckoning with that is important and in the end we thought it was in the interest of the public to air it.”
The committee enlisted James Goldston, former president of ABC News, where he kept his newscasts number one in ratings, to produce the presentation and make it look more like a television show than a dry recitation of testimony.
“He knows how to make good television,” Lima said. “He has a track record for that.”
But as a reflection of the partisan and polarized era viewers live in, the most-watched cable news channel will not be live-streaming the event in prime time.
Fox News sticks to its conservative opinion anchors Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern to satisfy its rabid core viewers, who tune in for their rhetoric nightly; They have sharply criticized the committee’s activities, which they regularly describe as witch hunts.
In recent years, Fox News has resisted shutting down its highly rated prime-time shows. It has included testimonies from former FBI Director James Comey and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, but these were during the day when fewer people are available to watch.
Although viewers will have plenty of other opportunities to hear coverage, the absence of Fox News could reduce the overall audience for opening night, as it typically has the most viewership of any network when it comes to an election, State of the Union address or a Another big special is events that run across multiple branches.
Bettag believes Fox News would not have been the first port of call for viewers interested in coverage and does not expect a major impact on ratings.
“It’s predictable that they won’t carry and I don’t think it’s a big part of the equation,” Bettag said. “There’s a lot of access from everyone else.”
The three Fox News stars will likely cite coverage on other networks — and Goldston’s involvement — to claim that the “mainstream media” is colluding with the Democratic Party to harm Trump.
Hannity has called the committee’s efforts a “sham investigation” and describes the Jan. 6 riot as an “assault.” Carlson produced a special for the network’s streaming service that suggested an unsubstantiated claim that the FBI was involved in provoking the attack on the Capitol.
A powerful channel challenging the committee’s findings could change public perceptions in the long run. In a recent interview with The Times, Watergate star witness John Dean said it was likely that if there had been a Fox News in the 1970s, then-President Nixon would have survived his scandal and served his term.
Bettag believes the response to the Jan. 6 hearings is likely to be a reflection of the country’s current political division.
“A lot of people are going to watch it really closely and think it’s the most compelling thing in the world, and a lot of people are going to say it’s a waste of time,” he said. “It will show the division of the country again.”
Fox News Media provides live coverage of Fox Business Networks with news anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. The company’s sister channel is available in 73 million pay-TV households, but has nothing that resonates with audiences like the flagship. Fox airs coverage on most of its own television networks across the country, including KTTV in Los Angeles.
Coverage is also streamed on FoxNews.com, Fox’s LiveNOW and Fox Soul, available on free streaming platforms such as Tubi, Pluto TV and YouTube. Baier and MacCallum will also provide summaries and analysis on Fox News following Ingraham’s program.
Following opening night, extensive audio coverage will begin Monday on cable news and various streaming services. NBC News Now will continue reporting independently of progressive MSNBC. CBS News Streaming will also have a dedicated feed for the hearings, in addition to reporting with its Washington journalists. ABC News Live and NewsNation will also stream the hearing.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2022-06-09/jan-6-committee-gets-a-prime-time-spotlight-will-people-watch Jan. 6 committee gets a prime-time spotlight. Will people watch?