The House select committee hearings into the events on Jan. 6, 2021, continue today.
If this was a TV show — and some have made that comparison — last Thursday’s debut was a must-see blockbuster. Nearly 19 million watched it on TV.
And that’s just the TV numbers. That doesn’t include the likely millions more who watched on streaming apps and social media or at least saw many of the clips that went viral. So the true total is likely more than 20 million.
The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan wrote, “The hearing was riveting. It was skillfully and wisely presented for an American audience that hasn’t been paying attention to every news development or investigation stemming from the incomprehensible Capitol assault of Jan. 6. An audience that, for a multitude of reasons, may have been tuned out. And it was horrifying.”
However, Sullivan added, “strangely, for me, at least, the hearing was also heartening — and even inspiring. The material was awful to behold, but these two hours, presented by every broadcast TV network without interruption during prime time, radiated something simple and deeply important: the truth.”
It’s still stunning to think about what these hearings are about.
NBC “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd laid it out well on his show Sunday when he said, “Never before in this country’s history have we witnessed a president accused of a criminal conspiracy to take down the democracy. But that’s exactly what we saw at Thursday’s Jan. 6 opening hearing, where former President Trump was placed at the center of the effort to both overturn the election and inspire the riot at the Capitol. We even heard of testimony that Mr. Trump suggested rioters were right to demand Vice President Pence be hanged simply for certifying the election results. The committee has begun to show its evidence. But does the country have the will or the ability to hold Donald Trump accountable in the wake of all this evidence?”
Todd continued, “If this were happening in another country, what would we think? That it’s strong enough to preserve its democracy and rule of law? Or subject to the rule of the mob? And what would the reaction be here to the prosecution of a former president, who is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2024? He may even be an active candidate when indicted. Shortly after Jan. 6, we asked: Is this the end of something or the beginning? Keep that in mind as you watch the hearings, and remember that many who tried and failed to undermine democracy in 2020 are hard at work to succeed in 2024.”
Other thoughts on the hearings …
- CNN’s Chris Cillizza with “The most damning moment of the first January 6 committee hearing.”
- Writing for The Hill, Joe Ferullo compared committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) to a news anchor. “Multiple storylines often lead to audience confusion — it can be hard to keep track of where things stand and where they’re going. In TV news, that’s where the anchor comes in,” Ferullo wrote. He added that Cheney handled her job as co-chair in a “polished and sober manner that conjured up what the best television professionals do on cable and broadcast.”
- Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin’s latest: “7 questions I want the Jan. 6 committee to answer at its upcoming hearings.” Among Rubin’s questions: How did Trump’s statements and tweets to his supporters promote violence? And, Rubin wrote, “Perhaps the most intriguing question: If White House chief of staff Mark Meadows knew claims of fraud were bogus (‘no there there,’ as he put it), what was he doing as the plot built momentum?”
- We might start to get some answers today to Rubin’s questions about how Trump’s statements and tweets led to violence. The Washington Post’s Amy B Wang and Jacqueline Alemany write that today’s hearing is expected to “focus on then-President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen — dubbed the ‘big lie’ — and how those false claims were connected to the pro-Trump mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol that day in a bid to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college win.” Among those expected to testify today is former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien.
- Also testifying today: former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt. He was fired in January 2021 — just a couple of months after he was a big part of the team that called the state of Arizona for Joe Biden, angering Trump and his supporters. (Rupert Murdoch, whose media conglomerate owns Fox News, said that decision had nothing to do with his dismissal.) Stirewalt told The Hill’s Dominick Mastrangelo that following the hearings, he hopes people are “clear eyed and sturdy footed knowing that we can keep our constitutional system in place. This is the first time in the history of the country that we really threatened the peaceful transfer of power. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen in 2024.”
- Maureen Dowd’s blistering column in The New York Times: “Donald Trump, American Monster.” Dowd wrote, “In his dystopian Inaugural speech, Trump promised to end ‘American carnage.’ Instead, he delivered it. Now he needs to be held accountable for his attempted coup — and not just in the court of public opinion.”
How are the hearings playing out in Trump World?
CNN’s Brian Stelter made a smart point on his “Reliable Sources” show Sunday when he said, “In the MAGA-media universe, the Jan. 6 hearings are not about Trump, they’re not about the plot to steal the election, not about the use of force to upend democracy. In the MAGA-media universe, these hearings are about Democrats trying to make Republicans feel bad, feel guilty for 1-6. That’s the narrative.”
Case in point: much of the framing made by prime-time hosts on Fox News, which did not televise Thursday’s opening night of the hearings in prime time. Sean Hannity called it “the dullest, the most boring, there’s absolutely nothing new, multi-hour Democratic fundraiser masquerading as a Jan. 6 hearing.”
The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell and Will Oremus wrote, “Former president Donald Trump’s supporters scrambled to defend him online in the hours after the Jan. 6 committee’s hearings began, seeking to sow doubt about his involvement via the same social media channels that had captured clear evidence linking him to the Capitol assault. In so doing, they reinforced the unmistakable role social media played in the 2021 insurrection and made clear that his supporters are determined to remain a major internet force, despite Trump’s ban from major platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.”
Harwell and Oremus added that on various pro-Trump message boards and Twitter accounts, the hearings are being ridiculed or completely ignored. Harwell and Oremus wrote, “After the hearing, Trump allies sought to discount the committee’s findings — based on 1,000 interviews, 140,000 documents and hours of visual evidence — as biased or flawed. Ali Alexander, a conservative activist who’d organized a ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on Jan. 6 and testified to the committee in December, said on Truth Social that the committee had used edited videos and fake audio, without giving any evidence to back up those claims. ‘Have you ever seen a video with more fake edits and SPLICES?’ he wrote.”
- LIV Golf is a new golf league that’s being bankrolled by the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It is paying huge money and is attracting some decent names, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia. But USA Today’s Josh Peter writes, “‘They should be banned’ from majors: Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée criticizes LIV golfers.”
- Journalist Yashar Ali is suing Los Angeles Magazine for defamation. The Los Angeles Times’ Nathan Solis has more.
- MSNBC/NBC News’ Katy Tur was featured on “CBS Sunday Morning.”
- The Stanley Cup finals start Wednesday in Denver with the Colorado Avalanche hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning. It will be the first time the finals are televised by ESPN/ABC since 2004 when the Calgary Flames played the … Tampa Bay Lightning. All of the final games will be on ABC and ESPN+.
- The Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen with “The town crier.” The subhed on that story: “Deepening suspicions. A parallel voting system. Dumpster diving for documents. In northwest Georgia, a woman known as ‘Burnitdown’ portends what the Trump movement is becoming.”
- For Vanity Fair, Adam Ciralsky with “Raiders of the Looted Assets: Inside the High-Stakes Race to Recover Qaddafi’s Ill-Gotten Billions.”
- ProPublica’s Mick Dumke with video by Nick Blumberg of WTTW/Chicago PBS: “This Land Was Promised for Housing. Instead It’s Going to a Pro Soccer Team Owned by a Billionaire.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More resources for journalists
- Subscribe to Poynter’s new Friday newsletter, Open Tabs with Poynter managing editor Ren LaForme, and get behind-the-scenes stories only available to subscribers.
- Summit for Reporters & Editors (Seminar) July 7-23 — Apply by June 17.
- How to Cover Gun Violence and the Gun Debate in America (Seminar) – June 13 & 14. Enroll now.
- Power of Diverse Voices: Writing Workshop for Journalists of Color (Seminar) Nov. 10-13. Apply by Aug. 22.
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.