There were so many surreal moments during the initial House Select Committee hearings investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection Thursday night that it’s hard to pick just one.
But not impossible.
ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC covered the hearing live. As well they should — this is by any reasonable definition news. And what transpired made it even more important to cover.
Reasonable being the operative word. Fox News did not broadcast them live, shunting coverage to Fox Business.
Fox News stuck with Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham
But there’s more to it than that. Fox News didn’t just stick with its prime-time lineup of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Instead, it sought to actively undermine the hearings.
“The whole thing is insulting,” Carlson said at the beginning of his show. “In fact, it’s deranged. And we’re not playing along. This is the only hour on an American news channel that will not be carrying their propaganda live. They are lying and we are not going to help them do it.”
And just how devoted were they to undermining the validity of the hearings for its partisan audience? Fox News ran Carlson’s and Hannity's shows without commercials. That amounts to an investment in discrediting the hearings.
The chyron running beneath his show read, “The January 6th ‘show trial’ is underway.”
Later, it read, “Democrats will destroy anyone that opposes them.” And so on.
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Never before seen footage was 'devastating'
That wasn’t the weirdest, or the worst, thing. As Carlson’s hour gave way to Hannity’s, the committee was in the process of showing a 12-minute video of the attack on the U.S. Capitol by an angry mob, urged on by former President Donald Trump, which included never-seen footage.
“An absolutely devastating film of footage, much of which we had never seen before,” Jake Tapper said on CNN.
“It just doesn’t get any easier to watch,” Hallie Jackson said on NBC. “That, I think, is part and parcel of what the committee wanted to get across.”
Yet while it played on every other channel, Hannity railed against the hearings, calling them boring, saying there’s nothing to see there, belittling “fake news CNN” and the other networks for covering the proceedings.
Open your eyes, man. It was impossible to watch this and not come to the reasonable conclusion that this was nothing less than an attempt to thwart the democratic process. It was absolutely terrifying.
Of course, knowing this would require that you actually watch it.
Scheduling the hearing for prime time was an unusual move, and a sign of the visibility the committee hoped to achieve. So much so, in fact, that they hired James Goldston, the former president of ABC News and the producer of shows like “20/20” and “Nightline,” as an adviser.
That’s also an unusual move. But all of these things are at heart television shows. This is a show seeking something more important than ratings, but TV is how we experience it.
This was incredible TV, gripping and important.
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Rep. Liz Cheney told Trump loyalists, 'Your dishonor will remain'
This was incredible TV, gripping and important. If the video was the centerpiece of the first night of testimony, there were plenty of other big moments. Rep. Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the nine-person committee, went to great lengths during opening statements to detail what the committee would lay out over the course of the hearings.
And she said this, to Trump’s lackeys: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
We also saw former U.S. Attorney General William Barr in taped testimony say that fraud claims involving Dominion Voting Systems were “complete nonsense,” “crazy stuff” and “a grave disservice to the country.” He also called the claims of fraud “bull----.”
Another compelling quote from taped testimony: “I respect Attorney General Barr. So I accepted what he was saying.”
What partisan Democrat uttered these words?
None. That was Ivanka Trump.
This was essential viewing — maddening, scary, revolting, infuriating — but essential nevertheless. How could it not be?
Ask Fox News, I guess. One of Carlson’s guests, Sean Davis, the CEO of the conservative publication the Federalist, said of the hearings, “I kind of feel like we are watching something akin to the dissolution of the republic.”
Funny, that’s how most reasonable people felt on Jan. 6.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: How cable news covered the Jan. 6 committee hearings