How can this happen? Partly because a bubble of right-wing media and voices that had for years ignored or reinforced Trump’s dishonesty accompanied the play. Because Trump has made it clear that it is easier to accept his demands than to fight them. There had been a media bubble on the political right for some time, a bubble driven by market forces which Trump exploited and turned to more overtly political forces.
This surreal world of information is why people ended up breaking the windows of the Capitol. As the hearings conducted by the House Select Committee investigating the riot unfolded, we got an interesting insight into how this world is supported.
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The committee’s first prime-time hearing last month drew around 20 million viewers. That’s about as many people as tuned for the final three NBA Finals games, combined. However, of those 20 million people, only about 1% watched on Fox’s platforms. The company’s flagship network, Fox News, aired counter-programming — Tucker Carlson and his guests broadcasting conspiracy theories about the riot — instead of carrying the audience.
Fox News covered most daytime audiences, however, when they did not conflict with its more popular programming. Much of last week’s sensational testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, assistant to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, was broadcast live on Fox News. Eventually, however, it cut to show “The Five”.
The January 6 committee bet big with Cassidy Hutchinson. Did it pay off?
In the two hours of Hutchinson’s testimony that aired on the channel, his ratings plummeted – bolstering host Laura Ingraham’s argument that his original decision not to cover the hearing was the network’s “addressing his audience”. Of course, telling an audience what they want to hear is not the job of an ostensible news agency. Rather, it is about actually informing the public regardless of reception.
Of course, broadcasting a hearing is only one way a cable news network can tell its audience what’s going on. It’s possible that Fox News downplayed the significance of the live hearings, but then let their audience know what happened. Except no.
Analysis of captioning data for the three largest cable news networks shows that since June 26, two days before Hutchinson’s testimony, Fox News has mentioned his name only one-sixth as often as MSNBC and a seventh as often as CNN.
(The charts in this article show the percentage of 15-second clips in a day in which the specified term was mentioned.)
Regarding a story of Hutchinson’s testimony — that he was told Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of the car leading him away from his speech at the Ellipse — the Fox News mentions were consistent with the other two networks. . It’s almost certainly because this story has sparked controversy over its accuracy, with those on the right using questions about what happened as a tool to largely undermine Hutchinson’s testimony.
“Looks like it never happened,” Ingraham told his audience. Incidentally, this second bump on CNN’s mentions chart came when the network spoke to two Secret Service sources who reinforced Hutchinson’s comments.
Contrary to the most important revelation of the day’s testimony, Hutchinson indicated that Trump knew that some people in the crowd during his speech were armed with guns or other weapons. He rejected the threat, Hutchinson said, because the mob wasn’t going to use the guns to attack him.
It played heavily on CNN and MSNBC — and very little on Fox News. (To measure this, I looked at times when “weapon” or “armed” were mentioned in blocks that included or were adjacent to mentions of Trump.)
Instead, Fox News was more likely to air segments using the word “woke,” a pejorative shorthand for a vague array of leftist views.
This is how the bubble persists. Instead of presenting the most alarming aspects of what is alleged about Trump, the most popular right-wing cable news network decides to try to play it down. It focuses on questions about testimony, not Trump’s actions and decisions.
On Saturday, The Washington Post investigated whether the House committee’s decision to focus on Hutchinson’s testimony paid off for the committee. The answer depends on the reward sought. If it was media attention: Yes, it paid off. If it convinced those inclined to dismiss Trump’s actions: it probably doesn’t. Not because the testimony has been considered and dismissed, but because many who have been isolated for years in the bubble of which Fox News is a part continue to avoid the unfortunate demands of reality.