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House Democrats pursue TV series, but ratings could fall flat


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It just happened: the House hearings on January 6 will be a televised show.

Much like most congressional hearings, designed to generate maximum publicity and media attention.

Ah, but those hearings will be orchestrated on the biggest prime-time stage, starting Thursday.

But despite the panel’s best efforts to build suspense, I’m not sure it’s a box office boffo.

Trump supporters attempt to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington.
((AP Photo/Julio Cortez))

I was not surprised to learn that the hearings are produced by a former senior executive of the network. Ordinary audiences tend to buzz, and if you want to get ratings, you need pacing, graphics, video – all the tricks of the TV trade.

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James Goldston, the former president of ABC News, who previously produced “Good Morning America” ​​and “Nightline,” is the maestro of the moment, according to a scoop from Axios. He plans the show “as if it were a blockbuster special investigation.”

Does that suggest he was sympathetic to the Democrats as head of the information division? Sure.

I see several factors that will likely depress the drama once the hearings get under way, even if they show videotaped depositions of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, as reported in a report.

House Democrats pursue TV series, but ratings could fall flat

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice chair of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, speaks during a Capitol Hill business meeting on Capitol Hill on December 13, 2021, in Washington, DC.
((Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images))

For starters, there has been such an avalanche of material from the committee — both in the form of authoritative publications and numerous leaks — that journalists are unlikely to find any startling new revelations. The panel’s best hope is that average viewers who haven’t followed the details will be drawn into the story of what happened before the Capitol Riot.

In virtually all of Hill’s hearings, there are members of the minority playing defense, opposing the way the majority is conducting the proceedings, and questioning accusing witnesses or defending those under attack. Although it sometimes turns into a circus, it is a clash between two teams to shape the outcome.

But the January 6 hearings will be led by one team, the Democrats, given Kevin McCarthy’s decision to withdraw his nominees when Nancy Pelosi opposed a few of them. Both Republican panelists – Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger – voted to impeach Donald Trump and broke with their party on the importance of Jan. 6.

House Democrats pursue TV series, but ratings could fall flat

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, listens during a business meeting of the select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, U.S., on Tuesday October 19, 2021.
((Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images))

That leaves the GOP no choice but to mount a media blitz beyond the ratings. Elise Stefanik, the congresswoman who replaced Cheney in the Republican leadership, told Breitbart the party was creating a rapid response unit to push back against what its members consider “illegitimate” hearings.

Successful audiences often create indelible moments. When a congressional attorney asked commie hunter Joseph McCarthy “have you no sense of decency?”, it contributed to his censure in the Senate and eventual downfall.

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When the Senate Watergate Committee called an underage witness, Alexander Butterfield, who revealed the existence of a White House recording system, it led to Richard Nixon having to turn over the tapes under the Edict of the Supreme Court and his resignation a few days later.

The staging of politics has a long history. Michael Deaver created the backdrop for many of Ronald Reagan’s speeches that sent clear messages, even though they conflicted with the president’s policies. I remember George W. Bush kicking off his Iowa caucus campaign in a barn with huge bales of hay for photographers. Barack Obama delivered his first nomination acceptance speech at a Denver football stadium resembling a Greek temple with ornate columns.

House Democrats pursue TV series, but ratings could fall flat

In this January 6, 2021, file photo of violent rioters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storming the Capitol in Washington.
((AP Photo/John Minchillo, File))

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This week’s hearings may be a spectacle, but they also carry some very high stakes: whether a dark day for our democracy is seen as a minor breach or a carefully planned insurrection, and whether Trump and his cronies bear some of the responsibility.

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The problem for Democrats — and the media — is that many Americans are fed up with the subject and have long since made up their minds.


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