The group of lawmakers investigating the Capitol riots on Jan. 6 would like as many Americans as possible to learn why and how the attack took place. So they made the rare decision to hold the first public hearing about it during prime time hours, when many people would be sitting in front of their TVs.
Fox News, the nation’s top cable news channel, has other plans.
When the hearing begins on Thursday at 8 pm Eastern, NBC will go into special report mode. CBS will air a special called “Capitol Assault Hearings.” On ABC, its usual prime-time lineup will be turned over to “Attack on the Capitol: The Investigation — An ABC News Special.” MSNBC and CNN will have wall-to-wall coverage all night.
But Fox News will not be carrying the hearing. Instead, the network will stick with its usual prime-time lineup of conservative hosts: Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.
The network said on Monday that its prime-time hosts will cover the event “as news warrants.” Fox Business, a sister network with far fewer viewers, will cover the hearing live.
Republicans in Washington and conservative commentators have attacked the committee’s hearings — the one on Thursday is the first of at least six that the group is expected to hold — as partisan political theater, produced by Democrats to enhance their chances in the midterm elections. Had Fox made the decision to run it uninterrupted on its marquee cable platform, the news network would have been in the awkward position of showing its audience an event that its own personalities and guests have repeatedly denigrated as a farce.
Nicole Hemmer, a historian at Columbia University and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics,” said the Fox News decision fits into a larger conservative argument that the insurrection was “not that big of a deal .”
“To air it on their tiny sister network they are reinforcing that argument — this isn’t important,” she said.
Given the highly polarized view that Americans have taken of the select committee’s work, it is far from clear Fox viewers would tune in at all. Fox viewers have punished the network in the past for coverage that did not toe the line. After Fox News became the first network in 2020 to call Arizona for President Biden, effectively declaring him the winner, and declined to promote the wildest claims of vote fraud, its ratings fell sharply. Newsmax, a conservative cable news channel that was more willing to broadcast questionable stories about fraud at the polls, saw its ratings surge temporarily.
Only after Mr. Biden was inaugurated and Fox News anchors like Mr. Carlson began to cast events like Jan. 6 as a partisan smoke screen did the network’s ratings rebound.
“The base isn’t clamoring to tune in because they agree that Jan. 6 hearings are just a political stage show and that Jan. 6 has been blown out of proportion,” Ms. Hemmer said.
The other networks plan to cover the hearing with their most high-profile journalists. The broadcast networks will call in their evening news anchors — David Muir, Lester Holt and Norah O’Donnell — to lead two hours of coverage.
Fox’s decision to offer scaled-back coverage compared with the other news networks will affect more than just the viewers on cable television. The Fox broadcast network, which reaches many more homes, is not being directed to show the hearing, according to Fox News Media, the parent company. Coverage “will be offered to” affiliates across the country, the company said, but not mandated, as is often the case with major events like a presidential address.
The Fox News hosts have long held a dim view of the committee. Mr. Carlson called the committee “grotesque” on his program on Monday night, and Mr. Hannity has called the group of five Democrats and two Republicans “fake” on his 9 pm show.
“You will not hear the real story of January 6 anywhere, I don’t think, except here,” Mr. Hannity said on Monday night.
Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum will lead Fox News’s coverage but will be doing so on Fox Business. Last month, Fox News averaged 1.5 million viewers at any given time during the day; Fox Business averaged 136,000 viewers. The Fox Business feed will also be running on its website as well as its streaming service, Fox Nation.
The network said that Mr. Baier and Ms. MacCallum would eventually appear on the Fox News cable network but outside prime-time hours. They will appear at 11 pm, pre-empting an episode of the network’s late night show, “Gutfeld!,” for a two-hour special.