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This just in: the House Jan. 6 hearings will be a television show.
Just like most congressional hearings, designed to generate maximum publicity and media attention.
Ah, but these hearings will be orchestrated on the larger stage of prime time, starting Thursday.
But despite the panel’s efforts to build suspense, I’m not sure it will boffo at the box office.
I wasn’t stunned to learn that the hearings are being produced by a former top network executive. Ordinary hearings tend to drone on, and if you want to get ratings, you need pacing, graphics, video – all the tricks of the television trade.
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James Goldston, the former president of ABC News, who once produced “Good Morning America” and “Nightline,” is the panel’s maestro of the moment, according to an Axios scoop. He’s planning the show “as if it were a blockbuster investigative special.”
Does that suggest he was sympathetic to the Democrats as a news division leader? Of course.
I see several factors that will likely depress the drama once the hearings are underway, even if they do show the videotaped depositions of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, as one report has it.
For starters, there has been such an avalanche of material from the committee – both in the form of authorized releases and lots of leaks – that there’s little chance journalists will find stunning new revelations. The panel’s best hope is that average viewers who haven’t followed the details will be drawn into the narrative of what happened leading up to the Capitol riot.
In virtually all Hill hearings, there are minority members who play defense, object to how the majority is running the proceedings, and interrogate accusatory witnesses–or defend those under attack. While this sometimes turns into a circus, it’s a clash between two teams to shape the outcome.
But the Jan. 6 hearings will be run by one team, the Democrats, given Kevin McCarthy’s decision to pull his nominees when Nancy Pelosi objected to a couple of them. The two Republican panelists–Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger–voted for Donald Trump’s impeachment and have broken with their party on the importance of Jan. 6.
That leaves the GOP with no choice but to mount a media blitz beyond the hearings. Elise Stefanik, the congresswoman who replaced Cheney in the Republican leadership, told Breitbart the party is creating a rapid response unit to push back against what its members view as “illegitimate” hearings.
Successful hearings often create indelible moments. When a congressional lawyer asked commie-hunter Joseph McCarthy “have you no sense of decency?”, he helped lead to his Senate censure and eventual downfall.
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When the Senate Watergate Committee called a minor witness, Alexander Butterfield, who revealed the existence of a White House taping system, it led to Richard Nixon having to turn over the tapes under Supreme Court edict and his resignation days later.
The stage-managing of politics has a long history. Michael Deaver created the backdrop for many of Ronald Reagan’s speeches that sent stark messages, even if they conflicted with the president’s policies. I can recall George W. Bush kicking off his Iowa caucus campaign at a barn with huge bales of hay for the photographers. Barack Obama gave his first nomination acceptance speech at a Denver football stadium made to look like a Greek temple with ornate columns.
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This week’s hearings may be a show, but they also carry very high stakes: whether a dark day for our democracy is remembered as a minor breach or a carefully planned insurrection, and whether Trump and his acolytes bear some responsibility.
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The problem for the Democrats – and the media – is that many Americans are sick of the subject and have long since decided what they think.