A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
This summer’s hearings by the House’s January 6 select committee have been building momentum – and audience interest – in the run-up to Thursday’s prime time session.
One might have expected the TV ratings to dwindle over time, since the story of Donald Trump and the Capitol attack has been so well established, and summer tends to be a sluggish news period. But the opposite has happened, at least judging by cable ratings data: CNN and MSNBC viewership has been increasing.
The opening prime time hearing on June 9 was the highest-rated across the board, of course, since a greater number of people are home in the evening and able to watch on TV. But ever since the committee settled on an afternoon window, for hearing #3 on June 16, tune-in has been growing. CNN averaged 1.5 million viewers during the hearing that day; 2.1 million for hearing #4; 2.4 million for hearing #5; and 2.6 million for hearing #6. MSNBC has gained audience over time too.
The cable outlets may be taking some share from broadcast, but channels like ABC and CBS have continued to draw eyeballs for the hearings as well. Major news sites have noticed traffic spikes for 1/6 scoops. And Google Trends has shown healthy spikes for “when is next january 6 committee hearing” searches all summer long.
What does this portend for Thursday’s prime time hearing? Hard to say. I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect the summer season “finale” to surpass the “premiere.” But the committee has certainly succeeded in keeping the attention of America’s political junkies. Trump devotees are the exception to that rule, but even they have dropped the “nobody’s watching the hearings” talking point that was trotted out in June. In a streaming and on-demand world, the total reach of the hearings to date is unknowable, but many tens of millions of Americans have soaked up the committee’s findings, which is no small thing in a fractured media space…
Cable and broadcast coverage plans
NBC, ABC and CBS will pre-empt regular prime time programming for the hearing. PBS will also carry it live. On CNN, Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper will anchor special coverage beginning at 7pm ET. On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, Joy Reid and Nicolle Wallace will do the same. At midnight, Don Lemon will take over on CNN and Stephanie Ruhle will take over on MSNBC.
As for Fox News, well, the network has not responded to repeated requests for comment about its coverage plans. Every time Fox News has shown the daytime hearings, its ratings have tanked, so all signs point to a repeat of the first prime time hearing: The flagship channel will stick with Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity; the much-lower-rated Fox Business will show the hearing; and Fox-affiliated broadcast stations will be offered the Fox Biz feed as an option. Generally speaking, Fox and Newsmax garner audience loyalty by griping about the hearings…
It’s still happening
“As committee members try to get to the bottom of the past attempt to steal the election, our democracy remains under attack by the same forces,” Jake Tapper said as he opened “The Lead” on Wednesday. Among the examples he cited:
>> In Wisconsin, WISN in Milwaukee broke the news that a top state lawmaker “says former President Trump called him last week in another push to decertify 2020 presidential results…”
>> In Arizona, the state’s Republican party censured its Republican House speaker, Rusty Bowers, after Bowers testified to the 1/6 committee…
>> In Maryland, GOP primary voters chose Dan Cox, who is “a big disseminator of Trump’s election lies,” Tapper said…
Tapper made the point that Trump is far from alone: Lawmakers, party chairs, former White House aides are “still spreading Trump’s lies. And they aren’t even just saying it. Many of them are campaigning on it and winning Republican primaries on it, even as they fight to undo the country’s election laws today, right now. The clear and present threat to American democracy continues.”