A photo from the Jan. 6 coup with a TV remote in front of it.

Image courtesy Sandi Bachom

Pressing Issues

Image courtesy Sandi Bachom

The Jan. 6 Hearings Are Not a Reality Series

As we watch lawmakers finally hold would-be insurrectionists to account, the news desks are pontificating on the mediagenic nature of witnesses and whether the hearings are entertaining enough to engage the American viewer.

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INTERIOR, TV STUDIO. Two television personalities, BOB and SALLY, are seated at a wide, brightly colored desk. They grin at each other as peppy intro music plays.

BOB: Welcome back, everyone. In today’s news, the Congressional committee investigating former president Donald Trump’s attempted insurrection and overthrow of American democracy heard testimony from an aide to Trump’s former chief of staff. Cassidy Hutchinson told the committee the president knew his supporters were armed and encouraged them to go to the Capitol, at one point insisting he lead them there himself.

SALLY: Incredible, Bob. But don’t leave out the part where she wore a snappy white blazer and on-trend jewel necklace while she said it! And her hair, a study in understated elegance.

BOB: Tell me about it, Sally. Coming up, we’ll hear from a body language expert who can tell us what it meant when Hutchinson put her hand over her clavicle, and whether her decision to breathe deeply at times affects her credibility.

SALLY: Can’t wait, Bob. More after the break!

If I wrote this scene in a Sorkin-esque drama intended to illustrate the state of corporate news organizations today, you’d laugh me out of the room. You’d describe it as too obvious, too on-the-nose, a cheap shot.

And yet it’s not too far off the flavor of the coverage that actually ensued following actual testimony from an actual White House aide who actually testified before Congress that the president knew he was fomenting an armed riot to attack Congress and install him as dictator.

The witness’s outfit was a nonevent. Ms. Hutchinson, an aide in the Trump White House, wore a fitted white blazer over a scoop-neck black top; a tiny, jeweled circle pendant on a chain close to her neck; and small stud earrings. The look was studiously neutral, eschewing any hint of spectacle or flash. Flattering without being “fashion-y.” Mature but not matronly. Since the clothes were intended to disappear, and the cameras spent much of the time trained on her face, the audience was left largely to contemplate her grooming choices.

The coverage of Hutchinson’s appearance, “demeanor,” and other aspects of everything but the substance of her testimony is just one way the corporate media is falling on its keys in covering the Jan. 6th committee and its near-daily revelations of lawlessness and corruption.

A few flavors in the ice-cream case of stupid provided by our nation’s foremost publications and TV newsrooms:

A rabid focus on how the hearings will “land” or “play” with the American people, implying that their purpose is solely persuasive, intended to move polls on Trump or Biden, and if enough voters don’t change their minds the hearings have somehow failed. 

“To those of us who have always seen Trump as a president who would never accept his loss of power, Thursday’s presentation was confirmation. But the people who refuse to accept this reality—or (in the case of many GOP officials) pretend to refuse—are locked into this alternate reality by conviction or political necessity. Nothing that has happened in the year and a half since has shaken this stance; indeed, the percentage of Republicans who believe the election was stolen remains undiminished, since Trump left office.”

An obsession with the most minute aspects of witness testimony, like whether Trump “really” grabbed the neck of a Secret Service agent (as if it would be more acceptable to demand to lead a coup in person if he just gave the poor guy a really aggressive hug):

A fixation on analyzing the TV ratings for the hearings themselves and coverage of them: 

“I do think the committee did a good job of formatting their presentation to make for a compelling prime-time presentation. It was produced not just for the prime-time audience but for journalists and pundits and commentators who could take pieces of that material and then talk about it on other platforms. So we’ll see if they can continue that approach to draw attention to daytime hearings, which will likely draw a little less viewership and maybe a little less overall attention.”

Rewarding the GOP elements who didn’t violate the law with lavish tongue baths and speculation about their political futures as if they hadn’t been neck-deep in Trump’s treasonous conduct until it personally threatened their actual lives:

Once and for all time, the hearings into Trump’s violent insurrection and mainstream Republicans’ support for it or at least tolerance of it don’t exist to jerk off reporters, to provide thrills and chills and great TV. The veracity of a witness’s testimony is not dependent on how many people believe her, or how many people are motivated to abandon their support for Trump because of it.

Whether Trump grabbed an agent’s neck or not, he still demanded that his armed supporters be allowed to take their automatic weapons and spears attached to flagpoles to the Capitol to hunt down and murder Nancy Pelosi. He knew his people were loaded for bear, and he wanted them pointed at his political enemies.

What possible difference could it make what Cassidy Hutchinson’s earrings looked like, or what products she used on her hair?

We’re going on seven years of the corporate press blithely accepting “alternative facts” from people who want journalists dead, and covering the rise of fascism like a wacky TV show, and only occasionally do actual events as they happen to break through the veil of programming. The events of Jan. 6th are one such instance, in which no amount of Republican spin could fully counter images of Trump-branded screamers breaking windows at the Capitol and beating police.

The witnessing from police officers facing down the Trump mob a year ago was another such instance, in which Black law enforcement members recounted how Trump’s supporters called them the n-word and beat them bloody. The testimony of Hutchinson and, later, Pat Cipollone, that the president was on a rampage to overturn the election by, if necessary, letting vigilantes hang Mike Pence should have been another.

Allowing those real facts, those real events, and their very real consequences—dead police officers, traumatized lawmakers and staff, the very near overthrow of democracy and attempted murder of the sitting vice president—to be drowned in a sea of fashion coverage and horse-race number-running is more than just your garden-variety journalistic idiocy. It’s a betrayal of the mission of journalism itself, a violation of its purpose.

Quoting liars who refuse to be interviewed under oath about their actions alongside the patriots who followed the law at great risk to their own safety is not objectivity or a desire for balance, it’s a defiance of reality at this point. It’s aiding a mission to deceive, and doing it knowingly, whether out of laziness and stupidity or actual malice.

Instead of tweet-giggling variations of LOL BORED NOW and wondering when America will let them talk about other stuff, America’s political journalists (some of them old enough to remember Watergate if not have covered it themselves) should be emphasizing the importance of what’s actually happening, not giving the American people an excuse not to care about it and change the channel.

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