On Thursday night, news networks with an interest in informing their audiences aired the latest hearing from the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection, which featured evidence gleaned from the testimony and communications of White House staffers and Fox News hosts that then-President Donald Trump had repeatedly refused to intervene to stop the riot.
Meanwhile, Fox’s viewers were watching its right-wing propagandists do their usual shows, including Tucker Carlson’s denunciation of COVID-19 vaccines as ineffective at best and dangerous at worst, and Sean Hannity’s complaints about both the “sham committee” and a comedian’s canceled show.
Fox’s handling of the Thursday hearing reflected its treatment of January 6 since the moment law enforcement cleared the U.S. Capitol building. The network has relentlessly sought to minimize the events of that day, covering up both Trump’s culpability in the violence and its own complicity in his coup attempt.
Much of the material the committee has detailed happened in public: Donald Trump lost the 2020 election; falsely claimed that it had been stolen from him; tried to get state legislators, congressional supporters, and then-Vice President Mike Pence to keep him in power; summoned protestors to Washington on January 6, 2021, when a joint session of Congress was meeting to count the electoral votes for Joe Biden’s victory; urged his supporters to march on the Capitol; and did nothing for hours while the rioters violently overcame the law enforcement presence, sacked the building, and sent Pence and the members of Congress scurrying for cover.
This was incredibly damning behavior, triggering Trump’s second impeachment later that month. But Fox’s propagandists and their allies, who had greased the wheels for Trump’s coup, stood by him. They spent more than a year downplaying what he wrought, making excuses for the insurrectionists, and concocting an alternate-reality version of events in which the attack on the U.S. Capitol was a false flag effort by the federal government that was subsequently used to persecute American conservatives.
And when the select committee convened this summer and produced a flurry of new revelations about the plot based on documents and testimony from those who participated in it or tried to stop it, those same propagandists did their best to bury the hearings and signal to their viewers that nothing it uncovered mattered.
Fox ran the same play on Thursday night that it did during the committee’s first hearing, held in prime time on June 9. That night, the network brass deployed Fox’s “straight news” anchors to its sister channel, Fox Business, and gave its right-wing hosts free rein to produce their shows as usual. Fox’s coverage did differ in one key way from its typical programming: The network was commercial-free during the hearing, an indication that its leaders were more interested in keeping viewers from straying to watch it elsewhere – even on Fox Business – than they were in making money off that night’s shows.
What Fox’s viewers saw was the network’s stars recapping conspiracy theories about the attack, downplaying the violence and the hearing's findings, and hosting kooks and white nationalist fellow travelers who described January 6 as “a clear hoax.”
What they didn’t see included text messages that Sean Hannity, a Fox prime time host, sent to Kayleigh McEnany, then-White House press secretary and now a Fox host, urging an end to “stolen election talk” in the wake of the January 6 attack.
Those texts were not an anomaly. The right-wing media’s centrality to Trump’s election subversion attempt and the January 6 insurrection is a key theme of the hearings:
- The second hearing revealed that Trump’s top aides were telling him that the claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election he was promoting from right-wing news sources were false.
- That hearing also featured former Fox politics editor Chris Stirewalt, whose testimony that it was almost immediately evident that Trump had lost the election implicitly condemned his former colleagues.
- John Eastman, the Trump lawyer whose work on the kooky legal theory that Pence could reject electors the committee detailed during its third hearing, reportedly first caught Trump’s attention with a 2019 appearance on Mark Levin’s Fox program.
- Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a Georgia election worker during the 2020 election, testified during the fourth hearing that right-wing media conspiracy theories alleging that she had participated in a fraud scheme had destroyed her life.
- The seventh hearing detailed how far-right media figures, including former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, whipped up support for the January 6 protest.
Coverage has instead focused on dubious complaints about the process of the hearings, defenses of the Trumpist rioters and other participants in the president’s scheme, and, at times, attacks on the committee’s witnesses.
But perhaps the point they tried to impart on their viewers more than any other was that the hearings were boring and not worth paying attention to.
After former White House staffer Cassidy Hutchinson testified that Trump had not cared that some of the insurrectionists were armed because he believed they would not harm him, was uninterested in stopping the violence at the U.S. Capitol, and sought to join the rioters, Hannity scoffed: “We didn't learn one new thing today. Hardly a thing from this committee.”
After top White House lawyers described an Oval Office meeting where Trump contemplated a plan to have the Defense Department seize voting machines to substantiate his election lies, Laura Ingraham described the hearing as a “snoozefest” during which “we learned … basically nothing substantial that we didn't know 18 months ago.”
“So for weeks, as you know, that January 6 Committee has been holding hearings. They've been widely covered on the other channels. We haven't seen the news value in them,” Carlson claimed last week.
“Nobody cares” about the hearings Levin said on his radio show on Thursday. “I hope you don't watch it. Instead, watch me on Hannity at 9:30 PM Eastern Time. And the entire Hannity show, he does a very, very good show.”
It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Fox’s right-wing personalities don’t want their supporters to know about the committee’s findings because they regret that the coup failed and are hoping for another chance. And there’s reason to think they will have that opportunity.
Trump’s seditious plot to remain in power relied on the willingness of the right-wing press to convince the Republican base that Democrats had used election fraud to steal the election from Trump and to shield them from contrary facts. That false pretext undergirded all aspects of the Trump coup, from the false elector scheme to the insurrection.
The coup ultimately failed – Biden’s margin was too great, the plotters too incompetent, and enough Republicans refused to participate to stop it. But the right-wing media bubble remains intact, ready for the next time a Republican attempts to subvert democracy.