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'We're not playing along': How Fox News covered the Jan. 6 hearing

·Senior Writer
·6-min read
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Viewers who watched Thursday evening’s hearing on the events of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol likely learned stunning details about the attempt by supporters of former President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election.

Testifying before the House select committee, Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards described the scene on Jan. 6 that resulted in multiple deaths, over a hundred injuries to law enforcement and more than 800 people being charged, saying, “There were officers on the ground, they were bleeding, they were throwing up. ... I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood.”

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vice chair of the committee, noted in her opening remarks that Trump had “a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power” and that over the subsequent hearings “you will see evidence of each element of this plan.”

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its first public hearing.
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its first public hearing on Thursday to reveal the findings of a yearlong investigation. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Pool via AP)

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., summed up the stakes of the committee’s work in his opening statement, saying, “Jan. 6 and the lies that led to the insurrection have put two-and-a-half centuries of constitutional democracy at risk. The world is watching what we do here. ... But our work must do much more than just look backwards. Because our democracy remains in danger. The conspiracy to thwart the will of the people is not over.”

But those who tuned in to Fox News didn’t see any of that. While CNN, MSNBC and most news sites carried the hearings live, the conservative network went commercial-free for over two hours in its attempt to downplay and rebut the hearing.

Tucker Carlson, host of the 8 p.m. hour, opened his program by saying, “It tells you a lot about the priorities of our ruling class that the rest of us are getting yet another lecture about Jan. 6 tonight — from our moral inferiors, no less.”

Tucker Carlson.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Thursday night.

He called Thompson and Cheney “lunatics” and promoted Trump’s election conspiracy theory, claiming that delays in vote counting and Joe Biden’s high vote totals meant that the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol had legitimate grievances in doing so.

“The whole thing is insulting. In fact, it’s deranged,” he said. “And we’re not playing along. This is the only hour on an American news channel that will not be carrying their propaganda live. They are lying, and we are not going to help them do it.”

Carlson also welcomed a guest who promoted the baseless conspiracy theory that federal agents were behind the events at the Capitol, and called the violence “a clear hoax.” Last year, Carlson released a documentary series attempting to prove that the events of Jan. 6 were “a setup.”

“Tell them to look you in the eye and say that the feds weren’t involved in this,” former Trump aide Darren Beattie said, offering no evidence to support his claims. “It’s a clear hoax.”

Neither Carlson nor host of the 9 p.m. hour Sean Hannity discussed the fact that Hannity’s texts with Trump’s White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, were part of the evidence presented by the committee. In April, CNN reported that Hannity was in contact with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Sean Hannity.
Sean Hannity.

Hannity pivoted to talking about the presence of the National Guard and claimed that the one person being absolved by the hearing was Trump, saying, “How does this play out as this narrative now takes over? ... This is about a security failure of incredible magnitude — and they don’t even seem to want to talk about it. The one person who looks good is Donald Trump. Donald Trump authorized it.”

As Cheney pointed out during the hearing, “Trump gave no order to deploy the National Guard that day, and he made no effort to work with the Department of Justice to coordinate and deploy law enforcement assets.”

When the programming transitioned to Laura Ingraham’s 10 p.m. hour, the banner on the graphic read, “JAN 6TH COMMITTEE FLOPS IN PRIMETIME.”

“It’s misleading information, vicious innuendo, attempts to connect the dots that never quite pay off,” Ingraham said. “The drumbeat, constant drumbeat of demonization and distraction. It’s neither entertaining nor edifying. It’s just bad programming.”

Laura Ingraham.
Laura Ingraham.

The network also turned to whataboutism, stating that spending any time investigating an attempted insurrection by the leader of one of the nation’s two parties wasn’t a pressing issue considering the other challenges facing the country.

“Gas is over five bucks,” Carlson said. “Inflation is higher than it’s been in the lifetime of most Americans. Violent crime is making cities impossible to live in, and more than 100,000 Americans [overdosed] on drugs last year. Why isn’t there a primetime hearing about any of that?”

Right-wing media has consistently downplayed the violence of Jan. 6, while promoting to great success the baseless claim that the election was stolen. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday found that 55% of Republicans believed that violent left-wing protesters led the assault on the Capitol. That survey also found that two-thirds of Republicans believe the election was stolen.

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll earlier this year found that 57% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents wouldn’t vote for a candidate who said Biden won the presidency “fair and square.” This has motivated a slew of Republican primary candidates who are campaigning on their purported belief that the election was stolen, including some who were in attendance on Jan. 6.

Trump supporters at a Washington, D.C., rally on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump supporters at a rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (John Minchillo/AP)

The right-wing disinformation isn’t limited to the events of Jan. 6: A Kaiser Family Foundation poll last fall found that watching right-wing media like Fox News, Newsmax and One America News Network made a respondent more likely to believe false statements about COVID-19.

While Newsmax did air a portion of Cheney’s remarks, the network featured pro-Trump commentators, and at some point host Rob Schmitt compared the violence at the Capitol with the racial justice protests during the summer of 2020, CNN reported.

The mission statement of telling viewers what they want to hear versus showing new information that might change their beliefs was a point Ingraham conceded Tuesday evening in conversation with former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, saying, “We actually do something called, you know, cater to our audience.”

“Few things obstruct the American people from hearing the truth more than Fox News’ cowardly decision not to broadcast Thursday’s hearing,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a Tuesday press conference. “After all of the false facts that Fox News has allowed to be put on the air by its commentators and everyone else, they have an obligation to show the true facts by allowing the hearing to be seen by their listeners.”

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