Nearly 20 Million Watch January 6 Hearing; MSNBC Beats Fox News, Which Stuck With Regular Shows
19 million Americans watched live coverage of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol across at least six broadcast and cable news networks, according to early overnight ratings data compiled by Nielsen. The viewership figures will almost certainly rise as more data is released later in the day.
Fox News Channel, which offloaded live coverage of the hearing to its business channel, Fox Business, fell from its usual perch as the highest-rated network in cable news, taking second place with 2.957 million viewers between 8 and 10 p.m. ET, well behind MSNBC’s audience of 4.2 million. CNN was third among the cable news networks with an average audience of 2.6 million viewers.
Overall, ABC had the largest audience with 4.8 million viewers. For the broadcast networks, NBC was second overall with 3.5 million viewers, followed by CBS (3.3 million). Fox Business Network, where Fox News’ Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum anchored live coverage, drew just 223,000 viewers between 8 and 10 p.m.
The committee’s hearing was carried live in prime time on all the major broadcast and cable news networks, with the exception of Fox News Channel, which stuck with its regular slate of opinion-based shows. The two-hour hearing featured searing testimony from a police officer injured as she tried to stop the angry mob from breaching police barricades set up outside the Capitol. The hearing also featured a dramatic 12-minute video including never-before-seen footage from security cameras inside and outside the Capitol and body cameras worn by officers who fought to defend the building.
The committee, in a move that suggested an understanding not just of the emotional power of the video but also how the news networks would react to it, took a ten-minute recess after the video played. That gave each of the networks a chance to comment on what they’d just seen, adding to its impact. “An absolutely devastating film of footage, much of which we had never seen before,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said.
On MSNBC, former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele reacted to the opening statement made by committee member Rep. Liz Cheney, who said “tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
« If you want the definition of a mic drop, that was it, » Steele said.
Fox News Channel’s top-rated host, Tucker Carlson, opened his program by dismissing the live hearings underway in Washington as “yet another lecture about January 6,” which Carlson described as “a forgettably minor outbreak” of mob violence “which took place more than a year and a half ago, but they’ve never stopped talking about it.” Carlson mocked the networks carrying the hearings live, saying “the whole thing is insulting, in fact, it’s deranged. We’re not playing along.”
Fox News host Laura Ingraham joined the pile-on, saying “Democrats and liberals, they’ve been flopping in primetime television for years. It’s always the same, right? It’s misleading information, vicious innuendo, attempts to connect the dots that never quite pay off. That drumbeat, constant drumbeat of demonization and distraction. It’s neither entertaining nor edifying. It’s just bad programing.”
Fox did carry the hearings live on its sister network, Fox Business, but the decision to skip live coverage in favor of having its regular opinion hosts talking about—and dismissing—the hearings created “an alternate reality to a hearing that showed vivid and bloody detail of a national crisis,” as NPR’s David Folkenflik put it.
By sitting out live coverage, Fox News avoided broadcasting “flat contradictions of what many leading Fox News personalities have told their audiences in the past year and a half — including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity,” Folkenflik wrote.
The decision to hold the hearing live in prime time—with the help of a former president of ABC News, James Goldston, serving as an adviser on the presentation—presented the networks with a question: would the committee present information that justified wall-to-wall coverage? “To get prime-time coverage is a truly extraordinary statement,” Tom Bettag, a former executive producer of ABC’s Nightline and lecturer at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, told the Los Angeles Times. “I think the committee would have to demonstrate to the networks that they are going to present things that people don’t know and are significant.”