Mueller Hearings Draw 13 Million Viewers
Wednesday's Congressional testimony by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller wasn't exactly a ratings blockbuster.
Wednesday’s hearings before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees may have been the talk of Washington, cable news, and the political crowd online, but they weren’t exactly a ratings blockbuster:
Television’s Trump bump may be fading. Or perhaps the reticent witness — a career prosecutor who delivered terse, technical answers — was not the type to keep Americans tuned in for a marathon day of viewing.
Whatever the reason, the ratings for Robert S. Mueller III’s congressional testimony on Wednesday failed to match the big viewership for other recent political spectacles.
An average of 13 million Americans watched the former special counsel on the major cable and broadcast networks over the seven-and-a-half hours of questioning, according to statistics released on Thursday by Nielsen.
That audience was smaller than the 19.5 million people who watched James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, describe his dealings with President Trump to Congress in June 2017. Mr. Comey proved a surprising and animated witness, offering memorable one-liners (“Lordy, I hope there are tapes”) that attracted about the same audience as Game 2 of that year’s N.B.A. finals.
In terms of ratings, Mr. Mueller’s hearing also fell short of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh in September. That broadcast drew an average of 21 million viewers, who watched hours of testimony that probed difficult questions of gender, class and power.
The Mueller hearings seemed to promise a similarly gripping episode. Here was the author of the Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election in his first unscripted appearance since he had completed the inquiry. Would he expound on whether or not Mr. Trump had obstructed justice? Would he tackle the attacks on his integrity?
Mr. Mueller did defend his report during the back-to-back sessions before the House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee. But he spent much of his time deferring, demurring and issuing short, even one-word, answers. His testimony seemed to lack drama by design.
Still, 13 million viewers is not tiny. The audience beat out Tuesday’s edition of “America’s Got Talent” on NBC, the highest-rated network prime-time show of the week. Nielsen numbers only capture television viewers; millions more may have followed along with Mr. Mueller through social media and streaming video.
Part of the reason for the lower numbers, of course, may simply be a matter of timing. Unlike the previous hearings that it is being compared to, Wednesday’s hearing came in the middle of a summer week when many Americans are likely on vacation. Additionally, the fact that the hearings started at 8:30 in the morning on the East Coast, which of course is 5:30 in the morning on the West Coast, and ended by 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon meant that they were taking place at a time when most Americans were either heading to work in the morning or just waking up. While this may have been convenient for the witness and the Committee members, it wasn’t exactly ideal timing for anyone interested in watching the hearings.
That being said, though, it’s also possible that this is a sign that the public as a whole is suffering from Russia fatigue. Mueller’s investigation, after all, lasted the better part of a year and a half and, while it wasn’t necessarily in the headlines every day it was certainly part of the political zeitgeist for an extended period of time. The release of the report earlier this year, followed by Mueller’s own press conference was likely taken by many Americans as a sign that the process was more or less over. What this means for Democrats who may be hoping to stoke up the public appetite for impeachment during the coming six-week recess is unclear, but I’m willing to bet that Congressmen and Senators returning home for their break are going to find that voters are much more concerned about substantive issues than they are about the prospect of a prolonged impeachment process.