The January 6 Committee’s Audience

It was yuuuge! And nobody saw it!

The competing headlines on this are both amusing and frustrating.

New York Times:

At Least 20 Million Watched Jan. 6 Hearing

The number is in the ballpark of big television events like a “Sunday Night Football” game.

Washington Post:

Nearly 19 million watched the first Jan. 6 hearing in prime time

The ratings suggest a quantifiable success for committee members hoping to engage the public in their investigation

NewsBusters:

Broadcast Networks’ Jan 6 Hearings Drew Smaller Audiences than Nightly Newscasts Last Week

Washington Free Beacon:

Resistance Porn Ratings Fail: Jan. 6 Committee Hearing Crushed by ‘Young Sheldon’ Rerun

What’s amusing is that all of the headlines accurately portray what happened.

  • Because the programming was on most of the broadcast and cable news channels, its combined audience was quite large: close to 20 million folks, comparable to the biggest broadcast in any given week.
  • But more people watch the ABC, NBC, or CBS nightly newscasts—combined—on any given weeknight. About 1.6 times as many.
  • And, looking at CBS’s share alone, more people would have watched a rerun of Young Sheldon than tuned into their coverage of the event.

But, as Steven Taylor has been shouting from the rooftops since before he was a regular here, the live audience for political events really doesn’t matter all that much. It’s the soundbytes, stupid. Hell, I’m a political junkie who has maintained a political junkie website for just short of two decades and I didn’t watch it. What matters is what plays on the various news and talking heads programming people watch, how much of it sticks, and whether any minds are changed.

I’ve been skeptical since the outset that anyone who believes against all evidence that Donald Trump won the election is persuadable. Indeed, as time has gone on, I’m surer than ever that they’re not.

CNN’s Brian Stelter breaks down the coverage:

More than 20 million TV viewers tuned in to Thursday’s prime-time presentation about the January 6 attack, and it reached a far larger number through all manner of social and old-school media.

According to early Nielsen estimates, nine of the channels that carried the hearing averaged a combined 19 million viewers during the two-hour hearing. This data doesn’t count every TV channel, however, or most web streaming, so the true total is larger.

Big live events are sliced and diced in dozens of different ways across radio, TV and the internet, so every attempt to measure total audience is inherently incomplete.
The early numbers are respectable, given the fragmented state of TV, but other widely-carried political events have garnered bigger audiences lately. President Biden’s State of the Union address in March averaged 38 million viewers across sixteen channels.

Great context. But here’s what’s really interesting to me:

Fox News carried Biden’s address, and about 6.9 million people watched it on that channel, but not the hearing.

Tucker Carlson’s loyal fans stayed with him Thursday while he made a show of ignoring the revelations about the assault on democracy. Carlson averaged about 3.3 million viewers, which is an ordinary night for him. Notably, though, Carlson did not take any commercial breaks, which might have tempted some of his viewers to sample the hearing on another channel.

While Carlson’s ratings reflect the fact that a segment of right-wing viewers were not interested in consuming the hearing, other audiences were.

Between 8 and 10 p.m. Eastern, roughly 5 million people watched the hearing on ABC; 3.6 million on NBC; and 3.4 million on CBS.

On cable, more than 4.3 million watched on MSNBC and more than 2.7 million watched on CNN, between three and four times the typical prime-time audience for the channels.

Fox Business Network, which offered hearing coverage instead of Fox News, netted barely 200,000 viewers.

The right-wing channel Newsmax, which did show most of the hearing, had fewer than 150,000 viewers.

So, not shockingly, the most ardent Republican-leaning news consumers mostly eschewed the live coverage. And they had their sound bytes and analysis filtered by people deliberately downplaying the revelations. That’s obviously not a path to changing their minds.

Regardless, I’ve come to believe that we owe it to posterity to accurately and thoroughly document what happened on January 6 and the surrounding time period. Whether it’ll have any impact, I haven’t a clue. At some point, we’ve got to get back to being entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts. That day does not seem close at hand.

FILED UNDER: Media, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    I’ve been skeptical since the outset that anyone who believes against all evidence that Donald Trump won the election is persuadable.

    I think this is true, but I also think we political junkies have wildly overestimate the percent of population that has strong opinions about this or any other political matter. I would be astounded if it amounted to 30%, and wouldn’t be surprised if it were half that.

    And for those 70-85% that aren’t that interested, “believe” and “persuadable” have different meanings than it does for us. They don’t have much investment in their political beliefs, and so they aren’t really “persuadable” for any length of time. When they vote they primarily do so because of their party affiliation which is essentially their “team”.

    The mechanism for change in a democracy such as ours is not to persuade large numbers of people about some political “truth” but rather to accept this team analogy and use mechanisms that drive “attendance”. It is extremely unlikely that you can turn, say, a Yankees fan into a Mets fan, but both teams do all kinds of things that affect attendance (turnout), most of which don’t “persuade” people to go to a game so much as they nudge the community gestalt towards your team. And that gestalt is set by a relatively small number of actors, and almost none of them are “persuading” anyone. Some of their influences are positive and some negative. The goal in a democracy where elections matter is to persuade a relatively small number of people to create positive interactions with their larger community, and encourage and highlight the negative interactions of the other team’s hardcore. If the biggest fan in your workplace is an obnoxious jerk who never shuts up and repeats themself over and over, it may not make you abandon your team but it is likely to increase negative associations.

    9
  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Assuming he’s not indicted, the hearing will keep him from being prez again and most likely deny him the R nomination. In straw polls at various conservative events, DeSantis has run up a string of victories over TFG. Why should R primary voters choose such a damaged candidate as TFG, when there are trumpier alternatives?

    If he does capture the nomination, the hearings will undermine his support among R’s that voted for him because he was an R, but would prefer other candidates.

    Of course the best outcome will be if the hearings and subsequent report forces Garland to begin indicting the perps.

    4
  3. Scott F. says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Preventing another Trump presidency won’t save the country from our descent into minority authoritarianism, so, as MarkedMan notes, it is more important that these hearings increase negative associations for the Republicans than that they drive up the number of DOJ indictments. (That said, criminal consequences for those powerful people who are almost always insulated from paying for their criminal behavior is always welcomed.)

    And I believe the hearings have already provided a sound bite with the potential to tarnish the brand for those who are wavering on Team GOP:

    “I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible,” Lynn Cheney said at Thursday night’s opening hearing of the Jan. 6 House select committee. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

    It is a short enough quote to be featured in the campaign ads against every Republican candidate unwilling to reject Trumpism and even the politically uninvested will recognize her name as Team GOP.

    6
  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    Squirrel!

    3
  5. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    If you can figure out what the hell he’s talking about, do let me know.

    4
  6. Jax says:

    @CSK: I must’ve missed it before his word salad got sent to the spam folder. 😛 Sometimes it reads like he’s having a series of mini strokes while he’s typing.

    1
  7. CSK says:

    @Jax:
    Given that I taught freshman comp for more years than I care to recall, you’d think I’d be well-versed in the art of translating gibberish. But the meaning of Paul’s prose, alas, eludes me.

    3
  8. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    IMO it’s bothsiderism employed at it’s highest intellectual level: I am rubber and your(sic) glue…

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    @CSK:
    He doesn’t know.

    All he knows is that his opinion is rigidly fixed, so he flatly dismisses all contradictory evidence, while latching on to whatever straws Tucker Carlson hands him. Thus armed with impenetrable imbecility he, like so many tiresome bores, insists on inflicting his ignorance on anyone around him. @Paul L is the classic nightmare passenger in the seat next to you.

    If it wasn’t this particular stupidity it’d be the Kennedy assassination or sovereign citizen or the illuminati. It’s a phenomenon I started noticing all the way back in high school: the person of average or slightly below average intelligence who swallows a big load of Dunning Kruger brand cupcakes and decides they’re clever.

    I would speculate that it begins in the home. Someone like Paul may be slightly more intelligent than siblings or parents. They label themselves ‘the smart one’, failing to recognize that they’re only smarter than very stupid people. Then for the rest of their lives they’re straining to get the same recognition in the larger world that they got so easily as children. When they run into people who are actually intelligent they feel threatened and react belligerently, doubling down on their set-in-concrete beliefs.

    Paul L will never understand that people who really do possess a high degree of intelligence are seldom rigid and generally open to contradictory evidence because intelligent people want the actual truth, they want to understand, not merely posture as possessors of ‘secret knowledge.’

    If one is feeling generous, one can feel sorry for the Pauls and Drews and MBunges of the world, trapped in intellectual mediocrity and attendant rigidity – they’re like plain girls who insist on entering beauty pageants, or clumsy five footers who believe that they could join the NBA. OTOH, they and everyone around them would be so much happier if they recognized their limits and chose instead to explore genuine abilities that might give them real success, rather than boring their intellectual superiors.

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  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Scott F.:

    I never said that stopping another Trump presidency would save the country.

    Frankly, I’m of the opinion that we will descend into authoritarianism. Enough state legislatures have laid the groundwork, the court system is set to ratify whatever those legislatures do and Congress is frozen by procedure. Add to those, all the leading R presidential candidates have views of government that range from authoritarian to fascist. Enjoy your last few years of democracy.

    5
  11. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    That is eminently true. I paid my daily visit to Lucianne.com this morning, and people there are still maintaining, in the face of all evidence, including visual, that the mob that stormed the Capitol was
    a) peaceful
    b) invited, nay escorted, in by the Capitol police
    c) caused no damage whatsoever but for a mere four broken windows.

    It’s hopeless.

    4
  12. steve says:

    Some of you still dont understand or dont want to understand how this works. The more this stuff makes Trump look bad in your eyes the better it makes him look to conservatives. This wont affect his chances at re-election.

    Steve

    4
  13. Gavin says:

    Can we be certain Paul isn’t Samuel Alito’s online pseudonym?
    People are asking.

    1
  14. CSK says:

    @steve:
    I think we all get this. That doesn’t prevent us from being appalled when it happens.

    Daily I remind myself that Trump’s appeal is that he’s a malevolent churl.

    3
  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @steve:
    Yes, it will affect his chances at re-election. We don’t need the Paul L’s, we just need to turn out our people and discourage 5% of theirs.

    Also, I’d point out that reality does bend the arc of even the cretins. They started out talking about false flags and Antifa. They found that un-sustainable. Now they’ve evolved to embracing January 6 as both a great patriotic moment and as a non-event. These contradictory positions are unstable. Over time even the hardest core of MAGAts will begin incrementally to absorb the truth. Some will go deeper into denial and contradiction, but some will start edging toward the exits. In their hearts they’ve already swapped DeSantis for Trump and that is evidence, however discouraging in net effect, that reality does seep into their little cocoons. Time is on our side, the question is do we have enough time.

    3
  16. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Just one correction here: The MAGAs started out by claiming the mob consisted of brave patriots determined to take back our country. Then, as soon as they started getting arrested, the brave patriots became violent Antifa/BLM thugs cleverly disguised as middle-aged overweight white guys in Trump hats. Then all the troublemakers became undercover FBI agents.

    Now that what they call “the show trials” have started, led by Liz Cheney, the most evil women in the world (surpassing even Hillary Clinton!), we’re back to “brave patriots,” only this time they’re just peaceful tourists.

    8
  17. I would note that we can’t know for sure the impact of these things until all the televised hearings are done.

    I do think, for example, the soundbite of Ivanka admitting that she believed Barr and that Trump had won has/will resonate for some. And it makes Trump look bad to have to be immediately mean to his own daughter. Granted, the hardcore MAGAistas won’t care, but they don’t care that the mob carried Trump flags into the Capitol while beating up on the police.

    4
  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Time is on our side, the question is do we have enough time.

    What we’re looking at is reactionary opposition to modernity. It’s a rear guard action, doomed to defeat. Eventually. But they can do a hell of a lot of damage in the meantime. Once this sort of thing took hold in Germany and Italy it took massive destruction to get rid of it.

    5
  19. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Hours after a poll was released showing that Katie Britt has a double-digit lead over Mo Brooks, Trump endorsed Britt, whom he had previously decried as unqualified. It’s clear that the only qualification that matters to Trump is winning. And Britt appears to be winning.

    I hesitate to read any more significance into this than it may merit, but MAGAworld is definitely unhappy with Trump’s decision to back Britt.

  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @gVOR08:
    Indeed.

    The encouraging thing to do is look at all the past victories. Conservatives used to support literal, legal segregation. They dropped that. They used to defend red-lining, they dropped that. Used to oppose equal pay for women, dropped that. Gay marriage, same thing. There are a lot of examples from the trivial – long hair on men – to the more profound – grudging acceptance of atheists. Already the bathroom argument on trans people has faded to be replaced by a parental rights approach, meaning they’ve accepted defeat as to adult trans people.

    None of that is to say that they learn from the fact that they are always wrong, or that they embrace the change, for the most part they remain the narrow, nasty people they were. Nevertheless, if you laid it out like a battle you’d see that we’ve pushed them a long way back from their initial positions. MAGA is a desperate fascistic grab for power and relevance by people who fear the future has nothing for them. And of course on that they’re right.

    The problem we have on the Left is that we are defined in our habits by academia, not the military. We’re holding seminars while they’re forming shield walls. It’s why I get so pissed off at progressives who seem incapable of understanding that we aren’t on a debate team, we’re in a war. We lose ground by virtue of our fecklessness and they gain ground by virtue of their focus. I wish we had fewer college kids and more union members – unions understand it’s war.

    1
  21. wr says:

    “I’ve been skeptical since the outset that anyone who believes against all evidence that Donald Trump won the election is persuadable. Indeed, as time has gone on, I’m surer than ever that they’re not.”

    And yet it sure seems like Tucker and the Fox game are afraid that they are persuadable. Otherwise, why hide the hearings?

    15
  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:
    What an excellent point.

    3
  23. @CSK: I noticed that this morning. I almost tweeting that someone explained the math to Trump and he, therefore, endorsed the likely winner.

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gavin: Based on some of the comments PaulL makes about police and excessive use of force by police, I would guess no, he’s not an Alito pseudonym.

    […]

    As I noted earlier, I’ve never believed that “history” was going to misunderstand what happened on the day in question, but to the extent the hearings make “the record” more accessible, that’s a net good.

    1
  25. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Already the bathroom argument on trans people has faded to be replaced by a parental rights approach, meaning they’ve accepted defeat as to adult trans people.

    They are criminalizing medical care for minors, and Florida has begun making moves to ensure that Medicaid in that state cannot be used for adults to transition.

    I think you are misreading a shift in tactics as a shift in strategy.

    5
  26. Gustopher says:

    @gVOR08:

    What we’re looking at is reactionary opposition to modernity. It’s a rear guard action, doomed to defeat. Eventually. But they can do a hell of a lot of damage in the meantime. Once this sort of thing took hold in Germany and Italy it took massive destruction to get rid of it.

    Who are you counting on invading us to get rid of our Nazis?

    4
  27. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: FWIW, my wife and I were volunteering at a local men’s shelter last night and I met someone who made me think of the trolls on this blog. Not that he was a jerk or that my interaction was negative. I had a lengthy and one sided conversation with Stan, a guy who was probably no older than me, perhaps younger. That’s fine, I’m there to give them someone new to talk to, someone who isn’t in the same situation. But he was of a type that I’ve come across many times before, someone who has intellect and talent but whose mind has been so furrowed and channeled by a lifetime of drugs and trauma that his thoughts come out as poor copies of what they once were. Stan definitely had a lyrical, almost poetic way of speaking but you could tell his mind was like some half empty factory, continuously and repetitively attempting to create the same product over and over, but some of the components were missing and the machinery no longer meshed together in quite the right way. He would get into a rhythm and I could tell he was rehashing thoughts he had expressed thousands of times before. And he couldn’t incorporate anything new. If I made a comment about an aspect of something he said that was different or tangential than his intentions I could tell it wasn’t even registering and I suspect that if I had tried to explain it he would have just become upset or distracted. At one point he mentioned something about his use of social media and some comments he had made and I thought of some of our problem children here. We often marvel at how they present the weakest arguments and don’t even respond to countervailing evidence, but what if they simply don’t have the ability to process it? They aren’t ignoring it, because that would require intent. They simply don’t register it.

    It’s one of the reasons I just don’t read their stuff or engage in any way. They could be original style trolls, saying anything to get a reaction. They could be so dim witted that they can’t see how they are being pwnd. Or they could be so damaged they can no longer even engage in an actual conversation, their minds running on train tracks in an abandoned and decaying freight yard, shuttling from siding to switch to siding with no actual destination possible. No matter which of these is closest, I don’t see any point in engaging.

    9
  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Dyed in the wool lifelong DEM and I didn’t watch it or any clips from it. I figure if anything really new comes up it will hit the front pages. I’ll read it and retain far more of it that way anyway.

    2
  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:

    whose mind has been so furrowed and channeled

    I really like that. I may steal it.

    what if they simply don’t have the ability to process it? They aren’t ignoring it, because that would require intent. They simply don’t register it.

    I don’t see any point in engaging.

    You’re making the compassionate argument, and I can’t counter that in any way.

    I see – choose to see – these guys as so impervious to anything I say that I can pound on them with impunity. It’s like a zombie movie. Zombies are brainless undead humans so it’s okay to blow their heads off. But I’ll confess that my motives, and the pleasure I derive, border on the sadistic. And by ‘border on’ I mean six, maybe eight inches over the line into Marquis country.

    I don’t want you to read this as sarcastic, it’s not, but I am going to try harder to quell that meanness. It’s unattractive. I’ll be 68 in a month and a bit, some would say it’s time I grew up.

    5
  30. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: OK. And in six months when I’ve had it and am going off on one of them you can point me back here…

    3
  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I think unions understood war at one time. By the time that I was leaving the industry in which I had benefitted from a very lucrative contractive hammered out in the years during which unions understood war, the union negotiating for us had convinced us to agree to a new salary schedule where new employees started at 40% of our journeyperson wage and peaked at 75%. The theory was that hiring was so low in our industry that our workers would never be affected by this move because we would all be retired (at the time, I had 25 years left 🙁 ) before we became less than 50% of the workforce. Our wages would never go down was the promise.

    Of course, the “promise” lasted for 2 contract terms–which was longer than I thought it would–and by 1995, the union in my industry was a complete shambles and merely a shadow of what it had been. As the membership shrank down to nothing, though, the younger business agents representing the rank and file did okay. They were hired by Allied Employers–the folks on the other side of the table.

    But, yeah, if we got back unions that knew how to fight, it might help politically. I guess.

    3
  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: “Who are you counting on invading us to get rid of our Nazis?”

    The “good” conservatives? The cleansing purge is coming. Liz Cheney broke with the MAGAts to join the 1/6 committee. It’s only a matter of time now; soon, very soon, others will join her.

    1
  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    While Liz Cheney in on my mind, MSNBC/FTFWaPo had an item on that she objected to/blocked (?) the committee from questioning Ms. Virginia, the SCOTUS justice’s wife. Beyond “it would be pointless, ain’t nobody in the corridors of power ever gonna be charged,” does anybody have any theories as to why she objects? I was at the gym and didn’t have sound, so I was just going by the chyron, and it didn’t elaborate.

  34. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Radical unions using Antifa as enforcers instead of the mob?

  35. Jay L Gischer says:

    @MarkedMan: That’s a beautiful if sad story, with very solid insights taken from it.

    1
  36. de stijl says:

    @MarkedMan:

    That was excellent writing.

    In my youth I was homeless for a few months. It is extraordinarily trying on many levels. I had an indoor place to sleep. I had a job, a crappy job, but a job. A pizza joint, so I ate.

    Being unable to have a space to be alone and to be safe and get clean with water out of a tap does a big impact on your brain.

    When you have no four walls, no electricity, no faucet, no fridge or stove your brain goes into survival mode. Water, shelter, food, a place to poop.

    The niceties of society and intelligent discourse drop in priority.

    The weird thing is that even if you get your shit together and become situated in an apartment you have nothing. I had no furniture for months. I had two sets of clothes. I was basically living in a squat that I had to pay rent for. I slept in a grungy sleeping bag on the floor. Still, electricity and water and a bathroom were very much appreciated. Worth every penny. Water and electricity and four walls are an unalloyed good. Seriously, I could live in a shed on a cot today with a space heater and call it good.

    I still have nightmares. The thought spooks me. Chills me. Being homeless really sucks. Having a home is extraordinarily, intensely amazing, and a privilege. Every time I turn on a light switch or turn on a tap it kind of lights me up and amazes me.

    I never mixed much with others in my same situation. When I did it was odd. The plasma center. A noticeable cohort seemed to be unwell in the head. It did not matter. I was focused. I ignored them. Not my business.

    I was lucky. I had a indoor place to squat. I got my shit together.

    2
  37. de stijl says:

    Oh my golly, plasma “donation” centers are both scary as fuck and also a hoot and a half.

    There are some interesting folks there. That is for sure.

    There is an intake process. You have to be demonstrably not insane or incapable, capable of passing the world’s easiest sanity test. Iirc, a vague medical history. After the initial sign up you are good to go. Twice a week max.

    I got twenty bucks cash money a pop. Big money to me then. If you had bus money or strong legs you could get to another shop and do it again, so 80 bucks a week minus bus fare.

    The disconcerting thing is that after centrifuging your blood and sucking out your precious plasma, they add saline solution into your blood pack and reinsert it into your arm at room temperature and not at 98.6F. That shit felt cold. An internal, weird chill running up and down your arm.

    Remember well, blood plasma comes from the most desperate people in America who have no home. They sell their blood for money to buy food.

    2
  38. BugManDan says:

    @de stijl: I used to sell plasma in college. There were a few obviously homeless guys in there, but a lot of them were banned because they ate food that was too fatty and the fat would spin out with the plasma and was too much work to separate.

    I don’t remember any sanity tests, just AIDS and other possibly contagious blood diseases.

    That cold blood was weird!