Fox News aired Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, but that’s about it

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At its core, the January 6, 2021 story is a story about how millions of people became disconnected from reality.

President Donald Trump lost the election two months earlier, with five states he won in 2016 opting for Joe Biden instead. Results in these states were often close, although the national spread was substantial. However, Trump had insisted for months that rampant fraud was inevitable and the only possible explanation for losses — not to mention his widespread unpopularity and polarizing approach to the job. He then claimed that fraud had taken place, with no evidence. Thousands of people belonging to this group then decided to try to take matters into their own hands.

How could that happen? In part because a bubble of right-wing media and voices that had ignored or supported Trump’s dishonesty for years accompanied the play. Because Trump made it very clear that it was easier to follow his claims than to fight them. On the political right, there has been a media bubble for some time, fueled by market forces that Trump exploited and turned more openly political.

This surreal world of information is why people smashed windows in the Capitol. Over the course of the hearings conducted by the House Special Committee to Inquire into the Insurgency, we’ve had an interesting look at how this world is sustained.

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The committee’s first prime-time hearing last month attracted around 20 million viewers. That’s about as many people as there were in the last three games of the NBA Finals combined. However, of those 20 million people, only about 1 percent watched on Fox’s platforms. The company’s flagship, Fox News, aired counter-programming — Tucker Carlson and his guests spewing conspiracy theories about the insurgency — instead of conducting the hearing.

However, Fox News covered most daytime hearings when they did not conflict with its more popular programming. Much of the sensational testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, who was an aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, last week was broadcast live on Fox News. Eventually, however, it was cut to show The Five.

The January 6th committee bet a lot with Cassidy Hutchinson. Was it worth?

During the two hours of Hutchinson’s testimony aired on the channel, his ratings plummeted – reinforcing presenter Laura Ingraham’s argument that his original decision not to broadcast the hearing was the network “serving its audience”. Of course, it’s not the job of a supposed news agency to tell an audience what they want to hear. Rather, it is about actually informing the audience independently of the reception.

Of course, broadcasting a hearing is just one way a cable news network can update its audience about what’s happening. It’s possible that Fox News downplayed the live hearings but then updated its audience on what happened. Except that it wasn’t.

Analysis of closed captions data for the three largest cable news networks shows that since June 26, two days before Hutchinson’s testimony, Fox News had mentioned her name only one-sixth as much as MSNBC and one-seventh as much as CNN.

(The graphs in this article show the percentage of 15-second clips in a day where the given term was mentioned.)

When it came to a story from Hutchinson’s testimony — that she was told Trump had tried to grab the steering wheel of the car to drag him away from his speech in the Ellipse — Fox News’ mentions matched the other two networks. That’s almost certainly because this story sparked controversy over its accuracy, with the right using questions about what happened as a tool to largely undermine Hutchinson’s testimony.

“Looks like it never happened,” Ingraham told her audience. Incidentally, that second spike in CNN’s mention curve came as the network spoke to two intelligence sources who backed up Hutchinson’s claims.

Contrast that with the more important revelation from the day’s testimony, Hutchinson’s suggestion that Trump knew some of those present were armed with firearms or other weapons at his speech. He dismissed the threat, Hutchinson said, as the crowd would not use the guns to attack him.

This was played a lot on CNN and MSNBC – and very little on Fox News. (To measure this, I looked at the times that “weapon” or “armed” was mentioned in blocks that contained or stood next to Trump.)

Instead, Fox News was more likely to air segments with the word “woke,” a derogatory abbreviation for a vague set of leftist views.

So the bubble stays in place. Instead of presenting the most alarming aspects of what is being claimed about Trump, the most popular cable news network on the right chooses to downplay it. It focuses on questions about testimony, not Trump’s actions and decisions.

On Saturday, the Washington Post examined whether the House Committee’s decision to focus on Hutchinson’s testimony had worked out for the committee. The answer to this question depends on which payout was sought. If it was media attention: Yes, it was worth it. If it could convince those inclined to dismiss Trump’s actions, probably not. Not because the testimony was considered and discarded, but because many of those who have been isolated for years in the bubble that Fox News is a part of continue to shun the unfortunate demands of reality. Fox News aired Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, but that’s about it

James Brien

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