The (preliminary) ratings for the primetime January 6 committee hearing are in

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Whether you think these numbers are surprisingly good or laughably bad will derive almost entirely from whether you believe the hearing was worthwhile or not. It’s a pure political Rorschach test.


For those eager to read them as laughably bad:

Not only did the hearing fail to draw as many viewers as the nightly newscasts did, on CBS it failed to draw as many viewers as a rerun of “Young Sheldon” a week prior. It got half the audience of Biden’s State of the Union speech, which itself wasn’t a huge draw relative to previous presidential SOTUs. What an embarrassment!

For those eager to read them as surprisingly good:

More than twice the size of the audience for Trump’s impeachment trial. Fox’s cable competitors, CNN and MSNBC, did especially well. MSNBC drew 4.1 million viewers, four times the size of its usual weeknight audience and good enough for a comfortable primetime victory over Fox. CNN finished with 2.5 million viewers, also more than four times larger than its recent nightly audience. And both MSNBC and CNN topped Fox in the key 25-54 demo. It’s rare for Rupert Murdoch’s network to finish third in any cable metric but it happened last night.


Maybe some of the “Young Sheldon” fans flipped over to MSNBC for the evening instead of watching the hearing on CBS. The Times adds this interesting detail too: “Viewers who tuned in mostly stuck around for the entire congressional proceeding. Viewership on each of the broadcast networks remained steady between 8 and 10 p.m., according to half-hour Nielsen breakdowns.” It strikes me as highly unusual for a political proceeding to hold an audience’s interest for two hours on a weeknight during primetime. But then, this was no ordinary hearing.

None of these numbers include the audience on streaming platforms either. YouTube carried the hearing last night, among others.

What makes it so hard to determine whether the ratings were good or not is that it all depends on who, precisely, was watching. If most of the 19 million who tuned in were diehard Resistance Democrats then the hearing was a bust. Those people already know that Trump is a danger to the country. The committee was preaching to the choir.

If a meaningful percentage were swing voters or Republicans open to the idea of a different nominee in 2024 then the numbers begin to look more meaningful. David French reminded The Atlantic’s readers today that the reason some conservatives have stuck with Trump so devotedly throughout the “stop the steal” saga is because they simply don’t know the details of his plot to overturn the election. Most people have only so many hours in the day which they can devote to following political news. And conservatives tend to consume conservative media, which treats gatekeeping for Trump as a solemn duty at all levels. Fox provided a cartoonish demonstration last night of how far it’s willing to go to shield its viewers from news that’s damaging to the GOP when it not only declined to carry the hearing but opted to air Tucker and Hannity ad-free so that viewers wouldn’t be tempted to change the channel during a commercial break.


Years ago, Dave “Iowahawk” Burge snarked on mainstream media bias this way: “Journalism is about covering important stories. With a pillow, until they stop moving.” It’s true. But it’s also true that too much of partisan media operates the same way. French:

As I’ve told countless progressive friends, if you trust or use mainly right-leaning media, you’d have a different view of Trump as well. You’d live with a perpetual, exaggerated view of the threat from the left at the same time that you’d be bombarded with the extended, passionate defenses of Trump and his supporters. Taken together, that means your average Republican believes that Democrats are worse than they really are, and that Trump is better than he really is…

First, they’re going to know a lot less about the Trump team’s misconduct than you might think. Mention the John Eastman memos that urged Vice President Pence to reject Joe Biden’s electoral-vote majority, and many will shake their heads. Never heard of it.

Bring up Trump’s infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and they’re mystified. They simply don’t know that the president threatened Georgia’s top election official with criminal prosecution and demanded that he “find” the votes necessary to change the outcome of the state’s presidential election.

I could go on and on. They don’t know about Trump’s effort to create a slate of shadow electors. They don’t know anything about Steve Bannon’s “Operation Green Bay Sweep,” the plan he developed with Peter Navarro to leverage the objections of more than 100 GOP members of Congress to delay election certification.


I have several Trump voters in my family, all of whom get their TV news from Fox and only Fox. I guarantee that if I asked them about the various developments French mentions, all of which I’ve written about here (except maybe the Bannon-Navarro thing), they wouldn’t have the faintest idea what I was talking about. How many of those people watched the hearing last night and got educated?

Uh, very few, in all likelihood. But then, they’re lost causes electorally-speaking. The hearing will have mattered if it turns out that undecideds and a large number of Trump-loyal but DeSantis-curious Republicans watched. Here’s hoping.

I’ll leave you with the agenda for next week, which will involve three more hearings. These will all be daytime affairs carried only on cable news so the ratings will be way down from last night. But I wonder how many people who weren’t planning to follow the story got hooked by yesterday evening’s drama. There may be a few out there. Stay tuned.

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