Fox is the nation’s most highly rated cable news station and is a favorite of conservatives, Republicans and devotees of former President Donald Trump. But its live coverage of Thursday’s Jan. 6 hearing was relegated to Fox Business Network, which is much more lightly viewed, and its digital sites.
To have shown the uninterrupted documentation of the concerted attack on the Capitol in January last year and the concurrent effort to thwart the November 2020 presidential elections would have been to present information that was unwelcome to many core Fox News viewers. After all, the committee’s two leaders — Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, a Democrat, and Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a Republican — directly blamed Trump for attempting to instigate a coup.
As it turned out, the hearings would also have repeatedly required Fox to have broadcast 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. Instead, their prime-time shows continued without commercial interruption Thursday, offering an alternate reality to a hearing that showed vivid and bloody detail of a national crisis.
They also did not point viewers to Fox’s coverage on the network’s other platforms.
At the hearing, Thompson and Cheney called out Fox and its personalities, sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly. Thompson denounced the conspiracy theories circulated to the public. In a three-part series, Carlson famously promoted the idea of a “Patriot Purge,” saying honorable citizens participating in a legal protest on Jan. 6 were being wrongly persecuted by the Biden administration. His series relied on claims that had been largely discredited even before he aired them.
On Thursday night, Carlson told viewers the hearing was propaganda, even though he had not seen it. And Carlson dismissed the siege of the Capitol as mere vandalism. Many of those rioters were chanting for then-Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be brought to them in a climate of violence.
Hannity similarly minimized the harm done, even as Cheney was reading aloud the Fox host and frequent Trump adviser’s texts to Trump White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Off the air, Hannity warned that Trump shouldn’t talk any more about overturning the election. Publicly, Hannity minimized the seriousness of the attacks after the first few days.
Cheney noted the admonition from William Barr, Trump’s final confirmed attorney general, that the claims of election fraud were groundless and that the claims the voting machines of Dominion Voting Systems had been tampered with was “crazy stuff.”
There’s a good reason Fox News might not want to air that live, either — 1.6 billion reasons, to be precise. Fox had been filled with similar claims by its hosts, personalities and guests in the weeks following the 2020 elections. Dominion later sued Fox in a $1.6 billion defamation suit that is still pending. Fox’s legal defense relies on the argument it was merely covering a public debate and statements of prominent figures. But not on Fox News. At least, not live, and not in prime time, on Thursday night.