Sunday, July 24, 2022

January 6th Hearings Succeeded Not Just through Good Intentions but With Teasers, Previews, Recaps, and Diagrams to Turn Congressional Inquest Into Great Television (VIDEO)

Well, I thought Cassidy Hutchinson was great. I couldn't take my eyes off of her.

Here's from this week.

At the New York Times, "The Jan. 6 Hearings Did a Great Service, by Making Great TV":

Investigating a threat to democracy was always going to be important. But this time, it also managed to be buzzworthy.

Every new summer TV series has to fight to get attention. The Jan. 6 hearings had more challenges than most.

There was public exhaustion and media jadedness over a story that’s been in the news for a year and a half. There was the MAGA echo chamber that has primed a huge chunk of America to reject, sight unseen, any accusation against former President Donald J. Trump.

Above all, the hearings, which aired a capstone prime-time session on Thursday night — a midseason finale, if you will — had to compete with our expectations of what constitutes a “successful” TV hearing. Not every congressional inquest can be the Army-McCarthy hearings, in which the lawyer Joseph Welch asked the Red Scare-monger Senator Joseph McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

These hearings, in an era of social-media cacophony, cable-news argument and fixed political camps, were never likely to build to a cinematic climax that would unite the public in outrage. Yet by the standards of today, they have achieved some remarkable things.

They drew an audience for public-affairs TV in the dead of summer. They reportedly prompted further witnesses to come forward. Polling suggests they even moved opinion on Mr. Trump and Jan. 6 among Republicans and independents. They created riveting — and dare I say, watchable — water cooler TV that legitimately mattered.

And make no mistake: The hearings, produced by James Goldston, the former president of ABC News, succeeded not just through good intentions but also by being well-made, well-promoted TV. They may have been a most unusual eight-episode summer series (with more promised in September). But they had elements in common with any good drama.

Visual storytelling

When you think of congressional hearings, you think talk, talk, talk. Hours of witnesses leaning into microphones. Countless round-robins of representatives grandstanding. The Jan. 6 hearings, on the other hand, recognized that TV is a visual medium, and that images — like the footage of the assault on the Capitol — can say more than speechifying.

The editing and graphics were more the stuff of a high-gloss streaming documentary than anything we’re used to seeing from the U.S. Congress. Diagrams of the Capitol showed how close we came to catastrophe, metaphorically and physically. Using mostly interview snippets, deftly cut together, the July 12 hearing brought to life a White House meeting in which Trump loyalists floated “unhinged” gambits for seizing the election apparatus — the oral history of a cabal.

Thursday, in a meta device befitting a president who was made and swayed by TV, the committee showed onscreen what the president saw in real time in the over two and a half hours he spent watching Fox News and letting the violence play out. A graphic dropped us into the executive dining room, from the point of view of the president in his customary spot facing the tube.

Later, we saw outtakes of a sullen Mr. Trump the day after the attack, shooting a cleanup video meant to deplore the violence. He rejected the line “The election is over,” stumbled over words, smacked the lectern in frustration. For decades, Mr. Trump thrived through media appearances and flattering editing on “The Apprentice.” Now the TV president was exposed by his own blooper reel.

High stakes Every TV series needs to tell viewers why they should care. The Jan. 6 committee had a ready answer: Americans should care about our free, democratic elections. And they should care when the losing party tries to toss out the outcome in an extra-constitutional bonus round.

But the hearings also repeatedly made clear that this was not about an abstract principle or a bad thing that happened in the past. This was an active threat. The conservative legal scholar J. Michael Luttig warned in a June hearing that Mr. Trump or a like-minded successor could “attempt to overturn the 2024 election in the same way.”

And the vice chairwoman, Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, used her remarks to underscore the immediacy. When she reported at end of the July 12 hearing that Mr. Trump had recently tried to contact a potential witness, her remarks were a warning to the former president, but they also had the feel of a cliffhanger: The target was still at large and still at work.

Story structure

Beginning the first hearing with footage of the mayhem at the Capitol was an unusual choice by congressional standards. But it was familiar to anyone who watches TV mini-series — the in medias res opening, dropping you at the scene of the crime and then doubling back to trace, step by step, episode by episode, the actions that brought us to this pass.

Each hearing, like the installments of a streaming thriller, focused on a discrete aspect of the attack on the election — the pressure on state governments, the incitement of the mob, the involvement of right-wing hate groups — each building on the last and drawing connections. Thursday night, the narrative came full circle, returning us to the climactic day, this time from the heart of the White House.

Like the graphics, the hearings’ structure gave viewers a map, making sure they knew where they were, where they’d been and where they were going...

Keep reading.