Jan. 6 committee’s prime-time opener draws 20 million viewers

The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th hearing listen to a video of Ivanka Trump.
The House Select Committee investigating Jan. 6 listen to a video of Ivanka Trump in the Cannon House Office Building on June 9, 2022 in Washington, DC.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The prime-time telecast of the House Select Committee hearings on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was watched by 20 million TV viewers across multiple networks on Thursday.

The total, based on data from Nielsen, puts the two-hour presentation in the range of other high-profile congressional and Senate hearings of recent years. The committee sought a prime-time slot — rare for such events — when more viewers are available to watch.

Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee was watched by an estimated 19.5 million viewers in 2017 when it ran in the midmorning hours on the East Coast. The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh drew 20.4 million viewers in September 2018.


ABC had the most viewers Thursday with 4.9 million, followed by MSNBC (4.2 million), NBC (3.6 million), CBS (3.7 million), CNN (2.6 million), Fox Business Network (223,000), CNBC (158,000), Newsmax (137,000) and NewsNation (125,000).

The hearings were also shown on PBS and C-SPAN and on many of the Fox-owned TV stations across the country as well. Those audiences are not included in the Nielsen tally.

In a sign of the nation’s partisan divide, the presentation — which served as a curtain raiser for the committee’s findings to be presented over the next two weeks — did not air on Fox News Channel, which typically draws the highest ratings for special events in prime-time.

Instead, the Rupert Murdoch-owned network chose to cater to its Trump-supporting viewers who have been repeatedly told that the Jan. 6 investigation is a political witch hunt aimed at damaging the former president, who allegedly conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Among the more dramatic highlights, committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) called Jan. 6, 2021, “the culmination of an attempted coup.”

While Fox News provided coverage on its Fox Business Network cable channel and streaming platforms, opinion hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity appeared in their regular time slots on the flagship network, where they alternately bashed and dismissed the proceedings and the competing outlets for airing them.


While Hannity has downplayed the insurrection, he sent panicked texts to Trump’s aides that day urging them to have the former president call off the mob, according to evidence gathered by the committee.

The prime-time hearing came after a yearlong investigation and 1,000 interviews. The final report aims to provide an accounting of the most violent attack on the Capitol since the British-set fire in 1814.

June 9, 2022

Fox News made the views of Carlson and Hannity clear in the captions that ran in the lower third of the screen throughout the two hours: “A Made for TV Smear Campaign,” “The Jan. 6 ‘Show Trial’ is Underway,” “Tucker Reveals the Truth About January 6th” and “Liz Cheney Helping Democrats Crack Down on Americans Who Oppose Their Agenda,” a shot at the Republican vice chairwoman of the committee.

Both Fox News shows “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “Hannity” ran without commercial interruption, a highly unusual move on a night when viewer interest was expected to be high. Such a measure likely helped keep viewers from tuning out during a break.

Fox News Channel averaged 3 million viewers over the two hours with its counter programming, on par with what the hosts attract on a typical night.

The coverage on Fox Business Network was anchored by Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. Fox News plans to cover the hearings on its main channel when they resume on Monday afternoon.

A new CNN documentary is the former Nixon White House counsel’s first on-camera look-back at the event that resonates today.

June 1, 2022

While much attention was given to how the committee hired former ABC News President James Goldston to apply his production skills to the event, the presentation at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington was serious and understated.


The video portions featured a 10-minute video montage of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and recorded depositions of those closest to the former president.

Surprising moments included testimony from former Atty. Gen. William Barr saying he told Trump there was no credible proof of voter fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election. The April testimony of Trump’s daughter Ivanka was also shown saying she believed Barr.

Preferring substance over spectacle, real emotion over grandstanding, the first night of the Jan. 6 hearings successfully grabbed America’s attention.

June 9, 2022

Viewers also heard Cheney confirm reports that witnesses said Trump spoke approvingly of the rioters’ chants to hang Vice President Mike Pence in order to block the certification of the election results.

There were also clips with members of right-wing groups Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers testifying that they showed up at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in response to the public calls from Trump to protest the election results based on unfounded claims of election fraud.

Live testimony came from Caroline Edwards, an officer for the U.S. Capitol who suffered a traumatic brain injury during her efforts to stop those who participated in the attack.