The January 6 hearings are fighting for your attention

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Last night, a large number of Americans tuned in to watch the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holding a televised hearing. Brilliantly produced, it contained facts about the uprising that even those who have followed the story religiously were unaware. It aired on no fewer than six networks (notably not Fox News), and immediately became fodder for late-night broadcasts. †The Late Show with Stephen Colbert broadcast a special live episode after the hearing.) As it unfolded, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about what, in this age of too many screens, people are watching.

Yes, people have been following the January 6 commission’s actions for almost 10 months – on Twitter, on cable, through news sites. But Thursday night’s broadcast felt different. The committee brought in a former ABC newscaster to produce the hearings and make them look less like a C-SPAN live feed. they aim, according to Maryland representative Jamie Raskin, to “tell the story of a conspiracy to nullify the 2020 presidential election and block the transfer of power” from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. In terms of television politics, it is on par with the Watergate hearings

In short, TV that you must have seen. That’s what the committee wanted, to give their findings before the court of public opinion† In an age of misinformation, the aim is to train the eyes of the electorate to see clearly what has happened to democracy in the US. But the hearing certainly didn’t get them all. During the broadcast, Fox gave Tucker Carlson’s show without commercials. And in the midst of it all, the focus was split between the TV and the smaller screen. Arguing about politics is one of the many recorded pastimes of the social internet, but it can often seem as if there is more talk and analysis than is actually observed.

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It is, I think, about the act of looking. in a essay in The New York Times this weekKim Phuc Phan Thi — the woman known as “Napalm Girl” after her photo was captured by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut during the Vietnam War — wrote that she often felt “ugly and embarrassed” by the photo. She noted that America usually doesn’t see images of school shootings, like last month’s in Uvalde, Texas, like pictures of foreign wars. This may seem “unbearable,” she wrote, “but we must confront them.”

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