Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A former TV news executive is producing the Jan. 6 hearings


Congressional hearings are often designed to be spectacles. Lawmakers pose questions with flourish. They bring whiteboards or props. They call witnesses to give dramatic testimony. But the organizers of the hearings into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol have taken unusual steps to win people's attention. A former TV news exec is producing the hearings, which start tomorrow.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is here. Hey, David.


KELLY: All right. What kind of spectacle are we going to see tomorrow night?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it'll - seems as though it'll start pretty conventionally. You'll have the chairman, Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, and Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Republican from Wyoming, give their opening statements. And then we're going to see unfold what is supposed to be kind of a television spectacle. You'll have two witnesses, a guard and a documentary filmmaker, there that day. And we're supposed to see a narrative being presented with something of a narrative storytelling arc - think of "20/20," "Dateline" NBC - with not just moments, but a story that has dramatic tension building up with revelations along the way using real footage, using real documents, using apparently previously undisclosed White House official photographs from that day to piece together a narrative of what the chairman has said he believes was an attempt to essentially thwart democracy.

KELLY: What's the thinking behind presenting it this way?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's a desire to make sure this punches through, that it's compelling on TV. There's a worry that it will be politicized, as it has already been dismissed by House Republicans and allies of former President Donald Trump, or simply ignored. And they want it to burst through.

You know, if you think back to the impeachment of the former President Trump, he's impeached not once, but twice. It did galvanize a lot of media attention, get a lot of TV attention, but it was confusing for a lot of folks. In this case, the committee brought in the former president of ABC News. You mentioned a news executive. This guy was at the top, James Goldston. He worked with the committee to make sure it told its story factually - first story first broken by Axios. Goldston has told associates he sees this as a civic duty, that insurrection should not be seen as a partisan question but one of good citizenship. And he has promised the committee it will all be factually based.

KELLY: Factually based, but totally packaged for TV and by a TV news exec, as you just nodded to. Are the networks going to carry it live?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, with one major exception, yes - they're all going to carry this live starting tomorrow night, Thursday night, 8 p.m., one of the most-watched shows for conventional television - excuse me, time slots for conventional television and on one of the biggest days - as large an audience as possible, you know, hoping things will go viral, but hoping to capture and define the narrative about what these findings mean.

KELLY: Yeah, although isn't the one exception that's not carrying it live - it's a big one, right? It's Fox.

FOLKENFLIK: It's the biggest one for cable. And what they're doing is they are covering it. They're shifting their coverage to the Fox Business Network, a sister channel that is much less watched in primetime and allowing, you know, their major stars of Fox News, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, to continue unabated. And that's important - you know, Sean Hannity, one of the former President Trump's closest advisers; Tucker Carlson, perhaps the most influential proponent other than Trump of the idea that the 1/6 insurrection was really a question of a protest that got out of hand and that the implications aren't all that dire, often presenting untrue narratives and untrue facts to the public.

KELLY: Just briefly, again, for people watching Fox, is there a risk that people will see the counterprogramming but not the hearing itself?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, anybody who wants to see it can on all of the channels and, indeed, on Fox Business and on streaming. But there's a real question of whether core Trump voters, core Fox viewers, often the same people - and the people that they've helped put into office...

KELLY: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: ...Will be able to sidestep or dismiss what is some pretty compelling and inconvenient truths about what happened that day.

KELLY: NPR's David Folkenflik, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.