Republican politicians are preparing a media onslaught to deflect, discredit and delegitimise Thursday’s opening hearing of the House of Representatives panel investigating the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
While major TV networks broadcast the first session live in prime time, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News will stick with its usual show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, which has long pushed Donald Trump’s talking points.
Trump loyalists are expected to flood the airwaves with claims that the January 6 select committee lacks credibility and Democrats are out of touch with more pressing concerns such as inflation, crime, border security and baby formula shortages.
Elise Stefanik, chair of the House Republican Conference, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday: “They are scrambling to change the headlines, praying that the nation will focus on their partisan witch-hunt instead of our pocketbooks. It will not work.”
In what amounted to an attempt at a prebuttal, Stefanik described the January 6 committee as “unconstitutional” and “illegitimate” and designed to “punish” the House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s opponents. She criticised its decision to hire James Goldston, the former president of ABC News, to help make its presentation compelling.
“This further solidifies what we have known from day one: this committee is not about seeking the truth – it’s a smear campaign against President Donald Trump, against Republican members of Congress, and against Trump voters across this country.”
The comments set the template for Republican counter-programming on conservative media such as Fox News, Newsmax, the One America News Network, Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast and other outlets that will seek to portray the hearings as a sinister show trial in which Trump supporters are the victims.
Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House judiciary committee, wrote on the Federalist website: “The committee’s real goal, and what it hopes to achieve with its unprecedented subpoenas and its bright-light hearings, is a repudiation of conservatism and all those who hold conservative values.”
For their part, Democrats hope that the hearings will cut through a crowded news agenda much more successfully than the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s turgid testimony about Trump’s ties to Russia. After an investigation entailing more than 100 subpoenas, 1,000 interviews and 100,000 documents, they are likely to characterise the riot as not a spontaneous gathering but part of a broader conspiracy.
Congressman Jamie Raskin, a Democrat on the committee, promised in April: “The hearings will tell a story that will really blow the roof off the House. Because it is a story of the most heinous and dastardly political offence ever organised by a president and his followers and his entourage in the history of the United States.”
Trump, whose “big lie” falsely claims that he won the 2020 election, was impeached by the House for his role in encouraging the assault on democracy. Dozens of the insurrectionists have been brought to justice, many having been convicted or pleading guilty to serious crimes.