Jun 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Jan. 6 hearings deliver new template for digital-era dramatics

Mike Allen
This graphic from June 23 reflects the hearings' high production values.
This graphic from June 23 reflects the hearings' high production values. Exhibit: House select committee via AP

The House Jan. 6 hearings have over-delivered on revelations and drama — unspooling as a disciplined, captivating summer series that is a new template for effective congressional hearings in the modern era.

Why it matters: The committee ditched the flabby traditional format and has methodically built a taut, colorful narrative with a prosecutor's precision and a cinematographer's flair.

Here's how the committee did it:

  1. The committee sticks to a single storyline: former President Trump did it. The staff is weaving together thousands of hours of testimony, and tens of thousands of documents, to make that single point. The committee resists tangents about House Republicans or other ancillary players and pares everything back to point the finger at Trump.
  2. The committee brought in former ABC News president James Goldston, who has been producing each hearing as if it were a "20/20" episode — raw enough to be credible, but scripted enough to sell the story in the allotted time. Goldston has added network-style graphics — an animation of the Capitol breach, a seating chart for a bonkers Oval Office meeting, a West Wing map yesterday to show how close Cassidy Hutchinson sat to the Oval Office.
  3. The committee is limiting hearings to a couple of hours, rather than the into-the-night grind of so many high-profile hearings. And the committee ditched long opening statements. Instead, a member reads a short introduction, then plunges into live testimony.
  4. The committee videotaped the depositions, rather than the more common congressional practice of relying on written transcripts. That allows members to cue up a quick clip of a key point at the hearing. So the live witnesses are ones the committee knows will have emotional power. Any witness who might throw a jab is consigned to video.
  5. The committee uses mostly Republican voices, including legit former Trump insiders — with Hutchinson delivering a spellbinding first-hand account of life in Trump's post-election West Wing.
  6. The committee includes "deep teases," as TV news calls it — hinting at future testimony and leaving the audience wanting more. Yesterday's barnburner ended with a cliffhanger: Committee vice chair Liz Cheney suggested Trump loyalists had been tampering with witnesses — and said the committee is looking into it.
In this exhibit from yesterday's hearing, President Trump is referred to by his Secret Service code name, Mogul.
In this exhibit from yesterday's hearing, President Trump is referred to by his Secret Service code name, Mogul. Exhibit: House select committee via AP

Reality check: The committee's work is infinitely easier because there are no dissenting voices. Usually, the minority party can stall and rebut.

  • But the committee's only two Republicans — Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — are totally aligned with the committee's goals.

The bottom line: We have no idea whether committee members will deter Trump from running or winning in 2024. But they've orchestrated a riveting six episodes — with the season finale still to come.

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