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Fox News is notable exception as prime-time Jan. 6 committee hearing blankets TV airwaves

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Television viewers encountered nearly blanket prime-time coverage of a congressional hearing Thursday on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, with the exception of Fox News Channel.

Fox News had said in a news release that it would cover the first in a series of House Select Committee public hearings as “news warrants,” otherwise leaving its regular lineup intact including “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and the prime-time “Hannity” program , whose host’s name made an appearance in the hearing, as text messages between him and insiders at Donald Trump’s White House were briefly spotlighted.

Fox News personality Laura Ingraham explained on air a day earlier that the channel was catering to its audience’s preference.

Critics charged that the channel was not only blocking the hearing from its loyal viewers’ sight but proactively counterprogramming it. Fox’s prime-time programs reportedly ran uninterrupted by commercials. Critics, and some supporters, hypothesized that decision was made to dissuade viewers from channel surfing or checking social-media feeds during commercial breaks.

Rep. Jim Banks, rejected by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a nominee by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to a previously planned iteration of the Jan. 6 committee for having voted against the certification of Biden’s electoral victory and staked out an unapologetic pro-Trump position, suggested swaths of viewers would vote with their remotes Thursday night for the Fox News approach.

McCarthy responded to the rejection of two of his five nominees by withdrawing all five, rather than name replacements for Banks and Ohio’s Jim Jordan. That led Pelosi to pick all nine members of the select committee, including its Republican members.

See: Who are the members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the US Capitol?

Fox Business Network, Fox News Digital and other corporate siblings were set to carry the hearing, with Fox News’ Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum co-anchoring.

On the broadcast side, Fox affiliate stations and those owned by Fox Corp. were afforded the opportunity but not the obligation to carry the hearing, the company said. Channel flippers in some cities, including Los Angeles, reported seeing local Fox broadcast channels carrying the event live. With Fox News out of the scheduled mix — aside from a post-hearing special at 11 pm Eastern time — the most-watched cable network robbed coverage of the hearing of some reach.

Don’t miss: House Jan. 6 panel holds first public hearing: 10 key moments from the live broadcast

And: Capitol riot was an ‘attempted coup’ says chairman of Jan. 6 panel

While Fox Business is among the top-rated business channels, its peak audience is in daytime, where it’s been averaging 227,000 viewers recently. In comparison, Fox News averaged 2 million prime-time viewers last week, and 1.3 million for the full day.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham, shown delivering a speech at the Republican National Convention in 2016 in Cleveland, said Fox was catering to its audience in counterprogramming the hearing.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Asked why Fox News Channel was foregoing full hearing coverage, a Fox spokesperson referred to a release indicating viewers could find the proceeding on multiple Fox News Media cable and digital platforms.

Fox News parent Fox Corp. FOX,
-2.26%

FOXA,
-2.39%
and News Corp NWS,
-2.10%

NWSA,
-2.02%,
parent of MarketWatch publisher Dow Jones, share common corporate control.

The hearing aimed to reconstruct events leading up to the 2021 siege on the US Capitol, including Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 election based on false claims of voter fraud and the orchestrated effort to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.

See: ‘Donald Trump was at the center of this conspiracy’: Jan. 6 hearings kick off with searing charges against ex-president

The Fox News approach was in marked contrast to those of the other major broadcast networks and cable news channels, which all but unanimously committed to covering the 8-10 pm Eastern time hearing in whole. Fox News was slated to air a post-hearing special anchored by Fox News chief legal correspondent Shannon Bream, joined by Baier and MacCallum.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), one of just two Republicans on the House panel investigating the Capitol riot, laid out the evidence the committee plans to present in the course of the hearings, including what she called President Trump’s lack of action to stop the riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Cable-news pioneer CNN’s WBD,
-3.45%
coverage, beginning at 7 pm Eastern, was anchored by Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper, and summarized with post-hearing analysis and further reporting anchored by Don Lemon starting at 11 pm

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, Nicolle Wallace and Joy Reid were in charge of coverage that began at 7 pm and continued, with that trio joined by fellow program hosts Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell and guests including Michael Steele, former lieutenant governor of Maryland and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, after the hearings, followed by a special edition of “The 11th Hour” with Stephanie Ruhle.

The broadcast networks handed their nightly news anchors the helm, with David Muir anchoring for ABC DIS,
-2.88%,
Lester Holt for NBC CMCSA,
-0.97%
and Norah O’Donnell for CBS PARA,
-3.17%.

MarketWatch contributed.

Read on: Michigan gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley charged over role in Capitol riot

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