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Major broadcasters aired the Jan. 6 committee hearings live. Fox News did not


CNN carried the January 6 hearings live. So did MSNBC. Most major broadcasters did, including NPR. But what about Fox News? It was regular programming on the country's most highly rated cable news channel Thursday night - "Tucker Carlson Tonight" at 8, "Hannity" at 9. NPR's David Folkenflik joins us. David, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Fox did have live coverage on the Fox Business Network and online, but why not the channel that makes most of its money?

FOLKENFLIK: Because it's the channel that makes most of their money. They, in fact, very happily sent out a release Friday afternoon, pointing out that they had an audience of over 3 million viewers tune into their prime-time shows last night. You know, I can tell you that what Fox News enjoyed over on the Fox Business Channel in its coverage of these hearings was less than a tenth of that. And they're saying the ratings is telling us what our viewers want, and we're treating them as consumers rather than, perhaps, as citizens. It's also worth pointing out, Fox, of course, is a channel favored by devotees of President Trump and conservatives and Republicans, although those are not their only viewers, and they're not looking to alienate their core viewers, who happen to overlap neatly with a core Trump voter.

SIMON: Did Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity make any mention of the January 6 committee?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, Tucker Carlson denounced it even before the opening moments as a show trial, as propaganda, as lies being perpetrated on the American public and talked about how pernicious it was that other networks were not covering all of the ills of the world that he was laying at the feet of the current president, Joe Biden. Similarly, Sean Hannity spent significant time minimizing the severity and significance of what was seen. You know, at one point, I think Tucker Carlson called the events of January 6 vandalism and something that got out of hand, as opposed to an insurrection with dire consequences.

SIMON: David, can the argument be made in these times that anybody who wants to see the hearings can find scores of places to see them, and every network doesn't have to show them?

FOLKENFLIK: Not only can that argument be made, that argument is being made right now by Fox News executives who say we don't have an obligation to do this. But, you know, there are reasons to look skeptically at that. This is something done as a civic enterprise, in a way, to show the public as branding but also government officials, and particularly regulators, that they are committed to doing - serving the public good at times. In addition, news organizations will say, whether or not our viewers are desperate to watch this, this is something they need to know about and they need to know about it, perhaps, in a direct manner before we start reporting on it and before we start opining on it. Fox News is not willing to do that. It's not willing to present to its viewers unwelcome information, unwelcome arguments, unwelcome facts about really what was happening both with the insurrectionists and rioters of January 6 and also the legal machinations in support of then-President Trump trying to cling onto power despite the election that cost him a second term.

SIMON: Is this a permanent editorial decision, or will the network carry some of the hearings, if they're revelations that they consider to be newsworthy?

FOLKENFLIK: What they've conveyed is they will cover it live as warranted. I'm not sure what standard they're using. I'm not sure they know what standard they're using on that. There have been a number of moments during the hearings that are uncomfortable for Fox 'cause it's flatly contradicted what some of their most popular figures have said. And particularly looking forward to Monday's hearing, we're going to have as one of the witnesses Fox's former political director, who will talk a little bit about Fox's decision to call Arizona for Joe Biden in the 2020 election on election night, which was something that the White House under Trump really pushed hard back against and tried to get Fox to reverse.

SIMON: This is going to sound awfully naive, but the former attorney general of the United States, a Trump appointee, referring to the president's arguments about the 2020 election as BS - I don't know. That'd strike me as newsworthy to Fox's audience.

FOLKENFLIK: I think that what you're seeing from the committee is an effort to put each of these things that might have been known, some of them publicly already, in sequence, in a way where the public can digest it. What Fox has decided to do is not play with it at all in its main leading hours so that they're not having to confront the audience that, in some ways, may need most to grapple with this.

SIMON: NPR's David Folkenflik, thanks so much.


(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

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