Media filters set current impeachment hearings apart

Full Screen
1 / 2

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Television reporters report at the Longworth House Office Building where former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is testifying to the House Intelligence Committee, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington, in the second public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

NEW YORK, NY – Millions of Americans are choosing to experience the impeachment hearings through media filters that depict the proceedings as either a worthless sham or like Christmas in November.

That’s the chief difference between now and the two other times in the modern era when a presidential impeachment was explored, and will likely be a major factor in determining whether the hearings change anyone’s minds about President Donald Trump.

Fox News Channel was the favorite network of the 13.8 million Americans who watched Wednesday’s opening of the House hearing on television. The audiences for each of Fox’s prime-time opinion hosts — Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham — were larger that evening than the 2.9 million people who watched the network during the day, the Nielsen company said.

On MSNBC, a favorite of liberals in the same way many conservatives love Fox, Rachel Maddow’s audience beat the network’s live hearing coverage.

“Today you can pick the information source that is going to talk to you and what you’d like to believe and that’s the way the audience has been dividing themselves,” said Thomas Patterson, who teaches about government and the press at Harvard University and is the author of “How America Lost its Mind,” about the nation’s polarization.

By contrast, the chief option for working Americans who wanted to follow the impeachment case against President Richard Nixon in the 1970s was a rerun of the day’s hearing that aired in prime time on PBS. This year, PBS is streaming a rerun of the Trump hearing. A rerun has also been available on the HLN network.

CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC did not exist in the 1970s, and while CNN was in its adolescence, the other networks were in their infancy during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the late 1990s. The same is true of an online partisan infrastructure.

Today they are the dominant cable networks and each offered lively takes from their perspectives on Wednesday. On Fox, it was labeled a snooze, even though viewers were interested: Fox had its third-highest audience of the year.