NEW YORK – Fox News Channel cut off an impeachment manager in mid-sentence Wednesday as he was presenting dramatic video footage of the mob attacking the U.S. Capitol last month and government leaders running for safety.
“The political math doesn't add up,” Fox's Jesse Watters said. “Democrats don't have the votes, yet they're still pressing ahead.”
The incident was a dramatic illustration of the tightrope walked by programmers at television networks that appeal to fans of former President Donald Trump during his second impeachment trial.
Fox, along with ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC, had been covering House managers outlining their case against Trump live for nearly five hours Wednesday. While sometimes dry and methodical, the presentation reached an emotional climax when California Rep. Eric Swalwell showed graphic video, much of it not seen before.
That's when Fox cut things off, shortly after 5 p.m. Eastern, when the network started its commentary show “The Five.”
“This is all emotional, political theater,” said cohost Greg Gutfeld, one of four commentators to speak against impeachment before an exasperated Juan Williams was given a chance to talk.
“I'm kind of shocked,” Williams said. “I want you guys to come back. Come back, join the conversation. Pay attention to the news.”
Williams described the case that House managers were building as chilling and an important exercise in democracy. “The impeachment trial that you're all ignoring, I guess you're afraid ...”
At that point, he was shouted down by Watters and Gutfeld.
“You're being so rude because I'm so right,” Williams said.
A Fox News spokeswoman had no comment on the programming choice.
A few minutes later, as Swalwell was showing body camera footage of a Capitol police officer being attacked by a demonstrator with an American flag, the Fox panelists were debating President Joe Biden's COVID vaccine rollout. At Newsmax, a Republican congressman was being interviewed about the 2022 midterm elections.
Meanwhile, ABC's George Stephanopoulos and NBC's Kasie Hunt seemed visibly shaken by what they'd seen. NBC News' Lester Holt called it “emotionally wrenching.”
“It almost dares members of the Senate not to vote for impeachment,” Holt said.
For the networks that appeal to a conservative audience, the trial isn't exactly must-see television. For its first day Tuesday, MSNBC's coverage was seen by 2.87 million people, CNN's audience was 2.66 million and Fox News had 1.95 million, the Nielsen company said.
Fox's most popular personality, Tucker Carlson, said he didn't watch any of the trial's first day.
“At this point, honestly, who cares?” Carlson said. “Impeachment? The whole thing is ridiculous. They're literally impeaching a president who isn't the president anymore. They're yelling at somebody who has already left the room.”
Yet Fox devoted much of its daytime hours to it, and even returned to the trial after “The Five” on Wednesday. Newsmax, after silencing the opening of Wednesday's session to talk about a rebranding of Aunt Jemima food products, showed much of the afternoon session, as did One America News Network.
During breaks in the trial, they addressed the Trump fans in their audience.
“We will continue to bring you live coverage of the impeachment trial here on One America News,” anchor Jennifer Franco said. “Meantime, despite endless lies and attacks from Democrats and the mainstream media, former President Trump fought hard for the country over the past four years.”
She introduced a two-minute film that paired flattering clips of Trump in office with a narrator reading the Rudyard Kipling poem, “If,” which opens with the line, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”
It was followed by a segment on whether the “Biden honeymoon” with Congress was over.
During the trial's first afternoon break, Fox turned to Trump spokesman Jason Miller, who denounced the Democrats' case. He said he was on the phone with his boss minutes earlier.
Newsmax's Bob Sellers had his own review of the proceedings.
“It does seem drawn-out, a little overdone,” he said.
Associated Press Television Writer Lynn Elber contributed to this report.