This week’s Washington corollary to the tree-in-the-forest thought experiment: If the Jan. 6 committee holds professionally polished hearings, amid wall-to-wall prime-time coverage, will anybody pay attention? If the answer is no, the committee will largely have itself to blame.
The prospect of public apathy is already deeply vexing the establishment. “Democrats have the steep challenge of convincing a disillusioned American electorate to tune into” the hearings, Politico worries. The Washington Post frets that even weeks of this miniseries may not “change hearts or minds.” The vexed are already laying blame. It’s the fault of Republicans who will “downplay” the findings, Americans who are too focused on gasoline prices, and Fox News for deciding not to air Thursday’s hearing live (although Fox Business and every other station said they would).
What’s actually missing in this special sauce of prime TV hours, slick videos and positive press is the one ingredient truly vital for public interest: credibility. If huge swathes of America ignore the committee’s work, it will be because the committee itself—through its construction and through its actions—made it easy.
Can Americans trust the findings of a panel whose members began with a preconceived narrative and blackballed any dissenting voices? Speaker
unprecedented decision to veto Minority Leader
picks last July in favor of her own handpicked Republican members blew the committee’s credibility before it even started work. Americans will find it easy to reject “evidence” that is too fragile to bear the scrutiny of fellow House members.
And consider Mrs. Pelosi’s Democratic picks. California’s
is the House face of the Trump-Russia collusion hoax and secret Ukraine impeachment proceedings. Maryland’s
knows a little something about objecting to the counting of electoral votes. On Jan. 6, 2017, he objected to
Florida victory. Mrs. Pelosi had more than 200 Democratic members to choose from, yet her picks allow Americans to dismiss the committee instantly.
The committee might have redeemed itself even with this makeup had it conducted its work in a sober, professional manner. Instead, within months, it had become the worst type of Washington leak machine—dribbling documents, texts, emails and inside tidbits about who was up for a grilling next and what was coming out of depositions. At least one of the text messages it released was altered (by—who else?—Mr. Schiff) to exclude context and falsely malign former White House chief of staff
This practice reached a low in March, when the committee leaked personal text messages of
wife of Justice
The messages had no real bearing on the events of Jan. 6 but were perfectly timed to coincide with a left-wing campaign to smear Justice Thomas and pressure him to recuse himself from key cases. How much confidence should Americans be expected to have in a body that has abused its investigative powers for political gain?
Speaking of those powers, is it fair for the nation to be skeptical of a committee that has trampled any number of institutional norms and practices in the name of returning us to institutional norms and practices? Mrs. Pelosi’s veto of Republican members. The committee’s initial directive to telecom and social media companies to preserve the communications of private citizens—including members of Congress—but to keep the targets in the dark so they’d have no opportunity to litigate. The flurry of criminal referrals to the Justice Department with no debate over whether those accused might have legitimate claims of executive privilege. The committee’s more recent, jaw-dropping decision to subpoena sitting members of Congress.
Finally, how can Americans be asked to trust a committee whose work Democrats are openly broadcasting as a political operation? “Jan 6. Hearings Give Democrats a Chance to Recast Midterm Message,” explains the
New York Times,
noting that the party hopes to change the subject from the Biden White House’s mounting liabilities—which include roaring inflation, a porous border, soaring crime, and a baby formula shortage. Republicans last year darkly hinted that this was the real purpose of the committee, and leave it to Democrats to make that case for them.
It didn’t have to be this way. Each of these decisions was deliberate, and each was an obvious exercise in self-sabotage. Most Americans would like to know more about the events of that horrible January day, to have a serious national debate, and to ensure it never happens again. But this committee isn’t a credible messenger.
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