Covering The January 6th Committee Hearings: MSNBC Anchors Andrea Mitchell, Hallie Jackson And Katy Tur On Why Everything Is At Stake

The final January 6th Committee hearing on Thursday is expected to again focus on Donald Trump and his role in the siege of the Capitol — and why democracy continues to remain under threat.

With production values that have resembled a TV newsmagazine, the hearings have drawn viewer interest, giving networks a ratings uptick during the summer. MSNBC’s coverage of the past eight hearings so far have averaged 3.5 million viewers, topping rivals.

Deadline spoke to Andrea Mitchell, Katy Tur and Hallie Jackson, who have so far anchored more than 16 hours of coverage of the hearings in MSNBC daytime, and talked about what is at stake with the final hearing, their potential impact on the midterms, and how political coverage has changed in a landscape where so many candidates amplify the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

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Jackson, NBC News senior Washington correspondent and host of Hallie Jackson Reports on MSNBC and Hallie Jackson Now on NBC News Now, served as chief White House correspondent during the Trump administration. Tur, an NBC News correspondent and the host of the daily Katy Tur Reports, covered Trump on the campaign trial in 2016. Mitchell, NBC News chief Washington correspondent and chief foreign affairs correspondent and anchor of Andrea Mitchell Reports, anchored, along with Tur and Chuck Todd, coverage of the January 6th siege as it unfolded.

Mitchell, who has covered Congress, the White House and the State Department, still talks about that day with a sense of shock. “It’s a sacred temple, the Capitol. I know all of the nooks and crannies of those corridors, and seeing the Confederate flag, seeing [the man] sitting with his feet up on Pelosi’s desk and trashing that desk, and hearing later from her when she told me how people were at work cowering under the table for hours… It grabs my heart.”

“I just think the American people have to pay attention, and it’s our job to explain it and create the context for the hearing, Katy and Hallie and I, so that it is compelling and important to the American people.”

DEADLINE: What do you think is at stake for the committee with this final hearing?

ANDREA MITCHELL: Everything is at stake. Democracy is at stake. My reporting is that they’ve got a lot of evidence, and a lot more to do, and that this hearing will not include really everything. They’ve got to reestablish the importance of this to the American people. 

A lot has happened since the last hearing. The Mar-a-Lago search and inflation, gas prices going up most recently, another school school shooting, a hurricane. We are much closer to the midterms… There is so much going on, and people are really busy, and they’re not as focused as they had been. … But if they can bring it back to the importance of not overturning an election and letting the transition of power take place, that is going to be important. And I think they’ve been masterful at the narrative because they’ve had the goods. They’ve had the witnesses who have been so compelling.

HALLIE JACKSON: Until we were sitting in the studios and saw it rolling out, I don’t think anybody expected necessarily the production value level. It is markedly different even for viewers at home to be watching it versus other congressional hearings. We heard so much from former allies and staffers in the White House and inside the Trump administration. That also came as a surprise. We knew the January 6 Select Committee had spoken with many of these people, but I think the way that they have woven in the context in their own words from these former staffers and aides and allies was inherently compelling. …People will make their own decisions, but our job is to set the table in that regard.

KATY TUR: We’re gonna find out in November how many minds and hearts were changed by this, but I do think it’s laying on the table all the that is currently at stake and reminding people of what happened on January 6, and what they’re voting on come November. … I keep going back to this New York Times poll from a month or two ago that said that half of Republican voters wanted somebody different to run for president because there was a lot of them that were tired of Trump. They may like him and like his policies. They may have found him entertaining, but they are exhausted by the day in, day out scandal and drama that surrounds him. And that’s the investigations. It’s the hearings on January 6th. And there are Republicans who will tell you privately that this is exactly what they knew would happen all along. At some point, people would get tired of Donald Trump, and more than anything else, that would be what breaks this this bubble of support that he has. It might not be in this midterm election cycle. It might not even be in 2024, but there is a feeling that there is going to be … a certain level of drama that will just be too much for a lot of voters. And that will be when the Republican Party starts to reset itself.

MITCHELL: Candidates who have been endorsed by Trump won the primaries because of Trump’s embrace, and are now neck and neck with some more qualified candidates. Election deniers are proliferating in Senate races, secretary of state races, governor’s races. They will determine the electoral count, if they are elected, in potentially key battleground states so that presidential elections may never be the same, depending on whether people wake up to what’s at stake right now. And I’m not sure that is going to be the outcome, or should be the outcome of these hearings. It is to fact find, as the 9/11 Commission was. It’s a shame that this isn’t a commission, that it’s a congressional hearing, because [the committee] will die in the Congress, if Congress turns over, as all polls indicate, most likely historical trends indicate… The evidence that they have gathered is very important. Some has not been presented. It may got to Justice or a final report eventually, but I’m not sure there’s enough time left to change people’s minds. And that may not be their goal. I think their goal is to just get the facts out, to get it published in some form.

DEADLINE: What have been some of the most surprising revelations to come from these hearings?

TUR: Just the number of people within the administration that they were able to get on video, under oath, admitting the truth, which is that the election wasn’t stolen, and that they told Donald Trump that over and over again that the election wasn’t stolen. It’s Ivanka Trump. It’s his attorney general. It’s his campaign arm. All of these these people who you see in public spinning for Trump, admitting that they told him in private that he lost, and those were extraordinarily revelatory. [There has been] more information about how Donald Trump said that the rioters were right about chanting ‘Hang Mike Pence.’ All of this stuff … landing in a way with momentum and force, in a way that the impeachment hearings just never really connected. It’s one it’s one revelation after another, and that’s what’s made this so interesting.

When they have the [Georgia] poll workers come on — Ruby Freeman and her mother — and said that their lives were ruined by this, ruined by Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani. [They were] going after them and saying that they were exchanging a hard drive between the two of them, when it was just a ginger mint. [Freeman and her mother testified] that people stormed their home and their lives were threatened. These two regular people, regular people coming out and saying ‘I don’t have a life anymore. because of this lie that Donald Trump is perpetuating.’

MITCHELL: Those two women, they symbolize a legion of election volunteers. Untold numbers have quit since then, not just in Georgia, and you have no way of knowing how many people are not volunteering to work the polls because they feel intimidated. So that is permanently damaging our election process, which relies so much on volunteers, and on the confidence of the American people in the election process. So their testimony was so impactful. 

The testimony about Mike Pence and the Secret Service: It sparked my reporting with members of the leadership into just how much they pressed the Pentagon for the National Guard, and how Donald Trump didn’t lift a finger for all those hours … He was watching TV and enjoying it for all those hours and would not answer appeals, including from his daughter and others close to him, to pick up the phone and call the National Guard and try to save his own vice president. The imagery that we saw that day and afterwards and understood fully the danger that Mike Pence was in. …I mean all of that came out through the hearings. It’s now part of the texture of what we know.

JACKSON: There’s a lot about what happened on January 6, but it’s also looking forward to the next election, because what we have learned from these hearings are just how fragile the guardrails are, and how just a few key people and a few key places kept a democratic crisis from getting so much worse. And I think taking that in the context of what we will see in November, this midterm, in 2024, those roles, those seats are being targeted by people who are continuing to promote an election fraud lie, which means that the already fragile guardrail could be eroded even further. To me that’s a huge forward looking piece of the hearing. 

DEADLINE: Given that so many midterms candidates embrace Trump’s election claims, how does that change the way that politics is covered? 

MITCHELL: It has forced us to do something that I was never comfortable with, because I’m a down the middle, old school reporter. Just to say, ‘The President has lied. It’s an election lie.’ It’s not a misstatement. We don’t use euphemisms anymore, because you can’t. You shouldn’t. We have to explain that these election deniers have crossed such a critical line that we have to call it as we see it, as it exists. When you have people going down a corridor and shouting ‘Nancy, Nancy,’ and banging on doors and trying to get someone third in line to the presidency, or ‘hang Mike Pence … and their lives were at stake, and democracy was at stake that that day, and it held in a very fragile way. And not thanks to the president of the United States. Remarkable. For [rioters] to be defecating on the floor of the Speaker of the House — It’s just so disgusting. It’s just obscene to think that that’s what they think of these institutions and of the process.

When I’m covering the Pennsylvania  governor’s race with [Doug] Mastriano, I know that he marched on January 6, and was in charge of the election denial attempts before that in Pennsylvania … I have to dig deeper. And then [I] see that he was being funded by one of the most toxic anti-Semitic websites online that has been called out repeatedly by the Justice Department and by all the investigating agencies. We just have to do a much deeper job of reporting the backgrounds and the views of these people and their financial connections. Not to be a conspiracy theorist or paranoid, but this happened and it’s still happening.

DEADLINE: Reporters have long been calling out the election deniers, yet according to polls the claims are still believed by a sizable chunk of the electorate. What are journalists doing wrong?

TUR: It’s been a slow burn, because when Donald Trump started running for office back in 2015, we were all trying to figure out how to cover this guy, because at first he was this joke of a candidate. He was not seen as serious by any of the political establishment. And then he kept winning, and he garnered this this groundswell of support, but he was doing so by saying outrageous things. At first we would just air the rallies non stop, and then go back and try pick out the stuff that wasn’t true and tell people what was false and what was honest.  That was really difficult. We didn’t do the greatest job of that. We were trying to figure it out in real time. 

And then he became president, and there’s a certain deference to give to that office. At first it was like, ‘Well, let’s figure out whether this changes him and let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.’ And it didn’t really change him. And then, ‘Can you call the president of the United States a liar?’ … Before that was very taboo because it was a biased thing to say, like learning what a person’s intent was to use the term lie. The way Donald Trump, and those around him, have behaved, in the way that they’ve treated the truth, has made it very difficult for us to call it out without being seen as biased by his supporters, and that’s by design. The president, the former president and those around him, went after journalists and said, ‘Journalists don’t like me. Journalists hate me. Journalists are liberal.’ Inoculating himself from any criticism that we might have or inoculating himself from criticism from factual reporting. So flood the zone with a bunch of false statements, a bunch of lies, outrageous comments. We call them out for being such over and over and over again. And what he did, successfully, was ‘prove’ to his supporters that we were not on his side and we didn’t like him because, ‘Look at all the ways that we’re going after him.’ And so that allowed supporters to look at us as not the unbiased Fourth Estate calling balls and strikes, but as a member of the opposition party, and it’s still something that we’re being treated as today. 

So we’re no longer moderating a debate on policy where we’re pushing back on spin. Now we’re trying  to moderate a debate between two different universes, one that exists in reality and is based in fact, and one that exists in fantasy and is based in conspiracy. And that’s not possible to do until the American public decides that they trust journalists again. And how do we do that? I don’t know, because there are so many different silos, so many different places you can go to get the news you want to hear. It’s gonna be us, rebuilding the faith, rebuilding the trust over time, but there’s not a there’s not a quick fix. There’s not just some magic bullet out there, something we can suddenly start doing tomorrow calling a lie a lie or whatever, that will make all the difference, make society function again, make politics function again. We’re on a path and I don’t think it’s clear where that path is going. And I don’t think it’s clear that journalism as it exists today will exist in the future. 

MITCHELL: He called us collectively, the media,  ‘the enemy of the people.’ That’s a Stalinist phrase. You can’t hear that repeatedly, over and over again, without it having an impact. I was just thinking of an example this week where [Senator] Tommy Tuberville at a Trump rally used clearly racist tropes, conflating people asking for reparations for descendants of slaves as criminals. Just ‘all black people are criminals’ is the is the conclusion from there, All kinds of phrases that go back 100 years to the KKK days. … Some of the people who were writing scripts — I was working on my show that day — were saying, ‘Some people might find that racist.’ And we consulted our standards department, and we called it ‘racist.’ Because it was racist. We no longer have to use lipstick on that pig. Those comments were racist, and I just think that that’s a small example of how things have changed. A couple years ago, we wouldn’t have done that. 

JACKSON: Here’s the bottom line:there are people who just aren’t going to believe it, no matter how many times you tell them, ‘Here are the facts.’ … The consumption of media has fragmented in a way that is never going to be the same as it used to be, seven years ago, even five years ago. … I was talking with a candidate who does not believe that Donald Trump lost the election in 2020. And specifically, we talked about the hearings and the fact that many White House former staffers have come out in these hearings and have said, ‘No, the election was not stolen.’ You can say it as many times as you as you want, but that’s just not going to change some people’s minds. These are really big questions that I think we have to grapple with. …. Lots of complicated questions, but when it comes to what the facts are, we have to be really clear on what the facts are, and call them what they are.

TUR: Part of what our responsibility to do now more than ever, and what we are do doing in these hearings is just to not get too loud about it. Just tell you what happened not a lot of adjectives. Allow the viewer to see it and make the judgment for themselves. 

MITCHELL: We’re really careful about the legal analysts we bring on, because they are people with experience as former prosecutors or other members of the criminal defense bar. But they’re not giving huge opinions or forecasting what’s going to happen. I think it’s important that we stick to the hearing and the witnesses and what they said, [explain] this is new, this is not new. Here’s some context, here is some background and use our experience as to why it’s important, but not overstep and start voicing opinions.

DEADLINE: How difficult is it now to book Republicans versus just a couple years ago?

TUR: It’s really hard because — I think what Lindsey Graham says is, why would I go on MSNBC? All my viewers watch Fox? Or he’s got some that maybe watch CNN, and there’s a feeling that there’s no reason to go somewhere where I don’t have voters, and that’s why they silo themselves off. It’s also a safe space. They’re not going to get push back in some places like they get push back from us. For a while some would come on because they know they wanted the battle and they thought it would help them. But I don’t want to do that. I don’t think anyone of the three of us are interested in battling for battling’s sake, just a battle over lies and false statements or spin. But it’s unfortunate because I think there are a lot of really important topics out there that our viewers deserve to hear about. And I think that Republicans have important opinions and a lot of policy, and it is in all of our interests to have all voices on. As long as those voices are coming on and not just spewing blatant lies.

MITCHELL: We do straight [news] programs that are not opinion programs. I do get Republicans on the show, and I know that during the day we are doing hard news shows, breaking news, analysis by people who are Republicans, Democrats, often foreign policy experts who really have no party designations…So I do get Republicans on, not as many as we probably want to. Some of them run away from us, but I think it’s really important to not stop trying.

DEADLINE: How often are you asked, ‘Will Trump be indicted’?

MITCHELL: Not only don’t I know, I don’t think the attorney general knows. I think that those decisions are way down the road. Predicting outcomes — I just just never do that. I don’t predict outcomes of elections either, which is a good thing because people have been wrong for several cycles now.

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