Substantive or stunt? Productive or pandering? 

Two Virginia Tech experts say Thursday night’s primetime proceedings of the House committee investigating the January 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol are shaping up to include moments of import as well as moments of performance. 

“There will likely be consequential information,” said Cayce Myers, an associate professor of public relations who specializes in media history. “However, a hearing held in primetime is also part of political theater. The audience will be large, and that could translate into political results.”

Thursday’s will be the first hearing of the bipartisan group of 13 congresspeople, officially called the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. The group has so far held interviews only behind closed doors.

Beyond sharing the results of committee’s findings with the public, the hearing Thursday and ones to follow next week are all but certain to dually serve as a launching pad for political interests.

“Televised hearings have always been a part of modern politics since the dawn of television,” Myers said. “We may see lesser-known political figures rise to celebrity status.”

But don’t expect the hearings to change many opinions about what happened that day, says Karen Hult, a professor of political science who studies the U.S. presidency and executive branch. 

“The effects on public opinion in general probably will be fairly minimal, and they will most likely reinforce existing views among those who watch or hear reports about the hearings,” Hult said. “Currently, much public opinion on Jan. 6 tracks existing partisan and ideological divides.” 

Hult said she’ll be watching to see if some effects appear within Republican and Democratic groupings. 

“For example, what used to be termed ‘mainstream’ Republicans, with views closer to those of Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney, and Lisa Murkowski, might be pushed further away from the more recent Trump-era Republicans,” she said. “Among Democrats, some may move closer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who evidently has cautioned against paying too much attention to the likely electoral impact of the hearings.”

About Hult

Karen Hult is a professor of political science in the Virginia Tech Center for Public Administration and Policy. Among other topics, her research focuses on the U.S. presidency, U.S. executive branch departments and agencies, and U.S. state politics, policy, and governance. She serves on the board of the nonpartisan White House Transition Project, which provides information to new White House staffers about making the shift from campaigning to governing, and sharing knowledge of what works and what doesn't from one presidency to the next. See her bio.

About Myers 

Cayce Myers is an associate professor of public relations and director of graduate studies in the Virginia Tech School of Communication. His principal research interests include law and public relations, media history, public relations history, corporate communication, and social media. He is the author of several books, including November’s Money in Politics: Campaign Fundraising in the 2020 Presidential ElectionsSee his bio.

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