After a slow, steady drip of information and ever-heightening anticipation, the television event of fall 2019 is here. No, it’s not the launch of Disney Plus, but rather the kickoff to President Trump’s impeachment hearings, which will reveal information about an alleged quid pro quo with Ukraine to interfere in the next U.S. presidential election.
Watching Wednesday’s first hearing felt less like living through history than watching the first draft of an eventual limited-series-event unfold. The shock of hearing revelatory testimony from straight-arrow diplomat Bill Taylor. The awe of watching GOP bulldogs Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows leave the room rather than hear that testimony. It’s a theatrical battle for the hearts and minds of average citizens.
Those hearts and minds might be swayed in one direction or another, depending on which channel they’re watching—even when they’re watching the same thing.
Media Matters for America’s Danielle Misiak tweeted screenshots of the same moment from today’s hearing, as rendered by two different news networks, and the difference in framing is stark.
fox's graphic for bill taylor vs. msnbc's graphic
you already know how this is gonna play out pic.twitter.com/Xv28fiaMJY
— Danielle Misiak (@DanielleMisiak) November 13, 2019
On the right, there’s MSNBC, for whom the Mueller Report was its Super Bowl plus Oscars; it’s likely anticipating similar ratings again. MSNBC includes the following pop-up graphics about Bill Taylor, the U.S.’s acting ambassador to Ukraine:
- Top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine since June
- Testified he had “clear understanding” aid tied to probes
- Texted it would be “crazy” to withhold Ukraine military aid
The first line is a helpful fact, but the second two are “Last week on Lost“-style dramatic fragments of quotes the viewer doesn’t necessarily need in order to get oriented. They’re practically just giving viewers reasons why they should be rooting for Taylor. Even though those are indeed good reasons to believe Taylor makes a compelling witness, the viewer should be able to discern as much from hearing what he has to say today.
Fox News, however, doesn’t even have one remotely impartial factoid about Taylor in its graphic. The network instead includes the following bullet points:
- Oct 23: President Trump dismissed Taylor as a “Never Trumper”
- WH called Taylor’s closed-door testimony “triple-hearsay”
- GOP says Taylor had no first-hand knowledge about Ukraine aid
They might as well include a fourth note that just says “Read the Transcript,” as Trump has been given to frequently tweeting of late. These bullets are just reasons why the Fox News faithful shouldn’t take Bill Taylor’s testimony too seriously, if they even bother listening at all. They’re prescriptive talking points for when viewers’ annoying liberal grandchildren (who watched the MSNBC version, probably) bring up Bill Taylor at Thanksgiving.
Taken together, both news outlets show the ever-increasing polarization in 2019 political culture and offer a teaser-trailer for just how much of a circus the hearings—and next year’s election—are going to be.