The Spectacle of the Jan. 6 Hearings Consumes Washington

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WASHINGTON — “This is my Super Bowl,” a news anchor said off camera during the public hearings held by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. But what is a Super Bowl without any stars, or even fans, I thought. Former President Donald J. Trump and his family certainly would not show up in person. Neither would Rudolph W. Giuliani, once his personal lawyer and the former New York City mayor, nor any others who would be recognizable to anyone but a politics major.

And unlike the defamation trial last month involving Johnny Depp and his former wife, Amber Heard — in which the public’s passion for salacious celebrity gossip was unmistakable — avid followers did not appear to be lined up to cheer or protest.

Outside the building, Washington seemed unfazed. Masses of color-coordinated schoolchildren trudged from monument to monument, oscillating between wonder and boredom.

Sweaty, white-collared men, jackets tucked into their elbow creases, walked between meetings and the Hyatt.

And an ice cream vendor fed hot tourists and hungry pigeons.

But inside the Capitol, television crews, reporters and photographers lay at the ready.

Journalists lingered in the Cannon House Office Building’s halls for hours, ready to sprint, iPhones outstretched, after committee members.

Photographers pointed their lenses through cracks in doors, hoping to catch a rare unorchestrated moment.

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, working on a segment for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” circled the Capitol Rotunda cracking crude jokes and doing impressions of Mr. Trump. Later, the puppet (or, more accurately, his master, Robert Smigel) was arrested by Capitol Police and charged with unlawful entry.

Some members of the news media appeared nostalgic for the turbulent days of the Trump administration. The stick-to-the-script nature of President Biden’s tenure hasn’t quite elicited the same passions — or ratings.

“This is the biggest event we’ve had in a long time,” a photographer said.

The hearings themselves were stage-managed in part by a veteran television executive, hired to capture the attention of Americans weary from two impeachment trials and countless breaking news banners. But Fox News declined to show a hearing during prime time. (It later decided to broadcast the daytime sessions, which did not conflict with its flagship opinion shows.)

Washington has had its share of political spectacles over the years, but this one felt both enthralling and a little disappointing. The people who were always paying attention were engulfed in coverage, but the other side simply changed the channel.

Wandering outside the Capitol, I spotted a tourist from Germany wearing the infamous black and yellow Fred Perry shirt, the uniform of the Proud Boys. Seemingly unaware of its symbolism, he smiled widely for a picture with the Capitol in the background.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him.

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