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A breakdown of how the Jan. 6 panel has made its hearings so easy to follow


The congressional hearings investigating the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol have relied on some television news techniques. That has led to charges that the hearings would be mere show business. But those very TV storytelling techniques have made the case more tangible and easier to follow, according to NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Let's break down how the House select committee has done it. First, each day's hearing involves a single theme with a narrative arc, built from main characters and dramatic conflicts. Take the first day, focusing on then-President Donald Trump's knowing dereliction of duty and failing to call off the violent insurrection. It was juxtaposed with this.


CAROLINE EDWARDS: What I saw was just a war scene.

FOLKENFLIK: This is Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards. She was briefly knocked unconscious on concrete stairs while battling rioters but immediately returned to duty.


EDWARDS: I mean, I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people's blood.

FOLKENFLIK: Second, the lawmakers abandoned the rounds of long-winded statements that allow them to preen for constituents back home. Instead, chairman Bennie Thompson introduces a single lawmaker on the committee to lead each day's questioning with a tight focus.


BENNIE THOMPSON: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Kinzinger, for an opening statement.

FOLKENFLIK: Swear to God, it's the same move Lester Holt pulls on "Dateline NBC" when he hands off to each segment's lead correspondent.

Third, the hearings deploy a raft of authenticating sources - audiotapes, depositions, emails, memos, social media posts, text videos and more - just like an investigative news report. Each time such material is introduced, it's done so for maximum visual effect. When a witness talks on video about Rudy Giuliani, for example, that's who you see on screen, Giuliani.

Fourth, so many of the damning voices belong to Trump supporters, like whistleblowers in a "60 Minutes" piece.


ANDREW HITT: Well, it would have been using our electors in ways that we weren't told about and we wouldn't have supported.

LAURA COX: I told him in no uncertain terms that that was insane and inappropriate.

ROBERT SINNERS: We were just, you know, kind of useful idiots or rubes at that point.

FOLKENFLIK: Those were, in order, former chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, Andrew Hitt, former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, Laura Cox, and Trump campaign volunteer Robert Sinners - all Trump supporters.

Fifth, the key to any hit show - never lose sight of the human element.


RUBY FREEMAN: There is nowhere I feel safe - nowhere. Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States to target you?

FOLKENFLIK: Here's Ruby Freeman, an election polls volunteer that Trump lied about to his followers. The FBI told her to move out of her home for two months.


FREEMAN: But he targeted me, Lady Ruby, a small business owner, a mother, a proud American citizen who stand up to help Fulton County run an election in the middle of the pandemic.

FOLKENFLIK: In doing all this, the committee took advantage of a tactical decision by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. He decided to boycott the panel after two of his picks came under scrutiny themselves. That meant no one was there to try to poke holes in the committee's case. The former president pointed to McCarthy's choice on the radio show of a right-wing conspiracy theorist.


DONALD TRUMP: That was a very, very foolish decision.

FOLKENFLIK: One last TV touch - the committee wraps up with a tease of what's up next. Its work - to be continued.

David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.