Vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans tuned out to tele­vised im­peach­ment hear­ings

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN AND VALERIE RICHARD­SON

There are about 330 mil­lion Amer­i­cans. Ac­cord­ing to the rat­ings, nearly 320 mil­lion of them didn’t watch the House im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings against Pres­i­dent Trump.

De­spite tele­vi­sion net­works’ fer­vent be­lief that the coun­try should have been pay­ing at­ten­tion, with gavel-to-gavel cov­er­age on all of the ca­ble news sta­tions and most of the broad­cast net­works, the hear­ings drew pal­try rat­ings, as view­ers voted with their eyes.

“It’s on con­stantly, but I’m not pay­ing any at­ten­tion to it,” Emily Brown, a wait­ress at Mandy’s, a pop­u­lar break­fast and lunch spot near New Or­leans, said last week.

In Omaha, Ne­braska, bar­tenders told The Washington Times that their tele­vi­sions were tuned to sports and no pa­trons asked to change the chan­nel.

The spec­ta­cle drew yawns as well on the city’s streets.

“I’m not re­ally watch­ing it dur­ing the day. I’ll look on­line at night just to see what hap­pened,” Jeremy, a 47-year-old Omaha dog groomer, said as he played with an ex­cited boxer.

Most Amer­i­cans ap­peared to fol­low the same strat­egy: turn­ing to Twit­ter or news­casts to find out what hap­pened.

The morn­ing ses­sion on Nov. 19 av­er­aged 11.4 mil­lion view­ers across the three big ca­ble news sta­tions and ABC, CBS and NBC. The af­ter­noon ses­sion av­er­aged 13 mil­lion view­ers.

Those were sim­i­lar to the 12.7 mil­lion view­ers on av­er­age dur­ing the Nov. 15 hear­ings, down from the 13.1 mil­lion posted Nov. 13, the first day of pub­lic hear­ings.

It was far from the “huge” au­di­ences Reuters re­ported that the net­works ex­pected to tune in, but it also wasn’t the “way down” rat­ings that Rep. Devin Nunes of Cal­i­for­nia, the top Repub­li­can on the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, es­ti­mated dur­ing a hear­ing.

By the mid­dle of last week, at­tri­tion had be­gun.

As the clock struck noon Wed­nes­day in Washington — per­haps the most in­ter­ested po­ten­tial au­di­ence — the lo­cal ABC af­fil­i­ate ditched im­peach­ment cov­er­age and aired its reg­u­lar news­cast. The Fox sta­tion had a day­time talk show.

NBC and CBS, along with the ca­ble news sta­tions, were still cov­er­ing the im­peach­ment hear­ings.

Those who did tune in heard a con­fus­ing day of tes­ti­mony.

Gor­don Sond­land, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union, said he fig­ured there was a quid pro quo ty­ing U.S. mil­i­tary as­sis­tance to a Ukrainian agree­ment to con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions that Mr. Trump re­quested. But Mr. Sond­land also said he never heard any­one ex­plic­itly tell him one was con­tin­gent on the other — and in­deed Mr. Trump ex­plic­itly told him there was no quid pro quo.

Both sides emerged from the hear­ing to say their ar­gu­ment had been made.

Ac­cord­ing to odd­s­mak­ers, Democrats got the best of the hear­ings.

Sport­sBet­ said the odds Nov. 19 stood at -210 for the pro-im­peach­ment side, which works out to a 67.7% prob­a­bil­ity of im­peach­ment. A month ago, the prob­a­bil­ity was less than 50%, ac­cord­ing to the site.

Pre­dic­tIt, an on­line mar­ket that of­fers users a chance to bet on out­comes, said Nov. 19 was its most ac­tive day of trad­ing on the im­peach­ment ques­tion since Oct. 5.

The stock mar­kets, how­ever, were not fazed by the im­peach­ment spec­ta­cle. The Dow Jones In­dus­trial Av­er­age set records dur­ing the hear­ings.

Per­haps most strik­ing is Mr. Trump’s ap­proval rat­ing, which stands at 44% in the Real Clear Pol­i­tics av­er­age of na­tional polls. That is vir­tu­ally un­changed, with only a point or two of vari­a­tion, since his State of the Union ad­dress in Fe­bru­ary — a re­mark­ably con­sis­tent record.

Like­wise, sup­port for im­peach­ment re­mains largely un­changed since the be­gin­ning of pub­lic hear­ings a week ago. Some sur­veys even show a drop in sup­port.

It’s not that vot­ers don’t be­lieve the case against Mr. Trump, ac­cord­ing to polls. It’s that they aren’t sure he is dif­fer­ent from any other Washington politi­cian.

“It’s prob­a­bly some­thing that most politi­cians do at some point. There’s a lot of bar­ter­ing,” said Rick Gard­ner, a bar­tender in Greenville, South Carolina. “That’s sort of the game of pol­i­tics.”

Mr. Gard­ner, 46, said he grew up a Repub­li­can but is torn about his views of Mr. Trump. He did, how­ever, pay at­ten­tion to the hear­ings.

“Yeah, I watch it, try­ing to fig­ure out ex­actly what he’s try­ing to be im­peached for, and is it such a crime he needs to be im­peached,” Mr. Gard­ner said. “There seems to be some ba­sis to it, that’s for sure.”

In At­lanta, where Democrats held their pres­i­den­tial primary de­bate last week, there was in­ter­est in the in­quiry. The hear­ings played at a pizza spot in East Point.

Dan Hal­back, 83, head­ing into the bar to play pinochle with fel­low re­tirees and mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, said he had been flip­ping the TV chan­nel back and forth be­tween “old Westerns” and the im­peach­ment hear­ings — though he ac­knowl­edged his doc­tor told him to keep view­ing to a min­i­mum.

“I think the facts right now show the pres­i­dent did some­thing he shouldn’t have done,” he said. “Whether it rises to the level of im­peach­ment, I don’t know, but what he did is wrong.”

The bar­tender at the tav­ern next door, Andrew Dean, 40, said he was ex­cited about im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings and thought Mr. Trump should have been tossed out of of­fice a long time ago. But he said it was hard to gauge in­ter­est in the hear­ings and he did not have any pa­trons ask for the TV to be tuned to them.

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