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James Comey Senate hearing: where, when to watch or listen

This was posted Wednesday, June 7, 2017 by Rodney Ho/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk

Kind of like that old Heinz ketchup ad and the Carly Simon song, "anticipation" is the buzzword in Washington as major networks prepare to broadcast former FBI director James Comey's testimony Thursday with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence live and with limited commercial interruptions.

CNN has even had a countdown clock to Comey's testimony for a couple of days. Broadcast networks are pre-empting their usual late morning talk shows and game shows and willing to eat the lost advertising revenue. The testimony will be live-streamed on any major news site. And a few local radio stations will air his testimony live for those who may be driving.

His public testimony is scheduled for three hours and is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Broadcast networks only rarely air Congressional hearings live. Examples over the years include the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, Watergate hearings in 1973, the Iran-contra hearings in 1987, the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 and President Bill Clinton impeachment hearings in 1998.

With the advent of cable networks by the late 1990s able to air gavel-to-gavel coverage, broadcast networks were especially averse to airing such hearings and losing the advertising dollars. The networks only cut in to regular programming regarding Clinton for key testimony, according to the Washington Post.

The committee pre-released Comey's prepared testimony regarding his interactions with President Donald Trump regarding the Russian investigation over the 2016 election and any possible collusion with Trump associates. Ultimately, what will be newsworthy is what the Senators will be able to glean from Comey during the Q and A portion, especially whether he thinks Trump obstructed justice.

Tony Harris, a former CNN anchor from 2004 to 2010 who now hosts a show on ID, said the coverage will feel excessive but "if you're a cable news executive, you have to cover it." As for the broadcast networks, "it gives the channels an opportunity to showcase their high-priced talent. It almost doesn't matter if there's any real news to come out of the hearing. That said, Comey's testimony feels significant. And at the end of the day, news channels record history."

Frank Sesno, a former CNN correspondent, anchor and Washington bureau chief, author, and director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University in D.C., agrees with what CBS chief Les Moonves has said: "Donald Trump is good for ratings. That sounds snarky but what I'm really saying is people are fascinated by this."

"When in our lifetime," he added, "have we had an FBI director investigating the president, who is then fired by the president and who's next public words about the president are going to be uttered in front of a Congressional committee where he is taking the oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?"

Sesno is still amazed the broadcast networks are willing to pre-empt regular programming: "This speaks volumes about their understanding of the public, of the extraordinary value of this and what it will mean for their own ratings, I think."

TV coverage

All four major broadcast networks are planning to cut into regular programming. That means shows you're certain to lose are 'The Doctors" on WSB-TV, "The Wendy Williams Show" on Fox 5, the fourth hour of "Today" show on 11Alive and "Let's Make a Deal' on CBS46. And it's likely to go into a second hour so you may also have to scratch "The View" on WSB, "The Real" on Fox5, "Atlanta & Company" on 11Alive and "The Price is Right" on CBS. And of course, if it goes all day, there goes the soap operas, "The Talk" and Steve Harvey, too.

ABC will have George Stephanopoulos as lead anchor. CBS will use the trio of Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell. NBC, too, will utilize three anchors: Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd. Fox will provide Shepard Smith while Bill Hemmer and Shannon Bream will anchor for Fox News. Judy Woodruff will anchor PBS coverage. Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper will begin CNN's coverage at 9 a.m. MSNBC's anchors will be Brian Williams and Nicolle Wallace. 

90.1/WABE-FM and 88.5/WRAS-FM: Both will air NPR's live coverage starting at 10. For WABE, that means no "BBC NewsHour" or "City Lights with Lois Reitzes." WRAS will skip "On Point" late morning. The timing works out for WABE and PBA/30, which will be airing the Karen Handel/Jon Ossoff debate at 9 a.m. and will segue immediately into Comey coverage at 10.

News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB: Herman Cain's second hour and likely Eric Von Haessler's 11 a.m. hour will be pre-empted, according to Condace Pressley, manager of programming operations and community service. She said it will likely air with no commercial breaks or traffic or weather interruptions unless something unusual happens locally on those two subjects.

NewsRadio 106.7: Shannon Burke, who is the host during the 9 a.m. to noon hours, said the station plans to air Comey's opening statement using Westwood One coverage, then he'll do commentary every 10 minutes or so. The Kimmer will do the same starting at noon.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.