WASHINGTON – “This is my Super Bowl,” an off-camera newscaster said during public hearings held by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. But what’s a Super Bowl without stars, or even fans, I thought. Former President Donald J. Trump and his family certainly wouldn’t show up in person. Neither Rudolph W. Giuliani, ever his personal attorney and former mayor of New York City, nor others who would be recognizable to anyone other than a political major.
And unlike last month’s libel lawsuit involving Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard — in which the public’s passion for lascivious celebrity gossip was undeniable — eager followers didn’t seem to line up to cheer or to protest.
Outside the building, Washington seemed unfazed. Multitudes of color-matched schoolchildren trudged from monument to monument, torn between wonder and boredom.
Sweaty white-collared men, coats tucked in their elbows, 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 were at the ready.
Journalists lingered for hours in the halls of the Cannon House Office Building, ready to sprint, iPhones outstretched, chasing committee members.
Photographers aimed their lenses through cracks in doors, hoping to capture a rare unorchestrated moment.
Working on a segment for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Triumph the Insult Comic Dog circled the Capitol Rotunda, making crude jokes and impressing Mr. Trump. Later, the doll (or, rather, its master, Robert Smigel) was arrested by the Capitol Police and charged with unlawful entry.
Some members of the news media seemed nostalgic for the turbulent days of the Trump administration. Sticking to the script of President Biden’s tenure hasn’t elicited quite the same passions or reviews.
“This is the biggest event we’ve had in a long time,” said one photographer.
The hearings themselves were led in part by an experienced television director hired to draw the attention of Americans tired of two impeachment proceedings and countless breaking news banners. But Fox News declined to show a hearing during primetime. (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 captivating and a little underwhelming. The people who were always paying attention were inundated with news coverage, but the other side just switched channels.
As I was walking outside the Capitol, I saw 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 broadly for a photo with the Capitol in the background.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him.