WASHINGTON — “It’s my Super Bowl,” an off-camera news anchor 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 would certainly not show up in person. Neither Rudolph W. Giuliani, once his personal attorney and former mayor of New York, nor any other who would be recognizable to anyone but a student of politics.
And unlike last month’s libel lawsuit involving Johnny Depp and his estranged wife, Amber Heard – in which the public’s passion for salacious celebrity gossip was unmistakable – eager supporters didn’t appear to be lining up to cheer or protest.
Outside the building, Washington seemed unfazed. Masses of color-coordinated school children walked from monument to monument, oscillating between wonder and boredom.
Sweaty, white-collar men, jackets tucked into the bends of their elbows, walked between the meetings and the Hyatt.
And an ice cream parlor fed hot tourists and hungry pigeons.
But inside the Capitol, television crews, reporters and photographers were ready.
Reporters lingered in the halls of the Cannon House office building for hours, ready to sprint, iPhones taut, after committee members.
Photographers pointed their lenses through cracks in the 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 making Mr. Trump impressions. 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 seemed nostalgic for the turbulent days of the Trump administration. The true-to-script nature of President Biden’s tenure hasn’t quite garnered the same passions — or notes.
“It’s the biggest event we’ve had in a long time,” said a photographer.
The hearings themselves were led in part by a seasoned television executive, hired to capture the attention of Americans weary of two impeachment trials and countless breaking news banners. But Fox News declined to show a prime-time audience. (It later decided to air 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 was both thrilling and a little disappointing. People who were still paying attention were engulfed in coverage, but the other side just changed channels.
While walking outside the Capitol, I spotted a German tourist wearing the infamous black and yellow Fred Perry shirt, the uniform of the Proud Boys. Seemingly oblivious to his symbolism, he smiles broadly for a photo with the Capitol building in the background.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him.