Jan. 6 hearing broadcast is akin to Al Capone vault stunt

By Lt. Col. James Zumwalt

The publicity build-up leading to the live, two-hour television special on April 21, 1986, was immense. As a result, nearly 30 million viewers tuned in to watch “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.” While television personality Geraldo Rivera, who “has a reputation as a self-promoting opportunist who’d gladly trash journalistic standards for the sake of ratings,” lived up to his billing that evening, the broadcast is one that the left-leaning news purveyor would probably rather forget.

The premise for the special was based upon the fact that a renovation was planned for Chicago’s Lexington Hotel, which had once served as an operations base for 1920s mob boss Al Capone. Surveyors had discovered walled-off subterranean chambers there, containing a safe. This triggered excitement of finding inside caches of money or human remains. To add to the dramatic effect, IRS officials stood by in case the former was recovered and forensic examiners in case the latter was recovered.

Pre-taping the break through the wall into the subterranean chambers and opening the safe would remove the magic of the moment, so a live broadcast was scheduled to do so.

While the major networks were reluctant to back a publicity stunt having an unknown outcome, producers partnered with the syndicator Tribune Entertainment and the show went on. The special was a bust, however, as nothing was found, turning the program into more of a two-hour documentary about Capone.

It is important to keep Rivera’s Capone story disaster in perspective as on June 9 two major networks begin the first of six broadcasts that for all intents and purposes are nothing more than another publicity stunt – this one of a political nature. The broadcasts will focus on the conclusions of a Democratic partisan investigative committee – assisted by two anti-Donald Trump Republican members – from its hearings held on the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on Capitol Hill.

This investigation has been dragging on for a year now with little being heard to justify the taxpayer dollars being spent to conduct it. Most telling too is the fact that the investigative committee decided to retain an experienced television producer to put on the public hearings, suggesting presentation is more important to it than is content.

It is interesting the committee felt this necessary since Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had rejected two Republican representatives House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., recommended for committee membership, thus enabling Democrats to seat a fully one-sided group of investigators.

There is no doubt, in investigating whether Trump was responsible for the riots, an impartial committee would take an independent approach to examining the evidence to see if it led to Trump’s participation. However, the starting point for this committee undoubtedly was the assumption Trump was responsible for the riots, and its job was to find evidence supporting the assumption.

Perhaps the House Democrats’ partisan committee was prompted to hire an experienced producer based on a recent disclosure by its former senior technical adviser, Denver Riggleman. Just like Rivera built up suspense for his program, Riggleman has done a good job of doing the same for the Jan. 6 investigative hearing broadcasts.

Ruggleman told CNN the hearings will be “very concise” and will bring all components of the investigation together, adding, “I think people are going to be absolutely surprised how much was known with multiple groups. And I think that’s what’s going to be exciting to see the committee – there’s some very intelligent, very talented investigators behind the doors.”

However, Riggleman may have shared a bit too much information as he also stated there will be no “smoking gun” finding that Trump planned the riot. While he said, “I think there’s, there’s certainly evidence of communications that led to certain types of activities that could lead to what I call ‘coup-like movements,'” he failed to explain how unarmed rioters could topple the U.S. government and force Trump’s installation as president. It is doubtful the choreographed broadcasts will explain this either.

Riggleman indirectly suggests why a producer was necessary as the committee toils with how to put all its data and interviews together to present a story. “Facts are boring,” Riggleman noted, “and I think the thing that we have to do is we have to be able to present those facts in a compelling way to merge that data with the amazing amount of interviews and the expertise of each of the committee’s investigative teams.”

He concluded, “I don’t know if the (broadcast’s) baseline’s going to be about the criminal activity. I think it’s going to be about the belief systems that we have to combat in the future.”

In a separate interview, Ruggleman was asked directly if there was any “proof of conspiracy” by Trump concerning the riot. A former politician, Ruggleman artfully dodged giving a direct answer, suggesting there was a “conspiracy of thought.”

Ruggleman seems to acknowledge the broadcasts are less about discovering new facts and more about fighting an ideology Democrats do not like. As the hearing broadcasts play out closer to midterm elections, it is clear Democrats seek to play the Capitol riot up for political gain rather than identifying any criminal activity by Trump.

At the end of his 1986 Capone broadcast, Rivera felt compelled to apologize for having wasted everyone’s time on the broadcast. Reviewers noted “Rivera’s cheerleader tone was incongruous with the violent subject. …” Ironically, today the Jan. 6 investigative committee’s “cheerleader tone” of a fantasized insurrection is incongruous with the non-violent act that actually occurred. The broadcasts should reveal this.

After the broadcasts have aired, while we know it will not happen, it sure would be nice for the committee to apologize for having wasted everyone’s time.

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