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How to Make Hearings Heard

June 10th, 2022 by dk

Shortly after the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol announced it would hold public hearings this summer, I reached out to a scholar who has studied changing people’s minds for his entire career.

The televised hearings had their debut last night, two days after my deadline for this column, so readers know more than me about how things went. But the committee appears to have followed the intuition of Paul Slovic, President of Decision Research and Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon.

“Stories and films can penetrate our defenses and numbness in powerful ways. We need emotion to spark action and the arts can create such emotion,” Slovic told me in January. “Arguments provoke counter arguments but feelings do no not provoke counter feelings. We accept them and behave in ways consistent with those feelings, for better or worse.”

I was heartened to learn that James Goldston has been serving as an unannounced adviser to the select committee. Goldston is a former president of ABC News. He ran “Good Morning America” and “Nightline.” He knows how to take a mountain of investigative research and boil it down to a compelling story.

We learned this week that British filmmaker and documentarian Nick Quested will be among the first witnesses. He reportedly filmed Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, from Proud Boys, meeting with Elmer “Stewart” Rhodes, from Oath Keepers, the night before the attack. The location: a DC parking garage, as if they were filming a sequel to “All the President’s Men.” Tarrio was charged this week with seditious conspiracy for the Capitol attack. You can see where this is going.

A committee stocked with lawyers-turned-legislators will instinctively convey their evidence for people in a courtroom. Goldston understands the story will be received in living rooms. The committee’s deliverables must look less like a legal affidavit and more like a screenplay.

Goldston plans to mix live interviews, recorded depositions, and unseen video footage. He will use all the tools of a documentarian, but with real characters unraveling the story in real time.

Slovic quoted novelist Barbara Kingsolver: “Confronted with knowledge of dozens of apparently random disasters each day, what can a human heart do but slam its doors? No mortal can grieve that much.”

Effective storytelling circumvents those defenses. Charles Eisenstein put it this way: “You can’t argue with a story. Stories slip beneath logic-garbed psychological defenses to connect people with truths prior to reason.”

Slovic continued: “We have already been inundated with videos and commentary about the Jan. 6 events. I’ve seen some clips at least 30 times.This repetition is numbing in itself. On the other hand, these clips, interwoven with a human interest story, can be novel and may well be quite effective. [This] connects with a lot of what is known about making knowledge and feelings impactful. The topic is complex.”

Indeed it is. Fortunately, Quested and Goldston understand some of that complexity. Slovic’s work has inspired many to think twice about how we think at all.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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  • 1 charlotte Jun 10, 2022 at 1:58 pm

    Thank you! Right you are; as you most often are. I look forward to you explaining things clearly and challenge me to think.