Rarely does a congressional hearing manage to avoid grandstanding, uncover new and compelling evidence and exceed expectations. The Jan. 6 select committee managed to do all three.

Indeed, the surprises kept coming on Tuesday. The sincere and spontaneous emotional reactions from Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and law enforcement officers stood as a rebuke to the cynicism of Republicans who continue to lie about the insurrection. It also implicitly rebuked the media, which too often dabbles in bothsidesism, even to this day.

Kinzinger could barely get through his tribute to the officers’ bravery. “You guys won," he said tearfully. “You guys held. Democracies are not defined by our bad days. We are defined by how we come back from bad days.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who has pulled no punches concerning the insurrection, was even more emphatic in skewering her own party. “On Jan. 6 and in the days thereafter, almost all members of my party recognized the events of that day for what they actually were," she said. She added, “No member of Congress should now attempt to defend the indefensible, obstruct this investigation or attempt to whitewash what happened that day.” It’s no wonder she gives Republican toadies the shakes, especially when she warns that failure to hold all those involved responsible would allow the cancer on our democracy to go unchecked. As she put it: “We must know what happened here at the Capitol. We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House. Every phone call. Every conversation. Every meeting leading up to, during, and after the attack.”

Police officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6 testified before Congress on July 27 about their experiences. (Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

The use of clear language — Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) spoke of “fascist traitors” while D.C. Police officer Daniel Hodges referred to “terrorists” — was a refreshing departure from mealy-mouth descriptions that obscure the violence and the ideology of the insurrectionists. It was critical to hear the granular description of that day, especially as it helps to expose the galling dishonesty and appalling bad faith of Republicans.

In particular, the thoughtfulness, constitutional sophistication and love of democracy that the four police officers displayed during their testimonies should serve as a model for the country:

  • Hodges explained “there is no moving on without accountability.”
  • Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn asked, “Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are being lauded as courageous heroes. And while I agree with that notion, why? Because they told the truth? Why is telling the truth hard?” He remarked that when a hit man goes to jail, so too should the person who hired him. That sentiment should resonate with the Justice Department as it considers investigating and indicting those who enabled the insurrection. Asked whether what he witnessed was America, he candidly replied, “I guess it is America. It shouldn’t be, but I guess that’s the way that things are."
  • D.C. Police officer Michael Fanone called the indifference shown to his colleagues by Republican members of Congress “disgraceful.”
  • Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell powerfully denounced those who claim to be pro-police and pro-rule of law but refuse to speak truthfully about Jan. 6.

The officers’ description of the racism and viciousness that insurrectionists directed toward police officers was a proper corrective following efforts to paint the crowd as peaceful. So, too, was Kinzinger’s moral clarity that debunked Republicans’ false equivalence between the violence on Jan. 6 and largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. “There’s a difference between crimes, even grave crimes and a coup," Kinzinger said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s judgment in refusing to seat two Republicans bent on making a mockery of the committee proved wise. For several hours, serious questions engendered serious answers. In place of flat-out lies or attempts to blame the victims of the attack for not being prepared, the hearing provided a poignant, precise account of the events of Jan. 6. It clarified who was defending democracy and who was seeking to destroy it. Without the antics of unhinged MAGA Republicans on the committee, a coherent narrative emerged.

The media coverage of the GOP’s ongoing attempt to undermine democracy has too often devolved into false “balance” and an inaccurate portrayal of a movement that now accepts violence and disdains elections. Journalists would do well to watch the full hearing and emulate the clear language offered by committee members and the witnesses. They must do better if they are to keep Americans informed about the ongoing threat to democracy. The days of putting Jan. 6 apologists and deniers on mainstream news programming must end. The media must stop acting as a conduit for Republican disinformation.

Finally, if the Justice Department harbored any doubt that it should investigate whether there was any involvement in the attack by lawmakers or whether the former president’s incitement of the mob rose to the level of criminality, that vanished on Tuesday. The officers pleaded with the committee to find anyone who “collaborated” or spurred the attack. They are not willing to let bygones be bygones. None of us should. The Justice Department should follow the facts and indict anyone found to be criminally liable for the violent insurrection.