Fifty years to the week of the Watergate break-in, a congressional panel began to break down the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

While there are clear distinctions between the two scandals, Watergate and Jan. 6 might actually be more similar than the political, social and media environments they took place in.

The media landscape, for instance, has seen seismic shifts. For weeks in the summer of 1973, network TV's daytime dramas were preempted for the political soap opera of the Watergate hearings. All three networks mostly went live with gavel-to-gavel coverage, and PBS prime-time repeats allowed others to catch up. In the pre-cable (and for many smaller markets, pre-independent TV channel) landscape, it was hard to miss, and most didn't.

Thursday's prime-time Jan. 6 hearing was still aired by the three traditional networks, but in some markets not by the fourth, Fox. CNN and MSNBC went wall-to-wall, but Fox News put up a wall, opting to relegate it to their lower-rated Fox Business channel, which allowed its conservative commentators to discredit the discourse in real time.

"I wish I could say I'm surprised, but Fox News arguably is an unindicted co-conspirator in the 'big lie' and the Jan. 6 protests and the storming of the Capitol," historian Garrett M. Graff, author of the recently published "Watergate: A New History," said in an interview on Tuesday.

Final Nielsen ratings for Thursday's hearing will indicate that some opted for alternative cable, satellite or streaming series, sports, movies or reality TV instead of the reality of an examination of an attack on America's democracy. During Watergate, Graff said, "it was a much more unified media experience," and the hearings were a "media phenomenon," with the average American household watching about 30 hours over the summer, "which really tells you something about the amount of this story that America ingested."

Regarding "the right-wing media ecosystem," Graff said with Watergate "there was no counterprogramming. You had Republicans asking questions out there of the witnesses, doing cross-examinations in the hearings, but there wasn't this drumbeat of conservative talk radio or Fox News, Tucker Carlson out there, saying all these people are liars and the whole thing is corrupt. And so it was an era when Americans had a lot more faith in the media in a way that we just don't see really take place right now."

Indeed, the media had a near 70% approval rating in the era, Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University, said on the eve of Thursday's hearing. Brinkley, whose many works include books on Watergate and Walter Cronkite, said that "during Watergate people still trusted in the federal government." A new Pew Research Center poll released this week shows how steeply trust has fallen, from a Nixon first-term era high of 77% believing the federal government will do "what is right" always/most of the time to 20% today.

Trust in other institutions, like the national news media, also has collapsed. "When you get at a national level of journalism, people don't trust, they're not believing in the newspapers of record and the magazines, it's sort of find your niche journalism that fits your predisposition," said Brinkley, who added: "It's a dumbing-down of the electorate that's occurred. Add that to the lobbying, the money, and the probability that you get punished for being bipartisan or crossing the aisle."

Watergate began with Republicans rallying around President Richard Nixon, and the hearings were "not a foregone conclusion," Graff said. But blockbuster revelations like the White House tapes meant "you saw America really sit up and pay attention and begin to change its mind about whether Watergate mattered at all." In fact, iconic moments like Republican Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker saying "what did the president know and when did he know it" are often misconstrued: Baker's statement was a defense, not an indictment, of Nixon, Graff said.

But in the end, Brinkley said, "the story of Watergate is Republicans turning on Nixon in droves," be it the moderate Baker wing or the conservatives represented by Barry Goldwater, the Arizona senator dispatched to the White House to tell Nixon the truth of how impeachment would likely play out. "Today," Brinkley said, "we see a Republican Party aligned all behind [former President Donald] Trump and refusing to see the insurrection is connected to Trump. And so it's a partisan fight that's going on right now, and Watergate had more of a bipartisan cast to it."

Two GOP committee members who still reflect and respect bipartisanship, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, are profiles in courage but pariahs in their caucus for putting country before party. And while it's too early to tell if Jan. 6 committee chair Bennie Thompson will emerge as Sam Ervin did as an evenhanded, even-keeled lawmaker overseeing Watergate, the Democratic representative from Mississippi acquitted himself well on Thursday night.

With five more hearings planned, we'll see if another witness will resonate with Americans the way that John Dean did during Watergate. But for sheer factual and emotional impact on how vile the violent mob became, no one will likely top the intense testimony of Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was one of about 140 law enforcement heroes injured in the attack. "I couldn't believe my eyes," Edwards told the committee as she described a "war scene" and "carnage." There "were officers on the ground; they were bleeding. They were throwing up. … I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people's blood."

A bit different description from Fox's Carlson, who from the safety of his studio on Thursday night called Jan. 6 a "forgettably minor outbreak" of violence.

Both historians I talked with believe Jan. 6 is a more consequential scandal than Watergate, which Brinkley called "quaint compared to the siege of our Capitol." And both believe that the events surrounding the scandals tell a bigger story.

"One of the things I really tried to do with this book," Graff said, "was make the case that Watergate was less an event and more of a mind-set and that Watergate, as we have come to understand, was not just a burglary on June 17, 1972, but an umbrella of about a dozen interrelated but distinct scandals, all of which emerged from the dark, paranoid, conspiratorial and criminal psyche of Richard Nixon that he brought to the White House and permeated his administration. And I think that's very similar to what we saw with President Trump."

Watergate and Jan. 6, Brinkley said, are about "an abuse of power, and it's about our presidents going rogue, and perhaps criminal activity in both — certainly Watergate."

The system — and the center — held half a century ago. As for Jan. 6, Graff concluded: "The difference and distinction I would draw is that Richard Nixon's crimes were crimes against Americans. They were abuses of power, abuses of civil liberties, abuses of targeting Americans illegally with government resources.

"Donald Trump's crimes were against American democracy writ large. And that, to me, is a much more worrisome level of crime because that's the type of crime that when it's successful, the country doesn't bounce back. You can, as a governmental system, overcome abuses of power and abuses of civil liberties. You just don't get your democracy back once it's stolen."