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Televise Trump's trial
It's possible, it's important, and it should happen.
Americans should be able to watch the D.C. federal trial of Donald Trump, and the Justice Department is wrong to oppose a request to let us do so.
The D.C. case involves charges made by the federal government, through the Justice Department and special counsel, against a former president resulting from an effort to overturn the presidential election of 2020 — one of the most fundamental attacks on our democracy.
On Oct. 11, NBC News filed a request with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where Trump’s case is before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, to “allow video and audio“ of the upcoming trial “either by a pool camera … or through the Court’s own equipment.“ (Though filed last week, the application was just added to the court’s docket on Wednesday.)
There are instinctual reasons to support and oppose such a request.
The largest consideration is whether such a move would prejudice the defendant’s rights to a fair trial. It’s hard to imagine how that would happen here. The trial is going to be front-page news no matter what happens. It’s going to be on the nightly newscasts and discussed on cable news nonstop. There will undoubtedly be new podcasts that pop up just to cover the trial. The ability to more accurately cover the trial shouldn’t be seen as having a prejudicial effect on Trump’s ability to receive a fair trial.
It’s likely that the most common word used in opposing the idea of televising Trump’s trial, however, would be “circus.” The opposite is true, though. The reality is that allowing anyone to see the ins and outs of a trial — particularly in a Trump-involved endeavor — is the clearest way for the court to ensure there is accurate coverage of the trial. Without video coverage, television stations — particularly cable news stations — are just going to cover the trial indirectly. That will mean others summarizing what is actually going on in the courtroom — which inevitably means different stories of what happened in the courtroom will emerge each day. Contrary to creating a circus, televising Trump’s D.C. trial would be a responsible step to helping avoid one.
Rebecca Blumenstein, the president of editorial for NBC News, lays out the affirmative cases for televising the trial in an attached declaration to the request.
“There is simply no substitute for the ability of the news media to present video of this historic trial and to incorporate video in reporting and analysis of the trial,” she states.
Blumenstein continues by noting the particular interest in this case, the regular recording of other governmental functions, and how it would be “deeply inconsistent” not to have video here.
In the legal application itself, the lawyers for NBC News — from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and NBC Universal — argue that the court “has the discretion to authorize” video coverage of the trial and should do so here.
Specifically, they argue that Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure do not bar what NBC News is seeking to do here.
The lawyers argue that the “from the courtroom” language is key. The rule, they say, only prohibits “broadcast[ing] live from the courtroom,” not having a non-broadcast recording that serves as a pool camera that outlets can then obtain and broadcast from somewhere outside of the courtroom.
The lawyers also note that the court itself could create a video recording to serve as the record of the trial, which could then be shared with media outlets and be broadcast — again, from somewhere outside of the courtroom.
Finally, they argue that, to the extent the court thinks the Rule 53 language could be read more broadly to prohibit what NBC News is seeking, then the court should choose to more narrowly interpret to avoid a construction of the rule that would violate the First Amendment.
The government opposes the request for video access, according to NBC News’s application, although it has not yet given reasons for its opposition.
The court should figure this out and grant some version of the request. In the request, for example, NBC’s lawyers allow for the possibility of delayed video.
The request isn’t as important as the trial itself, but it is important — particularly in a moment when truth is constantly up for debate and in a case where a former president is being put on trial for alleged anti-democratic acts.
Law Dork with Chris Geidner brings you independent, reader-supported legal and political journalism that seeks to hold government and other public officials accountable. Support this reporting by becoming a paid or free subscriber today.