Don't televise the Trump trials
Historic trials do not automatically justify historic exceptions
Donald Trump is now a criminal defendant in three different cases in three different jurisdictions: New York, Florida, and Washington D.C.
The most recent cases (Florida and D.C.) are in federal court, which have longstanding rules against the use of cameras in the courtroom. Yet, already there are growing calls for judges to make exceptions to those rules.
The arguments in favor of allowing cameras range from the desire to have what would be two historic trials documented on video, to the need for the American people to see the evidence in order to make up their minds about what Trump is accused of doing. We can’t overlook that many of us also just really, really want to scratch that trial-of-the-century itch….
But while the public may desire to see the courtroom drama play out in real time — and the national media would love the ratings — it would be a mistake for judges to allow cameras.
One of the few things it seems people on the left and people on the right have in common these days is the perception that there is a two-tiered justice system. Why they feel that way, though is where they differ.
For those on the right, they believe the Justice Department has been weaponized against them for political reasons. Donald Trump has spent years decrying investigations as political “witch hunts” meant to stop him and his supporters.
For those on the left, it’s a belief that the justice system treats people differently based on certain factors, such as someone’s race or their perceived wealth and influence.
Given this, it’s a bit ironic that Democrats are the ones largely calling for an exception to allow cameras in the federal cases against Donald Trump — a move that would treat him differently than everyone else.
MJR News is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
In a recent letter, roughly three dozen Democratic lawmakers called for the courts to allow cameras during Trump’s trial in Washington D.C.
“If the public is to fully accept the outcome, it will be vitally important for it to witness, as directly as possible, how the trials are conducted, the strength of the evidence adduced and the credibility of witnesses,” the letter reads.
Putting aside the ulterior political motive of wanting a televised Trump trial in the midst of the presidential primaries, even if we take these calls for cameras on their face they’re still not enough to justify such an extraordinary exception.
To be sure, transparency in the criminal cases against Trump is important, but allowing cameras will not make a meaningful difference on that score. Federal courts have been operating since well before cameras were invented and provide reporters with access to trials. Court records are also widely accessible by the public.
Furthermore, Rep. Adam Schiff — who is spearheading the calls for cameras — should know better than anyone about the realities of changing hearts and minds when it comes to Donald Trump.
Schiff spent hours before cameras as the House Select Committee on the January 6th Attack laid out evidence concerning the attempted insurrection at the Capitol, including Donald Trump’s alleged role and what he was doing as a violent mob of his supporters attacked the building.
Yet, the minds of the American people changed little from before and after the hearings. As we are all painfully aware, partisanship and information echo chambers are entrenching American viewpoints on issues.
Polls show nearly a third of Americans still believe the 2020 election was stolen. Despite all the lawsuits, the recounts, the audits, and all the supposed evidence of widespread fraud that has never materialized — there are still those who simply won’t believe Joe Biden is the rightful president.
This is not to say that the minds of the American people cannot change. I believe wholeheartedly they can. It’s more of a slow burn, though. At this point, it’s unlikely any single catalyst is going to shake people loose from their encampments. The impeachments didn’t; the January 6th hearings didn’t; the criminal indictments haven’t so far; and I doubt the trials will either — whether Trump is convicted or acquitted.
Supporters of Donald Trump dismissed the January 6th hearings as an unfair, biased, partisan witch hunt, and Trump is already sowing those seeds when it comes to the criminal trials against him.
Even if there is a chance that some people may be swayed by watching the trials live on T.V., the exception to accommodate that would have to be weighed against the consequences of treating Trump differently.
Donald Trump is the most significant criminal defendant in the history of the United States — bar none. But in the courtroom he is not former President Trump, he is defendant Trump and he should be treated the same as every other person who sits before a jury of their peers.
Since his federal indictments, critics have already pointed out that Trump has seemed to enjoy some privileges as a result of his stature. When he was arrested and booked in the Florida and D.C. cases, Trump was not handcuffed and no mugshots were taken.
Real and perceived differences in the way Trump is treated will only serve to weaken the cause of justice on both sides. Today, it’s the political left upset that he seems to be getting preferential treatment in some manner. Tomorrow, it’ll be some other thing that has the political right decrying unfair treatment.
The trials of Donald Trump need to be run as close to normal as possible if there is to be any measure of justice in the eyes of the public. And it needs to be that way as well so Donald Trump can pass through the justice system with the same rights and privileges that are afforded to everyone else — whether he likes that or not.
Thanks for reading. What do you think? Should Trump’s trials be televised? Let me know in the comments.