August 2, 2023

Put Trump’s Trial on TV (Or At Least Record It)

Put Trump's Trial on TV (Or At Least Record It)

The Justice Department’s election conspiracy trial of Donald Trump, following the indictment filed late yesterday, will be one of the most important proceedings in the history of our country, and yet only a handful of people will ever see it, because, almost certainly, it won’t be on TV, not even videotaped.

Every U.S. state allows cameras in the courtroom in some instances, often at the discretion of the presiding judge. But when it comes to the federal courts, where Trump has been charged in this case, Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that a court “must not permit the taking of photographs in the courtroom during judicial proceedings or the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom.” The federal rules are drafted by the Judicial Conference of the United States, a body of federal judges, and then issued by the U.S. Supreme Court. Congressional legislation could overrule this ban, and bills in Congress have been introduced in the past, but no action has been taken. 

Critics say that broadcasting or recording trials will lead to grandstanding and violate the due process rights of defendants and the privacy rights of participants. But proponents says that trials are necessarily public in a democracy, in order to protect defendants from sham proceedings, and that therefore the broader public, not just the small number that fit into a courtroom, should be able to watch.  The First Amendment’s freedom of the press protection also argues for allowing the media to cover significant events using the modern tools of journalism.

In this case, given the defendant, we can expect grandstanding from his team no matter what. And an event of this magnitude — the trial of an unprecedented effort by a sitting U.S. president to use lies, phony legal arguments, and political pressure to overturn the election results and effectively stage a coup — should be seen by the American people, if not live, at least for all to watch eventually and for history to preserve. If Donald Trump has a strong defense against the charges, as his attorneys claim, let the American people see it, along with the government’s evidence. 

I wrote about a related issue in the New York Times about 100 years ago.