Covering Trump’s Courthouse Circus

From CNN’s Reliable Sources with Oliver Darcy:

History will unfold live before millions of television news viewers on Tuesday as former President Donald Trump travels to Manhattan Criminal Court to be arraigned after last week’s unprecedented indictment.

The extraordinary moment will present newsrooms with a slew of coverage conundrums and test how well outlets have adapted to reporting on Trump since he left office in disgrace and largely vanished from the public view.

To help guide news organizations with tackling this thorny story, I reached out to a few smart members of the industry for their thoughts:

► Margaret Sullivan: “Use what we’ve learned since 2015 about covering Trump (if we really have learned!) and adjust accordingly. Weigh the newsworthiness of the moment against the likelihood of spreading his predictable lies. Fact-checking later is not nearly as effective as putting his statements in context before blasting them out raw. Remember we’re in the truth and democracy business, and let that guide the way.”

► Bill Grueskin: “My advice: Ignore the courthouse circus, and focus on the merits of the DA’s case. Is there new evidence? Are there new witnesses? What does the indictment tell us that we didn’t already know about Trump’s payment to Stormy Daniels? And what about that is provably illegal?”

► Jack Shafer: “Editors and producers should stop looking over their shoulders worrying about what the ox peckers might say about their camera angles, the number of hours they spend on the booking, the number of column inches they burn on the prosecution and trust their own journalistic instincts and training. It’s a story, follow it. Inform your readers and viewers.”

► Susan Glasser: “I’m exhausted by the pre-spin and breathless coverage of an indictment we haven’t seen yet and Trump’s motorcade and plane flying, as if those were momentous events in their own right. The news will be what we learn about the particulars of the case and, if it’s released, the history-making mug shot of the first ever former president to be charged in a criminal case. Trump’s statements since the indictment have made news by being incendiary verging on reckless — and his evening presser is likely to offer more in this vein. In the end, most of this is likely to be a little remembered spectacle that Trump is milking for all it’s worth — and it will be the outcome of this case that will shape its place in history, and what political affect it is eventually judged to have.”

► Preet Bharara: “Don’t jump the gun. Know there will be surprises. Beware making this some Mano a Mano, Alvin Bragg versus Donald Trump story.”

► Molly Jong-Fast: “He needs to be covered as a truth sandwich. Tell the truth before you repeat one of his lies. if you can don’t repeat the lies. If you must repeat the lie be sure to say it’s a LIE. Don’t use his campaign’s framing! Don’t let him be your assignment editor. Trump is a candidate and also likely a defendant, treat him like every other candidate and defendant. Don’t give him the benefit of the doubt.”

► Alyssa Farah: “Be careful not to be spun by Trump world. Trump is currently spiraling over this indictment but he and his team will do everything in their power to try to harness the narrative and frame it as a win for him. Take a step back, contextualize this moment for history: being indicted is never a good thing and it hurts him in a general election regardless of what he says.”

The Sidebar:

The banner on the Drudge Report: “SURRENDER SPECTACLE!”

“The indictment of former President Donald J. Trump is an unprecedented political event that may have enormous consequences for democracy. It’s also, effectively, a season premiere,” Michael Grynbaum writes. “After a brief hiatus, The Trump Show is back.” (NYT)

“The Trump arraignment media circus is underway,” Charlotte Klein writes, detailing the scene in New York City where “satellite trucks clog Lower Manhattan and the press corps parachute in.” (Vanity Fair)

“Reporters started queuing outside Manhattan Criminal Court Monday for seats inside the courtroom where Donald Trump will be arraigned Tuesday — a full 24 hours ahead of the afternoon proceeding,” Joe Anita reports, pointing out that the “mass of media was in stark contrast to the handful of Trump supporters protesting.” (POLITICO)

“Trump’s white Bronco moment?”: Paul Farhi reports on how news networks breathlessly covered Trump’s trip from Mar-a-Lago to Trump Tower. (WaPo)

Trump’s legal team said they oppose a request by media outlets, including CNN, to allow cameras in the courtroom for Trump’s arraignment. They argued, without any apparent irony, that it would cause a “circus-like atmosphere.” (CNBC)

“Trump’s case again highlights how New York has among the most restrictive laws in the nation banning cameras and broadcasts inside the courtroom in most proceedings,” notes Joseph Spector. (POLITICO)

Don’t forget the media environment in which this is all happening. On Tucker Carlson’s show Monday night, a graphic declared this all to be “UNEQUAL JUSTICE” as his show banner read, “TODAY’S LEGAL SYSTEM IS TOTALITARIAN & UNJUST.” Other banners on the program read, “DEMS CREATE A SPECTACLE TO HUMILIATE THE REPUBLICAN FRONTRUNNER,” “CRIMINALS ARE PROTECTED & GOOD PEOPLE ARE HURT,” and “LEFT IS USING THE LEGAL SYSTEM TO ITS ADVANTAGE.” This type of commentary is saturating right-wing media.

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