How Cable News Covered Day 1 of Trump’s Criminal Trial

How Cable News Covered Day 1 of Trump’s Criminal Trial

By Oghale Apr22,2024

A little after 10:30 a.m., just as a prosecutor began delivering his opening statement in Donald J. Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial, CNN’s chief legal correspondent, Paula Reid, had a live on-air update.

“We’re learning that Trump is sitting back in his chair,” Ms. Reid said, “and not even looking at the prosecutor as he speaks.”

This could make for a compelling visual, if only viewers could see Mr. Trump.

Instead, CNN viewers saw Ms. Reid sitting on a blustery balcony somewhere outside the courthouse alongside the prime-time anchors Anderson Cooper and Kaitlan Collins. Together they tried to navigate a challenging assignment: how to cover a historic trial when network cameras aren’t allowed inside?

Mr. Trump’s trial began in earnest on Monday, a remarkable event when a former president was being tried in a criminal case — and where television cameras are banned, forcing members of the TV and news media to figure out creative approaches to in-the-moment coverage.

For the next several weeks, networks will have to convey important developments from the trial with one hand tied behind their back. During Monday’s broadcasts, cable network anchors and correspondents often sounded like they were on the radio, taking an occasional stab with some play-by-play. Though live images are barred, reporters and producers are inside the court, and relaying real-time updates to on-air anchors and the public.

All morning, CNN deployed a rolling on-screen graphic running down the left side of its screen with a steady stream of updates from within the courtroom to try to help fill the maw — often a shorter version of what the network was updating on its website. Soon after court was in session, CNN’s Jake Tapper told viewers that Mr. Trump apparently had no reaction to a ruling by the judge, and then began jabbing his finger toward an on-screen graphic that said as much.

“You see that right here, on the left side of your screen,” he declared.

Like CNN, MSNBC also had wall-to-wall coverage with rolling on-screen updates, and a panel of anchors and contributors discussing the case as it unfolded several miles south from the 30 Rockefeller Plaza studio where they were broadcasting. The network also made occasional use of an on-screen graphic featuring an image of Rachel Maddow — MSNBC’s highest-rated anchor — to remind viewers to tune in at 8 p.m. for “special coverage.”

Fox News went a different route. Rather than do exhaustive coverage, Fox’s anchors dipped in and out of covering the trial, while also giving plenty of time to other stories, including the pro-Palestinian protests on the campuses of Columbia and Yale.

When Fox did focus in on the trial, it was with a markedly different approach. Early in the 10 a.m. hour, Fox carried Mr. Trump’s remarks just outside the courtroom — where he bitterly complained about the trial, among other things — for nearly three full minutes.

The broadcast networks were more selective than the major cable outlets. NBC cut into regularly scheduled programming and went into special report mode twice — at around 9 a.m., shortly before the day’s proceedings got underway, and then once more at 12:30 p.m., after the trial had concluded for the day.

Likewise, CBS delivered a special report at around 9:30 a.m., trying to offer a big-picture perspective, given the absence of live courtroom moments to display.

“It’s not just about a case of the former president,” said John Dickerson, the network’s chief political analyst. “It’s about a challenge of whether the American legal system can be healthy and withstand the hurricane going on outside.”

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By Oghale

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