Guest Column: Is Trump’s Trial Too Hot for TV?

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It was the Shot Heard ‘Round the World 3.0, only blocks from the original Polo Grounds where the New York Giants won the 1951 National League pennant with a walk-off home run (and 215 miles from the 1775 Battle of Lexington and Concord). Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Donald Trump for colluding with Russia shaking down Ukraine attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election inciting a coup tax fraud real estate fraud failing to report a payment to a paramour. Someday our grandchildren will ask us: “Where were you when they indicted the president?” (For posterity: Dan was eating Burger King with his daughters, Joely and Mila, and nephew and niece, Boaz and Kayla; Tanvi was Sudoku’ing).

A Trump trial could be the Super Bowl The Big Game of criminal trials, with potential to shatter viewing records previously set by O.J. Simpson’s murder trial (100-plus million viewers) and Lindsay Lohan’s probation violation (infinity). There’s just one catch: New York doesn’t allow cameras in its courtrooms. The media capital of the world is — shamefully — one of only two states in the U.S. that absolutely bans audiovisual coverage [of any proceedings involving witnesses]. The other: the District of Columbia, which is not really a state, according to the Senate.

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Without cameras, the number of Americans who will bear witness to the most consequential trial of the century will be limited to how many can fit into the cramped county courthouse on Centre Street. If line-waiters can charge $18 an hour holding a spot outside the U.S. Supreme Court, access to the Trump Show will be limited to those who can afford Taylor Swift tickets on the secondary market.

The arguments against cameras are old and tired. “People behave differently on camera.” (Often better!) “It will become a circus.” (Too late. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) “We need to study the issue more.” (Florida, which in many most every way(s) is a dumpster fire, has had cameras in its courts for 40 years without incident.)

Thus, a nation hungry for justice content trains its gaze upon the New York State Legislature, which is contemplating a bill, introduced by Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-47), that would bring New York’s courts into the 21st 20th century. If it passes, the media will gain the right to cover trials, with appropriate discretion afforded to judges to protect vulnerable witnesses.

Public access is the bedrock of our justice system — but its promise is hollow if constrained by geographic proximity, workday availability and space constraints. Put simply: Without cameras, the vast majority of the public will be effectively denied access, a contradiction worthy of Mike Myers’ SNL character Linda Richman (“I’ll give you a topic: The Radical Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War was neither radical nor a reconstruction. Discuss.”)

If a tree falls in the woods Trump gets convicted in Lower Manhattan and no one sees it, will anyone believe it? Pass the law — and pass the popcorn.

Daniel Novack is a publishing industry attorney and chair of the New York State Bar Association Committee on Media Law. Tanvi Valsangikar is a an attorney who specializes in First Amendment and media law. They co-host the SLANDERTOWN podcast, and this article reflects their personal views only.

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