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Why Trump's trial should be televised

There will be no way for most of us to actually see and hear what’s going on inside that Florida federal courtroom. This is a travesty.

Donald Trump’s political career has been a masterclass in manipulating the media and lying to the American public. Thanks to Jack Smith, a jury of Trump’s peers will likely determine the facts in his federal classified documents trial in Florida. But the rest of us will not be able to see those facts or evidence firsthand. That’s a serious problem.

The world will be watching —?or at least, waiting for updates. The American justice system, revered and respected around the world, will be under a global microscope. We must ensure this trial is conducted fairly and in accordance with both the spirit and the letter of the law.

For years, Republicans have worked to undermine the American public’s confidence in our governing institutions.

Meanwhile, and for years, Republicans have worked to undermine the American public’s confidence in our governing institutions, our media and our democratic system of governance. They have labeled the media “enemy of the people,” called for the FBI to be disbanded, labeled prosecutors enforcing the rule of law deep state actors. Trump himself has falsely and perhaps illegally claimed the 2020 election was rigged against him. He incited an insurrection to try to overturn the results of a free and fair election. This is a collective stress test on a scale not seen since the Civil War.

All of which makes the fact that there will be no way for most of us to actually see and hear what’s going on inside the federal courtroom a travesty. Instead, Americans will have to rely on secondhand accounts from reporters, witnesses and participants, including lawyers for both sides and a defendant who repeatedly demonstrates he is incapable of telling the truth. I am confident that reporters allowed inside will do their best to accurately portray, document and recount the arguments presented. But I also don’t believe secondhand accounts are enough given the severity and gravity of this moment. In our current hyperpolarized society, it is imperative that a ban on recording or televising the trial of Donald Trump be lifted.

Adding to the drama, Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, was involved in the initial stages of this case just after the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago. Her decision to appoint a special master to review the documents recovered at Trump’s home was overruled on appeal —?and widely criticized by legal experts. This twist has raised serious questions about her impartiality and judgment. She also lacks significant criminal trial experience. The only way the American people can know for sure that she is presiding over this trial fairly is to see it firsthand.

To be clear, there is no law banning federal criminal trials from being broadcast. Instead, that rule was created by the U.S. Judicial Conference, an organization of U.S. judges who make administrative rules and policy recommendations on behalf of the federal court system. Chief justice of the United States John Roberts presides over the conference, which convenes twice a year. In short, if the federal court system wanted to lift the ban on broadcasting, it could do it without an act of Congress.

The conference has experimented with allowing recordings of proceedings in the past but did not advance the issue beyond small, limited experiments. Some advocates have argued that recording devices ensure transparency, which in turn can favor defendants. More transparency in our federal court system is also one of the few areas in Congress where there is bipartisan cooperation. The Sunshine in the Court Room Act of 2023 would establish “a framework to allow federal court proceedings — in district courts, in circuit courts and at the Supreme Court — to be photographed, recorded, broadcast or televised. Specifically, it authorizes the presiding judge to permit media coverage of court proceedings, subject to requirements and limitations.” But while the bill has both Democratic and Republican sponsors, it has never become law. And the Judicial Conference is standing firm. ?

It is, of course, important to protect jurors and witnesses, contain highly sensitive evidence, and reduce the performative or theatrical aspect of a public trial. You don’t want to impanel a jury pool more interested in becoming famous than in doing its civic duty. But in today’s 24-7 media, social media and digital media landscape, the arguments against cameras are harder to parse. Countering the overwhelming streams of filtered — and often false — information requires more transparency, not secrecy and opaqueness.

The American people deserve every right to make sure that their former president is given a fair trial and treated in accordance with the law. They also deserve to observe the behavior of prosecutors, witnesses and, yes, judges. And the only way to make both things happen is if the American people are able to watch the trial themselves — and draw their own conclusions.

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