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Trump's election fraud trial should be televised. What is the DOJ afraid of?

Former President Donald Trump has finally said something almost everybody agrees with – except for a few guys whose opinions are the only ones that really matter.

Reckless, purposely provocative rhetoric is a mainstay of Trump’s comeback campaign. He may horrify about half the voters, who wouldn’t vote for him at gunpoint, and delight the other half, many of whom share a cult-like devotion to him, but being outrageous is his schtick.

Recently his lawyers signaled his acceptance of video cameras in the courtroom where Trump will be tried on his role in the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Unfortunately, federal rules generally prohibit cameras in courtrooms. Despite Trump’s agreement, and entreaties by news organizations, the prosecutors are not interested in televising this unprecedented, extremely important case. The U.S. Supreme Court could change that if it weren’t so mired in its own hide-bound tradition.

Donald Trump arrives in court for his arraignment April 4, 2023.
Donald Trump arrives in court for his arraignment April 4, 2023.

Trump's Georgia trial will be on TV, livestream

Trump’s trial in Atlanta, on state charges of trying to put up a bogus slate of Georgia electors, will be broadcast. The rules in many states, including Florida, permit cameras in courts, unlike the stuck-in-the-1950s feds.

Times and technology have changed. A half-century ago, TV cameras were bigger than a large suitcase and were rolled around on tall tripods, with light and sound equipment that took up a few feet of surrounding space. Now, broadcast-quality video can be made on a cellphone, and even though the networks would use equipment more sophisticated than what’s in your pocket, cameras are unobtrusive.

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Reporters are ordered to keep their seats and maintain a judicial decorum – no live stand-ups in the center aisle, no sideline interviews or zooming in on the judge at moments of high drama. This isn’t a football game.

There are channels like Court TV that jump among several trials a day, offering live testimony and legal analysis. If it gets too showbiz, the plug can be pulled. The court could even impose a 30-second delay and have a single cable feed to a nearby media room, where all the journalists could download video.

The executive and legislative branches do it all the time.

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (AP Photo/Bryon Houlgrave)
Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (AP Photo/Bryon Houlgrave)

The Justice Department has three basic reasons for the ban on televising trials: A) We’ve always done it this way; B) we don’t want to change; C) You can’t make us.

But what great harm would befall the country if we could see the trial?

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The court should make an exception for Trump

If the judiciary fears a bold new precedent in doing something state courts have done for decades, it could make this a one-time exception. There has never been a president like Trump, never been legal entanglements like he has produced – four criminal cases with 91 counts, plus several civil lawsuits.

Trump’s behavior in the New York civil trial, calling the judge a partisan hack and the state attorney general a racist, prompted a gag order. His motion to admit cameras to the Washington federal trial showed the same belligerent bluster. The former reality show star clearly wants his act on TV.

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In a motion seeking to televise the whole show, Trump’s lawyers wrote, “In sum, President Trump absolutely agrees – and, in fact, demands – that these proceedings should be fully televised so that the American public can see firsthand that this case, just like others, is nothing more than a dreamt-up, unconstitutional charade that should never be allowed to happen again.”

But it could backfire. Television exposed Sen. Joe McCarthy as a thug whose anti-communist crusade was a sham. Cameras brought us the truths of the Watergate hearings and the Iran-Contra inquiry, as well as several House and Senate hearings today. TV could amplify Trump’s lying or show him to be McCarthy in an expensive suit.

That Trump would love to turn the calm, contemplative air of the courtroom into something like a pro-wrestling spectacle – or a Trump campaign rally – is regrettable, but that's no reason to keep the cameras out.

Bill Cotterell
Bill Cotterell

Bill Cotterell is a retired Capitol reporter for United Press International and the Tallahassee Democrat, where this column first published. He writes a weekly column for the News Service of Florida and City & State Florida. He can be reached at bcotterell@cityandstatefl.com

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: All of Trump's trials should be on TV, but only one will be