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We should be able to see the Trump hush money trial on TV

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We should be able to see the Trump hush money trial on TV

May 28, 2024 | 11:11 am ET
By Marshall H. Tanick
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We should be able to see the Trump hush money trial on TV
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Because of New York's strict rules on photos and video in the courtroom, we've limited to a single image a day, taken even before the proceedings begin. Photo by Steven Hirsch-Pool/Getty Images.

As the lengthy “hush money” trial of former President Trump draws to a close, one of its countless unusual — and lamentable — features has been been the absence of broadcasting or live-streaming of the proceedings from the courtroom in Manhattan.

Instead of permitting the public to view the momentous trial — the first criminal case against a former president — the only visual scrutiny is a still picture of the defendant and his lawyers at their table before the start of each day’s session. Otherwise, it’s left to drawings by sketch artists to provide the public a minimal glimpse through caricatures of the participants — chiefly the ex-president.

The reason for the opacity is that New York state law prohibits visual or audio devices in courtrooms, one of the few and declining number of states with that proscription. The courts have been opening themselves up to greater transparency for more than four decades, boosted by the the televised criminal trial 30 years ago of the late O. J. Simpson.

Minnesota formerly was one of the last remaining holdouts against modernity, until the state Supreme Court in March of 2023 promulgated new rules lifting some long-standing proscriptions on cameras in the courtroom.

The initiative, born of the successful televising of the George Floyd murder trial and the subsequent criminal prosecution of Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter for the slaying of Daunte Wright, is quite limited compared to the wall-to-wall coverage permitted in many other jurisdictions.

But it gives trial judges for the first time the discretion to permit video and audio devices in legal proceedings, including high profile criminal matters, regardless of objections by the parties, prosecutors and defendants alike. Nonetheless, the protocols have not yet been put into effect since their enactment.

Meanwhile, nearly all appellate court proceedings in the Minnesota state court system have for several years been streamed live on social media.

But New York adheres to a long-standing rule — also enforced in federal courts — barring televising or other visual or audio depictions of any proceedings, civil or criminal. A total ban is in effect in only one other state, Louisiana.

Even the U. S. Supreme Court has departed from its traditional shyness and, since the pandemic, has allowed real-time audio broadcasting of many of its proceedings.

It’s unfortunate and frustrating for New York to adhere to that opacity. Most of the historic reasons predicating courtroom closure have dissipated, including disruptions caused by clunky audio-video machinery; deleterious impact on witnesses, jurors, and other participants; showboating by lawyers and even judges; and other rationales.

As the media capital of the country, indeed the world, the Empire State ought to be in the vanguard of televised transparency, rather than limiting visual scrutiny to Renaissance-era drawings.

While the written, electronic and televised reporting of the case has been extensive, the public has been deprived of the opportunity to see and hear what is actually taking place.

Apart from the salacious nature of portions of the current criminal case against the ex-president, very likely the only of the four pending cases to make it to trial before the election, or perhaps ever, there is a legitimate public interest in directly experiencing what is actually taking place in this taxpayer-funded proceeding of such magnitude, rather than looking at cartoon drawings.

Allowing televising or live streaming the trial probably would also elevate the public’s acceptance of the outcome.

While that will not happen in this case, public discontent with the lack of transparency ought to spur more openness in future cases of paramount interest and importance, not just in New York but everywhere, including here in Minnesota.