Several things made Donald Trump and Co.’s most recent indictment unique from his other three, but the most notable difference was that the process was televised. Viewers were able to watch the sheriff marshals walking the paperwork to the Fulton County superior court clerk, and then on to the judge, who was seated in a courtroom packed with members of the press.
Louis Brandeis was not yet an associate justice on the Supreme Court when he wrote a Harper’s Weekly article lambasting monopolies. In it, Brandeis said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” (and electric lights are the best police officers).
Cameras were removed from the courts nearly 100 years ago, after the press turned the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, who was eventually executed for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby, into a circus. But keeping cameras out of the courts is a precedent that has long since outlived its usefulness.
Some people will go to their graves believing that the moon landings weren’t real, Pres. Nixon was framed, and that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump. We should probably bid those folks adieu and stop trying to argue them into the light. For the rest of us, seeing is believing, and we must televise any and all court cases involving Donald J. Trump. We are in an information age that is studded with lies, and it is imperative that we be allowed to witness this painful process.
If you’re keeping track, the former president – who faces 91 felony charges – has been indicted for paying money to a porn actress to keep her from discussing their relationship; for removing classified documents and then refusing to return those files to the government (and then attempting a coverup); for 2020 election interference (stemming from special prosecutor Jack Smith’s investigation), and for trying to interfere with Georgia’s 2020 election results.
Forty legislators have asked that the court proceedings be televised. Court TV’s founder, Steven Brill, recently told NPR, “What you see online, you have no idea how credible it is, who the source is, who’s paying them to say something – the total opposite of what happens in a courtroom, where all the evidence is vetted, lawyers are bound by standards of conduct where they can’t just voice their opinions. They can’t introduce hearsay or rumors. That’s what the world needs to see in this trial because we’re going to be debating this trial forever.”
As retired California superior court judge LaDoris Cordell said on MSNBC on Monday night, “Transparency builds trust.”
We can see the importance of transparency by looking at the career of one of Connecticut’s own. Lowell P. Weicker, who died in June at age 92, was a junior senator when he was appointed to the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, the Watergate committee.
The subsequent hearings were must-see TV. In the beginning, the networks aired the proceedings live. PBS aired gavel-to-gavel coverage at night. Those of us who watched rather quickly learned what was at stake. I was a teenager – not a terribly bright one and neither were my friends – but we discussed the days’ testimony as we discussed the latest from Queen and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Would we have been so involved had the news of the hearings been presented traditionally, through the filter of a news organization? I doubt it. Watching the hearings allowed us a sense of the rot at the top, even in a Nixon-centric household such as mine.
We just passed the 49th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, which he announced in a televised speech that more than half of the country watched – an audience that was bigger than any other non-sports event save for the 1969 moon landing.
Resistance to televising cases runs deep in federal courts. The Supreme Court allows audio recording, but only posts those on their website after the event. The sad fact is that banning cameras does not lend court proceedings any decorum (something the Supreme Court badly needs these days). Instead, unless we’re in the room, we cannot witness firsthand the turning of the wheels of justice, and we very much need to witness that.
We are up against powerful forces that continue to chip away at our trust in institutions such as the government and the courts. Rebuilding trust will take decades, but real-time witnessing is a good start. Here are the charges. Here are the accused, and here is what is at stake. Now settle in and watch.