Televising Trump’s Trial

His lawyers and Democratic lawmakers are urging an exception.

NPR’s Scott Neuman asks, “Should Trump’s trial be televised?

The trial of former President Donald Trump on charges related to his alleged attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election would likely prove among the biggest television events in history.

But a federal rule forbids “the taking of photographs in the courtroom during judicial proceedings or the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom.”

House Democrats, led by Rep. Adam Schiff of California, are hoping to change that.

A letter on Thursday signed by Schiff and 37 other congressional Democrats, calls on the Judicial Conference — the national policymaking body for the federal courts, which is led by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts — to “explicitly authorize the broadcasting of court proceedings in the cases of United States of America v. Donald J. Trump.”

Although Trump’s own attorney, John Lauro, has also called for a televised trial, getting permission to broadcast the proceedings “would be pretty cumbersome to do,” says Gabe Roth, executive director of the advocacy group Fix the Court. “But it’s not impossible.”


Televising Trump’s trial would theoretically benefit one side more than the other — inside the courtroom (legally) and outside (politically). But both sides appear to believe they would gain the upper hand, says Jordan Singer, a law professor at New England Law Boston.

They are “very confident that the nature of the trial will vindicate their view,” he says.

For Trump, cameras in the courtroom could “prove irresistible,” Singer says.

“I don’t know if, in the absence of cameras, he would still take the stand in his own defense,” he says. “But he is a man who’s very, very confident in his ability to say things and have the cameras rolling in a way that will benefit him.”

That may well be exactly what congressional Democrats are counting on. They are likely betting that “whatever will come out will be sufficiently bad for Mr. Trump that it will kill any presidential aspirations,” Singer says.

Cristina Tilley, a law professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, agrees that Trump’s calculus might have little to do with legal considerations. “This is sort of a unicorn case in a lot of ways,” she says.

That the trial being televised will impact the behavior of people in the courtroom, including the defendant, is not a compelling reason to do so. Indeed, it’s the primary rationale given for the policy of not televising (or even allowing cameras) what is ostensibly a public event.

This, however, strikes me as a compelling argument:

Schiff and his fellow Democratic lawmakers argued in their letter to the Judicial Conference that, “If the public is to fully accept the outcome, it will be vitally important for it to witness, as directly as possible, how the trials are conducted, the strength of the evidence adduced and the credibility of witnesses.”

Singer says there’s some evidence to back up the Democrats’ claim. When people are able to sit down and watch court proceedings, it builds public confidence in the process and the final outcome, he says.

Misinformation surrounding the case is already rife, says Fix the Court’s Roth. “So you know if that’s happening before the trial is even started, you can only imagine a lot more of that will happen when you’re only getting snippets” from a trial that isn’t being televised, he says.

This case is inherently political and Trump will do everything in his power to continue portraying it as a witch hunt conducted by his partisan opponents to keep him out of office. That the jury will be drawn from one of the most Democrat-leaning pools imaginable will help in that regard. It stands to reason, then, that massive transparency is necessary. And, if Trump’s attorneys are on board with it, that’s all the more reason to do so.

The counterargument:

However, Tilley of the University of Iowa, isn’t convinced that putting the proceedings on TV is a such a good idea.

People watching at home are likely to focus on the dramatic and emotionally charged moments of the trial as opposed to the less interesting — but more important — legal minutiae that the real jurors are required to consider, she says. “I think the nature of human psychology is such that we’re always going to privilege the emotional and the visual over boring conceptual information.”

“Let’s be realistic,” she says. “When the judge is instructing the real jurors … about what a conspiracy is and here’s how you have to prove it, I suspect that’s exactly when our armchair jurors are going to go get a snack.”

That’s pretty much the nature of trials that get massive public attention, though.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Crime, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Those calling for the trials to be televised, have it right. Those in opposition can be accused of pixel peeping, i.e. not seeing the forest for the trees.

  2. DrDaveT says:

    I think it would be difficult to have too much openness in this proceeding. Trump’s mouth is the prosecution’s best witness, and the world needs to hear what that witness had to say, firsthand. And if televising the trial makes it more likely that Trump’s mouth will take the stand, all the more reason.

  3. Matt Bernius says:

    County prosectutor and essayist Andrew Donadlson has a really good consideration of this over at Ordinary Times. While noting the challenges and downsides he ultimately comes out in favor of this (in part due to his experience with another recent trail that gained national attention and was broadcast).

    A recent high-profile case offers an example of the successful use of cameras in the courtroom: the 2021 trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd (in which I served as a special prosecutor). It took place in Minnesota, which has a flat ban televising criminal trials. The judge authorized an exception, even though the Minnesota rule mirrored the language of federal Rule 53. And television worked. Americans across the land watched the trial and observed the demeanor of Chauvin and the others involved. When the verdict was rendered, the fact that so many had seen the trial firsthand went a long way toward building public confidence in the jury’s decision.

    Besides the states and other U.S. jurisdictions that allow criminal trials to be televised, the International Criminal Court also broadcasts its proceedings, using a 30 minute delay to ensure confidentiality of information. All of this reflects the need to assure the public that justice is being done.

  4. Kathy says:

    I’m always for more transparency, especially in government matters. In this case in particular, I also agree it would be far harder for the Cheeto media to spin things favorably if all the video is available.

    Sure, most people, even the Cheeto base, won’t follow the whole trial live, nor stream it after work or on weekends. And, yes, the Benito neholden media will pick and choose what to air in evening recaps, and what to focus on. But there will be enough people who’d seen the primary source material to make spin tactics less effective.

    BTW, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell Benito takes the stand, no matter how essential it may seem for his defense, or how much he wants to. For one thing, it would be malpractice to allow a pathological liar to perjure himself repeatedly. For another, as all bullies, Benito backs down when has a strong opponent and much to lose.

    At the very least, the trials should be documented on video for the record (maybe all trials in the country should be as well).

  5. steve says:

    I am torn on this one. If it is televised I think it more likely to become a battle between the judge and Trump, which he will claim shows that the trial was rigged against him. He wont directly answer the questions and will treat it like a presidential debate where when asked you instead rate off some other talking point. This will play very well with his base, but when the judge interrupts or directs him to actually answer the question over and over it will make th judge look bad and Trump in the eyes of his supporters. I think the mistake the Dems are assuming is that he will actually try to answer questions asked of him.

    I could be wrong and maybe he will try to answer in which case i think he is hosed, but his supporters will still support him. It might help for people to see all of the people who supported and worked for Trump undercutting him but the MAGA crowd just turns on anyone who contradicts Trump and they automatically become a RINO or secret liberal.


  6. Matt Bernius says:

    BTW, I support broadcast without reservation and think it’s critical for it health as a nation to do so.

  7. CSK says:

    Trump’s attorney John Lauro told Dana Bash that on Jan. 6, 2021 there was a peacful transfer of power, because Biden became president.

    I guess a mob chanting “Hang Mike Pence” and two women yelling that they were going to find Nancy Pelosi and “put a bullet in that bitch’s brain” are peaceful patriots.

  8. Kathy says:


    The Cheeto base is a lost cause. A basket case of deplorables, to borrow Clinton’s phrasing. Benito could rape his daughter on livestream while murdering his sons and eating Melani’s sh*t, and they’d find some way to interpret it as the greatest thing ever.

    The point is more the non-crazy part of the GQP voters, should any still exist, and even more so actual independents as well as Republican-leaning ones.

    And it might serve to energize the rest of the country into voting to reelect Biden, who is the one rational choice.

  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    My main concern: Trump clearly wants to make the jurors the target of a right wing terror campaign, and putting them on TV is a great way to do this without getting his hands dirty.

  10. I would note that unlike the 1/6 hearings, many Trump fans will watch the trial. Recognizing the potential arguments against, it would seem to me that the best chance we all have in making sure as many people as possible get the broadest, and least filtered, view of these events would be to have them broadcast.

  11. CSK says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think that even televised trials show the faces of the jurors.

  12. @Steven L. Taylor: And, to be clear, I agree with Kathy that this will not change all minds, but what the country needs is for some minds on the margins to be changed. The deep base will rationalize the outcomes no matter what.

  13. CSK says:


    I was right. The faces of the jurors can’t be shown on camera. Juror anonymity is a longstanding tradition.

  14. gVOR10 says:

    Shakezulu at LGM looked at this yesterday. She makes two telling points. One, nobody’s going to watch the trial. I’ll see clips selected by MSNBC and the MAGA will see clips selected by FOX. Second, who, at this point, is persuadable?

  15. @gVOR10: There are people at the margins who are persuadable. And this will matter in November of 2024.

  16. Scott says:

    When people are able to sit down and watch court proceedings, it builds public confidence in the process and the final outcome, he says.

    O.J. Simpson

  17. Gustopher says:

    It should be televised. Does anyone trust the media of the other side to accurately report on what is happening in the courtroom?

    CNN is in the tank for the Biden Crime Family, MSNBC is neck deep in PizzaGate, NPR is Chinese Communist Propaganda, and Fox has been all RINOs since they fired Tucker Carlson. And obviously NewsMax and Infowars are crazy town.

    If it isn’t televised, half the country will end up wildly misinformed, with no way to ever discover the truth once their minds have been poisoned by misinformation and fake news.

    (We can only lament that the Fairness Doctrine no longer applies, as otherwise we would need to televise an equivalent trial with Biden as the defendant)

  18. Gustopher says:

    @Scott: Sometimes transparency shows the world that the police are complete shitheads who cannot be trusted.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Half of the country winds up wildly misinformed because they choose misinformation. Broadcast. Don’t broadcast. As Dr. Taylor notes, the effects happen at the margins. Maybe that’s where they need to happen to begin with, though.

  20. Mister Bluster says:

    @Gustopher:..(We can only lament that the Fairness Doctrine no longer applies, as otherwise we would need to televise an equivalent trial with Biden as the defendant)

    (We can only lament that the Fairness Doctrine no longer applies, as otherwise we would need to televise an equivalent trial with Biden the corpse of Richard Nixon as the defendant)

  21. steve says:

    Most people dont really pay that much attention to politics. Of those who do there arent really that many undecideds. The margins are vanishingly small. If they were significant AND politically aware there has been lots of other negative stuff out about Trump for them to see and they have already realized he is a dirtbag. Besides, they not only have to admit that Trump is wrong but admit that Democrats are right. That will be too far for most of these undecideds.

    I see the upside as real but very small. The downside also seems real to me but I dont find it easy to evaluate the possible magnitude. I do know that Democrats consistently underestimate Trump and they also seem to have a misplaced belief that the American voter is going to wake up and see the truth. Voters have avoided doing that for the last 5-6 years when it comes to Trump and I am not seeing a trend towards change. Look at the polls.


  22. dazedandconfused says:


    I have a hunch Trump will not be at the trial for most of it. It looks to be right in the heart of campaign season for him, and he will be granted a waiver. Waivers are only impossible for crimes involving capital punishment.

    I reluctantly have to agree this unicorn trial should be televised. It’s too big. A thing observed is a thing changed so this is not without some downsides, but the up-sides tip the scale.

  23. DrDaveT says:


    I do know that Democrats consistently underestimate Trump

    Say rather that they consistently overestimate America. I know that I’m personally still grappling with the reality, pretty much as if I’d discovered that 1/3 of my neighbors were Klansmen.

  24. CSK says:


    There seem to be three types of Trump supporters: those who know he’s a dirbag and accept it, those who know he’s a dirtbag and revel in it, and those who think he’s the greatest president ever, plus a devout Christian, devoted husband, caring father, loyal friend, honest real estate tycoon, and someone who loves Americans and America more than anyone else.

  25. Gustopher says:


    I do know that Democrats consistently underestimate Trump

    Democrats have a tendency to believe that people are swayed much more by policy than they actually are. The whole Clinton Triangulation thing in the 1990s, and the “we need to be more moderate on culture issues and just not defend trans people, black people, gays, etc.” crowd now.

    Trump proposes countless unpopular policies, with absolutely no depth, so people must obviously reject him. Oh, they didn’t.

    Well, DeSantis is spouting the same stuff, and putting it into action, so people will love him… nope.

    Remember the Republicans trying to claim that Democrats loved Obama and thought he was something special? And the eye rolls among the educated left? I think Republicans were closer to right then.

    It’s also why we cannot abandon the trans folks or seek compromise on racism or whatever the centrist Democrats think we need to give up today — it’s just weakness that gains us nothing in the end.

    Here are exceptions to everything, of course, and if keeping albinos out of bathrooms in fabric stores or whatever has massive approval (80% or so, to pick a number out of a hat), it might be the cost of doing business, but you’ve got to be damn sure that the weakness doesn’t hurt more than being strongly supportive.

    No one likes a coward or a follower or someone with no convictions.

    And that’s why Trump dominates the Republicans, and is such a real threat. He projects an image of someone who keeps fighting, even when he’s losing. When he’s on stage telling it like it isn’t, he is genuinely having a good time and that’s appealing. It’s emotionally honest if not factually honest.

    And DeSantis is like a robot. So he’s not catching on.

    Sadly, Americans often do choose their president based on who they would rather have a beer with. And that’s why my ideal Presidential candidate is George Clooney.

  26. Tony W says:

    It is interesting how both sides want it televised -but for very different reasons.

    Democrats want it televised for obvious reasons. Trump will act insane, he will perjure himself, he will behave without decorum, he may well end up in contempt of court. It will be a shitshow and will damage Trump considerably with moderates and anybody who might be persuaded to vote for him under the right conditions.

    Trumps’s reason seems more subtle – frankly, I think it’s a “Hail Mary” for Mr. Trump. He is going down for hard time in at least four trials, and probably more will be happening before it’s through. He is facing decades, even centuries, in prison. His ONLY way to stay out of prison in the short term is to win the presidency.

    If he can somehow behave himself during the trials and somehow persuade moderates that the prosecution and the judges and the entire legal system is corrupt and he alone is honorable, then that’s his “Hail Mary”.

    Trump is masterful at manipulating the media, and he is overreaching when he thinks he can turn his trials into a media circus in which he is the ringmaster. It’s more likely he’s the dancing monkey.

  27. Lounsbury says:


    “we need to be more moderate on culture issues and just not defend trans people, black people, gays, etc.” crowd now.

    It is always entertaining to see motivated reasoning twisting around to justify ideological positions by inverting the logic.

    Cultural leverage issues are fairly the inverse of ‘policy’ positions although the Left does have a deep and strong tendency that seems transnational, to hand waive away any political negatives and impracticalities for positions ideological that have become for them moral imperatives, that bridge that must be taken so the Nazis fall, no matter it is kilometres beyond the reach.

    Now indeed the Democrats have the error of thinking that their intellectualised policy positions and intello BoBo artful politics have rather greater and wider appear beyond their core audiences, the professional class BoBo intellos – wonderfully married to reification of their desired abstractions, beautifully inured to the failure of appeal of such abstractions.

    @Tony W: This seems spot on

    If he can somehow behave himself during the trials and somehow persuade moderates that the prosecution and the judges and the entire legal system is corrupt and he alone is honorable, then that’s his “Hail Mary”.

    Can he and his lawyers pull such off….

    Should he not testify at all and show enough restraint to leave in the hands largely of professional legal, he has some chance at that.

    Generally I would not roll the dice on telivising such a thing.

  28. CSK says:

    One of Trump’s lawyers, Jesse Binnall, says that Trump’s rant about coming after those who go after him is clearly NOT a threat, but Jack Smith is using it to hide the evidence that will overwhelmingly exonerate Trump.

    Do Lauro and Binnall actually believe any of this?

  29. steve says:

    Does it mater what the lawyer believes? What matters is what they can get the judge to believe and some jurors to accept. Truth kind of doesnt matter that much.


  30. JKB says:

    They may have to televise the trial to try to save some credibility of the US government.

    The party apparatchik at State sent an ironic tweet the day after Trump was arraigned on “Trumped up charges”.

    The United States strongly condemns Russia’s conviction of opposition leader Aleksey Navalny on politically motivated charges. The Kremlin cannot silence the truth. Navalny should be released.

    — Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) August 4, 2023

  31. JohnSF says:

    I must have missed the bit where Navalny was president of Russia, lost a democratic election, and tried to avoid cling on to power by deceit, intimidation of electoral officers, and inciting insurrection.

    And you are misusing the term “apparatchik”, BTW.

  32. Matt Bernius says:


    Seriously, if the best you have, what a sad snowflake you are.

  33. Gustopher says:


    They may have to televise the trial to try to save some credibility of the US government.

    Another person in favor of transparency!

    I look forward to learning that the government is conducting a kangaroo witch trial, and that Q was right all along. Or seeing Trump get convicted for the crimes he committed. Either would be good.

    (If Trump smashes through the floor of the courtroom to rescue the victims of the child sex ring in the basement of the courthouse, I will absolutely have to applaud him)

  34. Gustopher says:


    intello BoBo artful politics […] married to reification

    I concur excepting the bioluminescence of hegemony. Post-industrial revanchism contrapositive buffalo.

  35. JohnSF says:

    Delete “avoid”, dammit.

  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    Genius is the ability to see connections others have not or cannot.

    Stupidity is thinking Navalny and Trump have anything in common, or that Trump-lover Putin is in any way comparable to the United States’ DoJ.

  37. Michael Reynolds says:


    It’s also why we cannot abandon the trans folks or seek compromise on racism or whatever the centrist Democrats think we need to give up today

    Can you point to a single prominent Democrat who has said any of that? Spoiler: No, you can’t.

    Now, if you want to point to a non-prominent Democrat who wishes his fellow Democrats weren’t so fucking smug, ham-fisted and tone-deaf that they squandered the advantage and momentum they had on social issues, I’ll raise my hand. But just so you understand: saying the Navy should have been better prepared at Pearl Harbor is not the same as wishing Hirohito would win.

    You know the saying, protect me from my friends, I can handle my enemies?

  38. CSK says:


    Please don’t neglect the post-modern hermeneutics of transgressivism while you’re at it.

  39. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: “those who think say he’s the greatest president ever, plus a devout Christian, devoted husband, caring father, loyal friend, honest real estate tycoon, and someone who loves Americans and America more than anyone else.”
    FTFY. I have some trouble thinking of people that I know who actually think (as in believe) such things about Trump who are not in the Alzheimer’s/dementia category of Americans–and I live in a county that went 68% Trump the first round and almost 60% still the second round. But I do know people–evangelicals included, sadly,–who say such things about Trump knowing that the statements are pervasively and entirely untrue and are doing it only to infuriate Eastern Liberulz. (Who are the only variety we’re familiar with out here.)

  40. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Lauro and Binnall believing it is immaterial. The goal is to get all the JKBs in the world to believe it.

  41. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Can you point to a single prominent Democrat who has said any of that?

    Manchin, Sinema, Bill Clinton (slightly different issues back in the 1990s).

    Just off the top of my head.

  42. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    They all seem to believe it at at MAGA sites.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I think JKB and Co. already believe it.

  43. dazedandconfused says:


    Most of the ones I know agree Trump’s a total piece of work…but voting for a DemocRAT is, for them, inconceivable. If a Charles Manson won the R nomination the best that could be hoped for is they decline to vote.

  44. Jax says:

    @dazedandconfused: That’s how good of a job Fox News and Co have done on brainwashing them. They’d rather sell out to Russia than vote for an actual American.

    Somebody mentioned the other day that the OJ trial was seminal in our media’s mindset. I’d say the death of Princess Diana was, also. It’s the first time I noticed, as an adult, that they were vultures out for the hottest hot-takes, and with the advent of Reality TV, it only got worse.

  45. SC_Birdflyte says:

    If a man on trial for murdering his wife and son (i.e., Alex Murdaugh) can have a televised trial, why can’t a man on trial for attempted murder of American democracy get the same treatment? Who’d ever have thought little old SC would be more progressive than Uncle Sam?

  46. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Mr Gustopher is the master of doing a stew pot of logical fallacies, most notably extensive use of the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle (as in indeed if you are not in favour of the most aggressive BoBo Left position you are indeed in the side of Hitler or Hirihito, really quite similar to the 1930s Left) in the service of his rhetoric, in combination with some rather aggressive StrawMen taking the most outlier possible touch to the of whatever Excluded Middle he’s seeking to erect whole straw armies as his façades to justify the aggressive Excluded Middles and why its of course a complete betrayal etc if one is not launching an assault, support and logistics be damned, as morally correct élan will of course carry the day….

  47. mcnp says:

    The televising of The Watergate hearings was a key factor in the nation accepting the fall of Nixon. I knew he was finished when my moderately Republican mother said he he had to go, and my very republican great aunt and uncle who were sitting their watching the hearings with her did not argue the point. Of course there were only three networks back then so everybody was watching. Unfortunately, the far far greater entertainment options available today will lessen the effect. However, I believe the Trump trial would draw a huge audience.