News Outlets Request Video and Audio Access to Trump DC Trial
WASHINGTON — A coalition of media outlets, ranging from CNN, CBS News and Politico to C-SPAN, The Washington Post and Court TV, have filed a motion in federal court requesting audio and video access to former President Donald Trump’s upcoming trial on election conspiracy charges.
In August, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan set a March 4, 2024, trial date for Trump on charges that he unlawfully tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
In doing so, Judge Chutkan said, “the public has a right to a prompt and efficient resolution of this matter,” rejecting claims by Trump’s attorneys that an April 2026 trial date was necessary to account for the huge volume of evidence they have to review.
In a filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday, the coalition argues that “the prosecution of a former president, now a presidential contender, on charges of subverting the electoral process, presents the strongest possible circumstances for continuous public oversight of the justice system.
“That oversight, rooted in decades of First Amendment precedent and sound judicial policy, will be functionally illusory without audiovisual access to these proceedings,” says the group, which also includes Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the National Press Photographers Association, News/Media Alliance, Radio Television Digital News Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists, among others.
“Through counsel, Trump has repeatedly spoken out about the importance of cameras in the courtroom in this case,” the coalition continues. “For his benefit, and that of the court and the public, real-time audiovisual coverage will be a critical step in stemming false conspiracy theories across the entire spectrum of public opinion, regardless of the trial’s outcome.”
Should the court decide against allowing the coalition members and other audiovisual media into the courtroom, the group requests as an alternative that the court “contemporaneously publish on YouTube its internally administered audiovisual livestreams and recordings of the proceedings.”
As an additional alternative for the court to consider, the coalition also suggests that it release visual and audio recordings of proceedings at the conclusion of each day of the trial.
Summing up the coalition’s position, Chad Bowman, of Ballad Spahr, LLP, a Washington law firm, writes, “We have never, in the history of our nation, had a federal criminal trial that warrants audiovisual access more than the federal prosecution of former President Trump for allegedly trying to subvert the will of the people.
“The central purpose of the constitutional right of access, the law that governs here, is to ensure fair trials and to promote confidence in the justice system. Broadcasting the trial proceedings in this case will clearly advance that interest,” he adds.
The requests centers on the fact Rule 53.1.1 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and Local Criminal creates a per se prohibition on the broadcast of criminal proceedings to those unable to attend in person.
In a separate letter to the federal Judicial Conference, the policymaking body for the federal courts nationwide, the coalition asks the body to grant an exception to this ban due to the “significant public interest” in the “unprecedented and historic trial of a former president.”
In its court filing, the coalition suggests that failing to grant such an exception in this case would “contravene a First Amendment right.”
“[T]o be meaningful in the unique circumstances of this case, that right must include a right of first-hand observation beyond those few dozen people who are able to squeeze into the courtroom,” the coalition says.
“While other federal courts have not yet recognized a First Amendment right to telecast criminal trials, the U.S. Supreme Court has not squarely addressed the question since Richmond Newspapers, and the D.C. Circuit has never considered the issue,” the filing says.
The 1980 case Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia stemmed from the 1975 murder of a Richmond motel manager.
After the prosecution of one of two alleged murderers ended in several mistrials, Hanover County Circuit Judge Richard Taylor, acting in accordance with a state statute that “authorizes the court in its discretion to exclude from the trial any persons whose presence would impair the conduct of a fair trial,” ordered the courtroom to be cleared of all unnecessary parties, including two reporters with Richmond newspapers.
The publisher challenged Taylor’s action in a case that eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a 7-1 decision, the justices held that the right to attend criminal trials was “implicit in the guarantees of the First Amendment.”
In doing so, the court held that the First Amendment encompassed not only the right to speak but also the freedom to listen and to receive information and ideas.
The court also noted that the First Amendment guaranteed the right of assembly in public places such as courthouses.
In its letter to the federal Judicial Conference, the coalition argues the prosecution of Trump “is of interest to all American voters still struggling to make sense of the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath, and who have an opportunity to vote for or against Mr. Trump should he become his party’s nominee in the 2024 presidential election.”
“If Americans do not have confidence that Mr. Trump is being treated fairly by the justice system, there is a very real chance they will reject the verdict (whatever it is) and that their faith in democracy and our institutions will be further diminished,” it continues.
“Recent and painful events in our nation’s capital show that, taken to an extreme, this sort of doubt and cynicism can lead to violence,” it says, referencing the Jan. 6, 2021, siege on the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists loyal to the former president.
“The media coalition therefore requests that the Judicial Conference revise Rule 53 to permit broadcasting of proceedings in federal court. Alternatively, the coalition requests a revision to Rule 53 that would create an ‘extraordinary case’ exception to the ban on broadcasting so that, at the very least, cases like the one against Mr. Trump can be monitored in real time by the American public,” the letter says.