Did the Media Actually Get it Right on Trump This Time?

No... But also maybe yes?

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Rule 34

The Manhattan DA’s 34-count felony case against former President Donald Trump is strong. Also weak. Also an abject disaster. We clearly have a long, long way to go in this case. 


But I’m pretty convinced that while Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s case is an historic first, it’s likely to be a comparatively minor scene in Trump’s alleged criminal misadventures. Trump is potentially in a lot of trouble in a lot of jurisdictions. And that means the risk of damage he can do leveraging his and his supporters’ rage against the justice system and the democracy is as big as it’s been since Jan. 6. 

Trump’s out of office, so the GOP House majority backing him is taking up the slack, leveraging their power to try to intimidate Bragg and send a message to any other prosecutor who’s contemplating placing their leader under the law. The only reason they haven’t been louder this week is that Bragg unveiled his indictment during the congressional recess, when lawmakers scattered. 

New York Judge Juan Merchan asked Trump to do nothing to incite violence or disrupt the court. It took Trump just a couple hours to publicly trash the judge, his wife, and his daughter. And now, the death threats against the judge and his family are reliably pouring in by the dozens

If more indictments on more serious charges like election interference or obstruction start to mount, we’re in for a(nother) potential spiraling confrontation between democracy and Trump’s enraged base. The news media, especially cable TV, showed that it’s learned basically nothing about how to responsibly cover Trump at his worst. And yet, there were signs of hope, too. 


Trump stakes

I called up NYU professor and media critic Jay Rosen, who had some interesting things to say about a strategic change in how some outlets covered Trump this week. 

A lot of the coverage was OJ-esque. Helicopters and SUVs. Trump completely dominated. What do you think it means that seven years later, many outlets are covering Trump  in the exact same way they did in the summer of 2016? 

Jeff Zucker admitted that CNN had gone way overboard and probably allowed Trump too much free publicity. And Les Moonves said, “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” And there was a general recognition that there had been a pattern of excess in covering Trump in 2016. But it didn’t seem to matter when this arraignment came around. All reserve was thrown to the winds. We’re just at the start of this. And it doesn’t seem like the big TV journalism outfits have thought through a change in policy. 

That said, by the end of the night, when Trump made his post-arraignment speech, both MSNBC and NPR decided not to carry the remarks live. And that was a change. 

Yes, this is something that I wrote about and argued for years ago. Especially during the period when Trump was doing his briefings on the coronavirus, and distributing all kinds of myths and disinformation from the White House podium. I think that was an obvious case where you don’t allow that to go across your air live because you may be allowing him to give deadly advice through your channel.


But this time, the argument that won out at MSNBC was that there’s not going to be anything new in Trump’s speech. He’s just going to do his familiar diatribes. It’s very likely to just be a propaganda event, or at least a campaign event. The decision was a little surprising. I think it was a good development, but it should not really have been controversial.

CNN covered the speech live and then cut away. Then Jake Tapper issued a justification explaining the middle ground, that they cut away when it turned into a campaign speech. It felt like they were struggling in real time with the Trump coverage question. 

Yes, and what Jay Tapper said was that they had spent so much time in live coverage on the indictment and the DA’s press conference, fairness compelled them to cover Donald Trump so he could say what he wanted to. I find that pretty striking to worry about the idea of “fairness’ to a speaker who has abused the microphone every time he’s had it.

On the other hand, he is a defendant who had an entire day of charges being read against him, the prosecutor speaking out. Responsible coverage might say, “let the defendant have their rebuttal.”

But it's important to add that no one is saying that there should be a news blackout on his talk. If he says something important, you report it in the news that evening or the next day. 


So it’s not pretending he didn’t say any of that or blacking him out. It’s just a question of whether he deserves the status of live coverage for what was probably just a rehash of what he's been saying for years. Nobody’s saying ‘don’t cover the speech.’ They’re saying, ‘you don’t need to transmit it live.’ Those are two different things. 

Trump is in so much legal jeopardy in so many venues that this problem is with us, and it only gets worse, right? Part of the coverage this week was encouraging. So where do you think this goes?

There’s a hesitancy to go from the understanding that this guy breaks our system, to the action of deciding on a new way to handle it. I think they mostly haven’t done that work. 

But you could step back and say that a media system where two big networks decide not to carry Trump, one does halfway, and others like Fox and Newsmax carry it all the way, is media diversity and actually a good outcome. They have different newsrooms making different calls. We can survive that. And it’s sort of a sign of health that there would be different determinations by different bosses in that situation.

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T.W.I.S.™ Notes

Trump took a minute out of his post-indictment rant against Bragg to get weird about Special Counsel Jack Smith. Seriously, what the eff was he talking about? It’s definitely because this week in subpoenas, Smith has been turning the screws. 


- Look into my guys

Seems like the rest of Trump’s inner circle is soon going to answer questions in the federal grand jury investigating Jan. 6 and the coup attempt. Mike Pence won’t appeal a judge’s ruling compelling him to testify, and that could make the former veep by far the highest-profile witness to appear in Smith’s probe. It means grand jurors could get important insights into what Trump was saying, and what his aides were telling him, up to and on the day of the insurrection. 

They’ll also likely learn a lot from former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Trump’s been trying to keep Meadows and other close aides from testifying by claiming that executive privilege walls off their interactions with him when he was president. But a federal appeals court, including a Trump appointee, rejected Trump’s appeal this week, clearing the way for Meadows and former staffers like Stephen Miller to answer questions about Jan. 6. 

Trump could appeal higher in either of these cases, but he’s had no luck doing that so far. 

Pence is the most famous, but Meadows is likely one of the highest-value witnesses in the coup investigation. He was a switchboard between the White house and GOP lawmakers as the plot took shape. His texts indicate hundreds of contacts with people strategizing about how to overturn the election. Former aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified to loads of White House conversations involving Meadows, including ones where he told others that Trump refused to call off rioters at the Capitol (pg 89.)


And hey, remember how she said Meadows burned documents in an office fireplace after meeting with PA Rep. Scott Perry? Might want to ask about that!

- Jack of club

Now to Mar-a-Lago, where Smith’s investigators have new evidence (and plenty of confirmation of old evidence) that Trump may have obstructed the government’s efforts to get back the classified documents he acknowledges he took from the White House. The Washington Post reported that investigators have new evidence suggesting Trump personally went through boxes containing classified documents after the government issued a subpoena for them last May. 

Grand jurors have also been hearing evidence about Trump’s personal vendetta against Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley. Here’s some analysis on why the Milley stuff could point to Smith building a case under the Espionage Act. A bunch of Secret Service agents detailed to Trump have been pulled in too and and are expected to testify as early as today. 

- Foxed three ways

Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox News starts a week from Monday. You might get to hear from Fox Chair Rupert Murdoch himself. The judge in the case ruled that Dominion can call Murdoch, his son and CEO Lachlan Murdoch, and Fox board member and once-hyped workout bro Paul Ryan. Expect several Fox hosts—the ones we saw in all the texts—to also get subpoenas. 


Fox says Dominion “wants to continue generating misleading stories from their friends in the media to distract from their weak case.” 

Fond du Lac of grace

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly was mad—very, very mad—about his loss to Janet Protasiewicz in the race for state Supreme Court justice this week.

But more important than that viral nastiness was that Protasiewicz’s 10-point trouncing gives liberals the majority on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court for the first time in 15 years. The statewide race could be a signal of Republicans’ eroding support, especially around abortion. But it also means the court will likely take a new attitude on Wisconsin’s notoriously GOP-friendly electoral district maps. They also could hear multiple lawsuits related to voting rules and procedures in the 2024 election, where Wisconsin’s uber-swinginess gives it a massive influence.

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“I think it’s a particularly bad idea for Trump because he lacks all self-control.” - Former AG Bill Barr, asked on Fox whether he would put Trump on the stand in his own defense.

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Following, um, the case — A juror in the Proud Boys sedition trial told the judge yesterday she fears she’s being followed. The juror said someone approached her at a D.C. Metro station and asked if she was a juror. She told the court she’d seen the person before.


Un-tried before the Fall — Mesa County Colorado’s Tina Peters now won’t face trial until October. The former County Clerk-turned-MAGA-election-conspiracy star is facing seven felony charges for an alleged fraud scheme to impersonate an IT worker and illegally share voting machine data. Peters was originally supposed to go on trial this month. It got moved to August, and is now pushed back to Oct. 17 because of scheduling conflicts. 

Mickey and fraud — Infamous right-wing social media influencer and propagandist Douglass Mackey, known online as Mickey Vaughn, was convicted in federal court for a 2016 scheme to defraud people into not voting. Mackey tried to leverage his 58,000 Twitter followers into targeting Black voters with disinformation that they could vote via text from home. He’ll be sentenced in August and faces up to 10 years.

Talla-hassle — Gov. Ron DeSantis after the 2016 election: Florida is “the state that did it right.” Fla. Republicans three times since: passing measures restricting voting and registration activities in the name of “election security.” Senate Republicans are voting as early as this week on a new elections law package. It restricts voting registration groups and doubles fines if they fail to comply with the law. It also does nothing to correct for widespread confusion among some people with felony convictions who were supposed to be re-enfranchised by a statewide referendum in 2018. Yup, those are the ones DeSantis sicced cops on for arrest when they thought they’d regained the right to vote. 

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Depraved, deranged, and doing real damage. 


Has the media forgotten the lessons learned from covering Trump in 2016?


Look at the first-ever photos of a US president charged with a crime.