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Longtime media-watcher explains why Trump's federal trial should be televised


Within a few weeks, we expect to learn the start date for a trial for former President Donald Trump on charges related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat. Under current rules, that trial would not be televised. Steven Brill argues those rules should change. He founded Court TV and is now co-CEO of NewsGuard. And Leila Fadel asked him why he wants cameras in the courtroom this time.

STEVEN BRILL: I think what we've seen for the last X number of years is that people are not debating from the same set of facts. One of the reasons I wrote this is I've been sort of living in the world of online media through what I do at NewsGuard. Everything's an opinion. Nothing's a fact. Nobody believes anything. 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.


There was a bipartisan January 6 committee and hours and hours of testimony aired on prime-time television.

BRILL: Well, first of all, it was bipartisan in name only. There were no Trump defenders. Now, I'm not criticizing the work of the committee. That's just a fact. And second, people don't watch hearings the way they will watch a trial. The whole reason that Court TV succeeded was because trials are so dramatic. They are riveting. You want to know what's going to happen next, especially if it's live. And the difference that this will make will be enormous. People will actually see what the jurors saw, not the lawyers' spin, not the prosecutor's indictment, but the evidence that is actually admitted into court that the jury decides.

FADEL: I think any part of the media would always argue for more openness, but no federal criminal trial is ever fully aired. Does this go against the traditions of trial?

BRILL: That's not a tradition. That's just the law. But trials, as a general matter, you know, constitutionally, were always meant to be public. In any small town or city in the 1800s, the courthouse was at the center of town. And it had a giant audience gallery because people were meant to come from all over town and watch the trial of the day. This is the best possible substitute for that.

FADEL: And if this were to be aired live, what does that mean for the country?

BRILL: I think they get to see the most important governmental function likely to be carried out in their lifetimes, other than if the government goes to war.

FADEL: Any other way that this trial goes if it happens, if it's not aired in full, will never be accepted by Americans, in your opinion?

BRILL: Well, I think it'll be accepted by a majority of the country. But what we've seen is that in so many different ways, you know, a minority of the country can upset the rule of law and upset basic democracy.

FADEL: And if it's aired, though, you think that minority of people will say, OK, we watched it on TV and now we believe it?

BRILL: I mean, not all of them, you know? There are still people who think that the Bush administration created 9/11, but it'll be fewer. In my experience, as I wrote in the op-ed pieces, that when jurors sit through the whole trial, they have much more confidence in the legal system.

FADEL: Is there a risk of it becoming a spectacle?

BRILL: It's definitely going to be a spectacle.

FADEL: (Laughter).

BRILL: There's no - you know, you don't make it less of a spectacle by not letting people see what's actually happening. That just creates all this, you know, speculation about what's actually happening.

FADEL: Or do you make it more of a spectacle by opening it up?

BRILL: No, I think you tone it down. You tamp it down. If the trial were televised, the judge would have a much easier time directing the lawyers not to talk about the case. The judge could say, you know, you get to do all your talking in court, and the whole world is seeing what you're saying. So when you get outside court, on the courthouse steps, just shut up.

FADEL: Steven Brill is the founder of Court TV. His new op-ed in The New York Times is called "Americans Will Believe The Trump Verdict Only If They Can See It." Thank you so much for your time, Steven.

BRILL: You're welcome.


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