A group of major media organizations on Thursday asked the judge overseeing Donald Trump’s federal election subversion case for permission to broadcast his trial, arguing the historic nature of the case warrants an exception to a strict rule prohibiting cameras in courtrooms.
CNN and more than a dozen media outlets and groups asked US District Judge Tanya Chutkan for permission to “record and telecast” the March 2024 trial or for the court to “contemporaneously publish on YouTube its internally administered audiovisual livestreams and recordings of the proceedings.”
Should Chutkan reject those two requests, the media coalition asked her to “release visual and audio recordings of proceedings at the conclusion of each day that this matter is heard in Court.”
A federal rule prohibits cameras during criminal proceedings in federal courts, but the media organizations argued in their filing that the rule violates the First Amendment.
“And, to 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,” they wrote in a filing with the court.
Chutkan has set Trump’s trial for March 4. He faces four counts in the case brought this summer by special counsel Jack Smith, including conspiring to defraud the United States and to obstruct an official proceeding. The former president has pleaded not guilty.
The media outlets argued there is significant public interest in allowing the trial to be broadcast, positing that video coverage would help undermine conspiracy theories surrounding the case.
“Since the founding of our Nation, we have never had a criminal case where securing the public’s confidence will be more important than with United States v. Donald J. Trump,” they wrote.
“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 outcome of the trial.”
The media organizations noted that the judge overseeing the Georgia election subversion case – in which Trump is one of 19 defendants – has said that the proceedings will be televised. They also pointed to comments Trump attorney John Lauro has made in support of televising the federal trial.
Lauro told Fox News in July that he wanted the proceedings televised “so that all Americans can see what’s happening in our criminal justice system. And I would hope that the Department of Justice would join in that effort so that we take that curtain away and all Americans get to see what’s happening.”
In addition to the request to Chutkan, the media coalition also sent a letter to the federal judiciary’s policymaking body, the Judicial Conference, to request a revision to the rule at issue.
The rule, they wrote, “prohibits all but a few Americans – those who have the resources and wherewithal to travel to the courthouse and wait in line for a limited number of seats – from watching a trial the likes of which the nation has never experienced.”
The letter noted that many state courts “permit some electronic coverage of criminal and civil court proceedings,” various federal courts allow cameras during civil proceedings, and federal appeals courts and the US Supreme Court provide audio recordings of hearings online in all cases.
“Judges and attorneys who have participated in trials where cameras were present report that, far from causing disruptions, the cameras were hardly noticed, and full video coverage increased the public’s confidence in the process,” they wrote.
The Judicial Conference committee charged with handling criminal rules is set to meet later this month.
“We understand that, even at the most expedited pace, rule changes take significant time and that it may not be possible to revise the rule before the unprecedented and historic trial of a former President begins,” the letter states. “Nevertheless, we ask that every effort be made to change the rule as quickly as possible.”