Trial of Donald Trump: why, “despite its historical importance”, does it achieve low television audiences?

OJ Simpson, Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, and others: many televised trials of major personalities have captivated Americans. But that of Donald Trump in New York is shunned by the audience, for lack of images of the courtroom. In the United States, some states allow live broadcasting of debates while others, like New York, prohibit it.

“Despite its historical importance, this trial is not attracting the expected attention, simply because there are no cameras in the courtroom”

Drawings and reported remarks

It is therefore with images of the gray walls of the court, drawings and reported remarks that American televisions manage to tell the historic moment that constitutes the first criminal trial of a former president. “Despite its historical importance, this trial is not attracting the expected attention, simply because there are no cameras in the courtroom,” summarizes Karen Conti, a media lawyer from Chicago.

The Republican presidential candidate in November is being prosecuted in a case of suspicious payments to a former pornographic film star in order to conceal a sexual relationship in 2006, which he denies. Actress Stormy Daniels continued her testimony this Thursday on the stand. But, as since the start of the debates, there will be no image of her speaking in the courtroom. Any recording, even audio, is prohibited.

The hallway ritual

Televisions, like all the press, therefore depend on journalists present in the court to report the debates to the general public. Some, like CNN and MSNBC, include small blocks of text in their images to summarize the debates almost live, in addition to the speeches of their hosts. But they can still count on what is now a ritual of this trial: before and after the hearings, Donald Trump speaks in front of the cameras in a poorly lit corridor, his voice barely audible due to an echo.

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(EPA-EFE/Mary Altaffer/POOL)

A few daily minutes during which the Republican candidate continues to repeat his grievances against the justice system, which he considers manipulated against him by the Democrats and Joe Biden. Sequences well used by television, and in particular by Fox News, the favorite channel of American conservatives.

“Lessened” impact

Between these speeches, the antennas are furnished: experts of all kinds, reminder of the context. In short, nothing very attractive for an American audience accustomed to colorful televised trials, mixing tense exchanges between lawyers and emotion-filled testimonies at the bar.

“Not being able to witness the live reactions of Donald Trump and the witnesses lessened the impact of the trial on the public”

In the United States, “people are interested in legal cases when they have images,” estimates David Triana, communications consultant. “Not being able to witness the live reactions of Donald Trump and the witnesses lessened the impact of the trial on the public,” he added.

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(EPA-EFE/Curtis Means/POOL)

In a country accustomed to having images of the hearing, unlike other countries such as France, some believe that this ban does not allow the public to have access to all the information. “Not having photo or video proof” of Donald Trump dozing at the hearing allowed him “to claim that the journalists were lying about it,” said Chip Stewart, professor of communications at TCU University in Texas. .

Tired

Without this live legal theater, Americans are ignoring this moment. During the first week of the trial in mid-April, Fox News lost some 5% of its peak-hour ratings compared to the previous week, with some 1.98 million viewers. CNN, with 596,000 viewers, lost 6% that week, according to figures from the Nielsen institute cited by the American media.

“The lack of images and new elements pushes this story to second place in the American media”

Only the most left-leaning 24-hour news channel of the three, MSNBC, saw its audiences rise, by 17%, to 1.35 million viewers during peak hours. By comparison, in 1995, the murder trial of former American football superstar OJ Simpson brought together more than 150 million Americans behind their small screens.

But, with or without cameras, Americans are tired of the spectacle surrounding Donald Trump, says Katherine Cartwright of the advertising group Criterion Global. “The lack of images and new elements pushes this story to second place in the American media, which is looped on the war in the Middle East and its repercussions on university campuses,” she told AFP.

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