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US cable news offers competing versions of Trump trial

By AFP

May 14, 2024 06:21 PM


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In the first ever criminal trial of a US president, television network coverage has been as divided as the watching nation.

For viewers tuning into Fox News, the case against Donald Trump is, according to the conservative broadcaster's guests and hosts, "completely political" and as credible as a "Potemkin village." The prosecution's star witness Michael Cohen is "shady" and "notorious."

"I can't imagine that any competent lawyer at this point would not be embarrassed by what has happened in this courtroom," conservative lawyer Jonathan Turley told Fox on Monday. "This is an utter disgrace that this case has gotten this far."

That sounds a lot like what Trump himself said, nearly shouting, after Monday's court session, where he complained about the "corrupt" judge and lack of a case.

The Republican presidential candidate is on trial in New York, accused of falsifying business records to conceal a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election, when her claims of a sexual encounter with him could have proved politically fatal to his shock win over Hillary Clinton.

Much of the ire from Fox hosts and guests focused on Cohen, whose testimony debuted Monday and who prosecutors say was key in the payment scheme.

But anyone watching liberal broadcaster MSNBC could be forgiven if they thought they were watching coverage of a different case altogether.

"Absolutely I think that (Cohen) is coming across very credible," a legal analyst told audiences.

Later, MSNBC panelists went on to compare Trump to a mafia boss for his efforts to not "leave a paper trail."

The trial comes amid a fractured American media landscape that increasingly caters to either exclusively liberal or conservative audiences.

Hosts from broadcaster CNN -- seen as more mainstream than Fox, if still accused by the right of having a liberal bias -- wondered if Cohen's dark past as Trump's personal fixer could help prosecutors.

"There is something about a witness who is willing to expose how awful they were in front of a jury. I would assume (the jury) would take that into account," said Anderson Cooper.

That was a far cry from Fox's full-court press in defense of Trump, with back-to-back interviews with lawyers who pilloried Cohen's credibility -- including one who compared him to "O.J. Simpson, Bernie Madoff and even Pinocchio."

"He's going to come off as a liar in the great pantheon of liars in this country," lawyer Andrew Stoltmann said.

CNN also mentioned that Trump was closing his eyes in the courtroom Monday -- a frequent occurrence which has led to his defense team denying multiple reports that the ex-president has been falling asleep during the trial.

Those were details left out in the Fox broadcast, though it did air speeches given by Republican senators outside the courtroom alleging the trial amounted to political interference.

"Joe Biden's entire strategy is to try to distract from inflation at home and war overseas with this sham trial," Senator J.D. Vance said.

Biden's Justice Department is not involved with the case, but Fox hosts did not interrupt the broadcast of the speech to correct him.

 Waning media influence? 

 Just how influential the media's coverage of the case will be remains to be seen.

With live images and audio banned from being broadcast directly from the courtroom, much of the television coverage has relied on accounts relayed to anchors by their colleagues inside court, rather than gripping footage of the trial itself.

Heavily focused on legal minutiae and text message updates from approved court reporters, it's hardly made-for-TV viewing.

Social media and the internet, meanwhile, continue to upend the power of traditional media -- and the trial has proved no exception.

Trump boosters including Vance and the former president's son Eric reached out to their respective online audiences directly by posting on X, formerly Twitter, live from court.

"I have never seen anything more rehearsed!" the younger Trump posted as Cohen answered prosecutors' questions.

Thousands of users liked the post -- none of whom, presumably, were actually watching the trial themselves.


AFP


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