Recording a historic moment, or feeding into a spectacle? It’s a seemingly eternal question when it comes to media coverage of Donald Trump—particularly true Tuesday, as a mass of media flocked to Manhattan to capture the ex-president’s arraignment for his role in the 2016 hush-money payout to porn star Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels).
Reporters started lining up for a seat in the courtroom Monday afternoon, more than 24 hours before the arraignment; some stayed overnight, while others hired professional line sitters to hold their place. Passes into the courtroom—expected to be fewer than 60, according to Politico—were handed out around 8 AM Tuesday. The area outside the courtroom was flooded with press Tuesday morning, as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and George Santos made appearances in support of the former president.
The coverage leading up to Trump’s arraignment has been compared to the 1994 live coverage of O.J. Simpson in the white Ford Bronco, as the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi noted in a piece spotlighting the near-comical embrace of the Trump show. “CNN arrayed its analysts on blue directors’ chairs outside the Manhattan courthouse, as if setting up for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” Farhi wrote. Cable news on Monday was saturated with the minutiae of Trump’s trip from Florida to New York. “Viewers were treated to seemingly endless videos and images of Trump’s motorcade, Trump’s plane sitting on the tarmac, and later, Trump’s plane taking off and disappearing into the sky,” Media Matters reported, noting that during one 90-minute block of coverage of Trump’s case yesterday, “MSNBC aired b-roll of Trump’s journey to New York for arraignment for 66 minutes, while CNN aired similar imagery for 48 minutes.”
But not all media outlets are engaging in such a way. “It’s historic, it’s important, and it’s consequential in any number of ways, and we, like any responsible news organization, must cover it. That much is clear. So we start there. And then, given all that we’ve learned about covering the Trump presidency and the Trump phenomenon, we are going to focus on the consequential and try to stay away from the showmanship,” NPR’s Vice President and Executive Editor Terry Samuels said. NPR does not plan to air any remarks Trump makes live, Samuels said, because “devoting resources live says to the audience, This is a singularly important moment and you should hear it. And we don’t think that that necessarily rises to that threshold.”