The Split-Screen That Wasn't

[ Posted Thursday, May 9th, 2024 – 16:21 UTC ]

What we should all really be seeing, at this point, is a drawn-out split-screen moment. Call it a "split-screen couple of weeks," maybe. However, this hasn't really been the case, for two reasons. The first is that cameras are not allowed inside the courtroom of the first criminal trial of an ex-president in American history. So even following the trial at home is a once-removed experience: following along with the New York Times liveblog (who seems to have the most comprehensive coverage of all the newsfeeds I have sampled) as they document each development in the case, whether monumental or simply mundane. Snippets of what is going on in the courtroom appear all day long, from the jousting of the lawyers and the witnesses to the reactions of the judge and jury to whether Donald Trump seems to have fallen asleep again or not. Fascinating stuff, but not exactly the same as it would have been on live television.

The second reason this isn't a true split-screen moment is that President Joe Biden is considered so boring by the political news media that it's hard for him to get any coverage of any of the events he has been doing (campaign or official). Major developments are covered, such as the news Biden made by telling Israel we won't be sending them offensive weapons if they move into Rafah, but mostly in quick soundbites. Campaign stops are all but ignored, such as the one he did yesterday in Wisconsin where he rightfully took credit for bringing a new $3.3 billion factory to a town that Donald Trump had promised a factory -- one that was never actually built. But this only got minimal television coverage, at best. Joe Biden was elected for (among other reasons) the fact that he would be a boring president, which is something the country yearned for after four years of nonstop melodrama from Trump.

So the coverage on both sides of what should be a split-screen has been rather subdued. In Trump's first criminal trial, the prosecution has been alternating big-name witnesses with smaller-bore technical witnesses, which has led to a rollercoaster between salacious titillation and mind-numbing number-crunching. Some of this is due to the fact that the defense team refused to stipulate a number of easily-provable facts, which means the prosecution has to actually prove in court the fact that Trump published a book or that a phone had messages and contact numbers on it. And some of it is the prosecution's strategy of how they are letting their narrative unfold -- step by step, corroborating all the testimony by introducing various aspects of it from various people involved, and building their case for what one can only assume will be their ultimate witness: Michael Cohen. If the prosecution does its job right, then everything Cohen says will be corroborated by paperwork and the testimony of others, before he even takes the stand.

Of course, it is impossible to tell how all of this is going over with the jury. Twelve citizens sit in the jury box and have been watching every minute of what has been presented in open court in the case, with the only exception being lawyerly motions that the judge hears and rules on without the jury being present (as he did today, denying Trump's second motion for a mistrial and also denying Trump's request to violate his gag order so he could attack Stormy Daniels when he leaves court today). Unlike the public, the jury has seen every aspect of the case unfold live. They have seen and heard the witnesses, they have watched how they handle being cross-examined, and they can fully see Trump's reactions as he sits (and/or snoozes) at the defense table. No matter what the trial reporters think about things, it is impossible to tell what each juror has been thinking.

The prosecution has perhaps one or two more weeks of presentation planned, after which we will hear from the defense. The boldest defense strategy (in general) is to not even bother to put on a defense at all -- merely tell the jury that the prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The riskiest defense strategy would be to put Trump himself on the stand to tell his side of the story. What we will likely get is something between those two extremes. Trump, unless he is a blithering idiot who is completely uncontrollable by his legal team, will not take the stand (of course, he always could prove to be that monumentally stupid -- with Trump one simply never knows). He would be absolutely destroyed in cross-examination, since -- for once! -- he would have to answer questions under oath and he could be told to shut up by someone with more power than him. And trapping Trump in his voluminous lies would be so easy that any first-year law student should be able to easily trip him up. It'd be child's play, really, especially since Trump is sticking to his story that no sex ever took place between him and Stormy Daniels and/or Karen McDougal.

Even if the trial were being broadcast live, the real takeaway -- as it always is, when the public follows a trial gavel-to-gavel -- is how different real courtrooms are from the ones we see on television shows and movies (for the most part). The prosecution has to slowly and methodically build its case, which almost always involves some tedious details. A story must be told by each side -- a narrative of the facts of the case that either condemns or exonerates the defendant. When both sides are done, the jury makes their own minds up as to whose case was more convincing. There may be moments of high drama (and even "gotcha" moments) in a real trial, but most of it is pretty dull and drawn out.

This has been the case in Trump's trial. Even the most salacious witness -- Stormy Daniels -- testified for many hours, but the news coverage will all be boiled down to a few choice moments. A tawdry sexual encounter certainly added spice to this testimony, but is not actually central to the prosecution's case (the real reason they delved into the sex so much is because Trump still denies it ever took place). The key testimony from Daniels is that she did indeed get paid -- after the middlemen took their cut she received almost $100,000 -- and how those payments happened. Whether Trump asked to be spanked with a rolled-up magazine while he had sex with Stormy is going to be immaterial to the jury's decision (even though it was the most titillating bit of testimony she gave).

So far the defense has been in reactive mode, attempting to destroy the credibility of all the witnesses the prosecution has called. They'll get their chance to call their own witnesses in the second phase of the trial, which should be interesting to see (they will no doubt try to weave their own narrative purportedly showing how Trump wasn't involved in any of the criminal acts he's accused of).

Meanwhile, Joe Biden is busy doing the business of running a country. Even without the split-screen coverage, this should remind voters of the vast chasm of differences between the two major party candidates for president. With Trump, all is chaos and melodrama, all the time. With Biden, things get accomplished. Biden is a man who takes his responsibilities seriously, while Trump will forever just go with whatever knee-jerk reaction takes his fancy that day, without ever bothering to learn the basics of whatever set him off. That will be the choice the voters face in November, even without the split-screen coverage of this particular moment in American political history.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


7 Comments on “The Split-Screen That Wasn't”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Whether Trump asked to be spanked with a rolled-up magazine while he had sex with Stormy is going to be immaterial to the jury's decision (even though it was the most titillating bit of testimony she gave)

    THAT was titillating?

    Good God.

    Now, watching Willem Defoe and Madonna in Body of Evidence? That WAS titillating! :-)

  2. [2] 
    dsws wrote:

    I just read news coverage of another statement by some politician that when we spend money on supporting Ukraine, most of the money stays in the US. Who cares. Most of the money is represented in physical reality only data in the computers of banks. The banks' computer hardware could be anywhere, and certainly includes backups in multiple locations. The money itself doesn't even have a location. We're spending real factors of production -- people's time, that could be spent on something else, capital that could be used for something else, natural resources that could be made into something else. We're paying for them with taxes (probably taxes that will be collected next century, and bond issues in the meantime, but taxes eventually) that keep people from spending their money on something else.

    In the case of Ukraine specifically, a lot of the spending is basically fictional: we send military hardware to Ukraine that we would otherwise have had to pay to dispose of when it got too old to use, but we count the replacement cost as though we would otherwise have used it for something else. But "a lot" isn't most. Most of the spending is actual spending. By spending money, we're spending real stuff.

    The question isn't what country the bits in a bank's computers are located in. It's whether the benefit to the US outweighs the cost. And in the case of supporting Ukraine, that's not even a question. It does. If we were really acting in our own national interest, we would be supporting Ukraine at least ten times as much as we are.

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Yes we should greatly dramatically increase aid to Ukraine . But I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    When it comes to foreign policy countries don’t have either morals nor friends — they have interests. And it’s been in the West’s interest to keep Russia tied down in Ukraine — neither winning nor losing — and Russia cannot do military mischief elsewhere. Yeah, it’s sucks but that’s how things work on our planet.

  4. [4] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    dsws [2]

    Hearty congratulations on that, your analysis of the bogus "foreign aid money stays in the U.S." argument exhibits a level of comprehension/understanding of principles of economics totally unprecedented on this blog, and pretty much anyplace else in this country, for that matter!!

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I agree with CRS this is an excellent, well reasoned post.

  6. [6] 
    dsws wrote:

    Thank you.

    Meanwhile in Gaza, the news mentions Israel allowing 200,000 liters of fuel in. I have in mind that there are about 2,000,000 people in Gaza: if so, that would be a tenth of a liter per person, not enough to do much. Israel and Hamas get to blame each other, so they're both happy with the situation.

  7. [7] 
    Kick wrote:

    So even following the trial at home is a once-removed experience: following along with the New York Times liveblog (who seems to have the most comprehensive coverage of all the newsfeeds I have sampled) as they document each development in the case, whether monumental or simply mundane.

    Anyone who wants to follow the trial and really get down in the weeds, below is a link to the court reporters' transcripts, the evidence (piles of evidence including PDF files, audio and video files), and the Court's documents.

    People v Donald J. Trump (Criminal):

    * Transcripts

    * Evidence

    * Decisions, Orders & Media Access

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