Most real courtroom trials are boring. They can be laden with mundane facts and arcane rules of law. They are nothing like prime-time television trials as you might see on Law & Order or, if you’re of an older generation, Perry Mason.
But a presidential impeachment trial? For only the third time in American history? One would think that may capture some attention.
So how, then, to make it so boring as to numb the average citizen?
Turns out, pretty simple. Control the television cameras to present bland visuals and, while you’re at it, quarantine the press. The goal, in the words of Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post, “Make the trial seem as boring and pallid as possible.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Ky.) appears to have been achieving his goals of delivering a non-spectacle of a momentous event. His restrictions on the press – and by extension, the public – to fully access the impeachment trial of President Trump have flabbergasted even ardent Republican media icons.
“We are not able to see what is the emotion, what is the state of consciousness of the members of the Senate,” commented Fox News analyst Chris Wallace during a recent broadcast.
Enter the sketch artist. The New York Times, as well as other news outlets, hired artists to capture images, including some sleeping senators, that were not allowed to be broadcasted by the video feed. (CSPAN – the venerable broadcast chronicler of congressional proceedings, has been barred from the impeachment proceedings.)
The restrictions have provoked condemnation across the political spectrum.
“Preventing credentialed reporters from moving freely around the Capitol and confining them to roped-off areas limits their ability to interview lawmakers about the impeachment proceedings,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) wrote in a letter to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. “These restrictions are antithetical to a free press, good governance, and the ability of the public to be fully informed about what we as elected leaders do in their name.”
Heinrich’s dissatisfaction was echoed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who told Politico, “It’s a huge mistake. . . . U.S. senators are grown women and grown men. If they don’t want to make a comment, they know how to say ‘no comment’ . . . . We aren’t children.”
Some Republican senators have claimed that penning off the media and forbidding them to freely roam the Senate halls is necessary for security reasons. But many observers aren’t buying that. Said the Post’s Sullivan, “[T]his isn’t about security at all. It’s about trying to keep at bay a sense of historic importance. It’s about trying to weary and stultify the American public into not caring about what’s happening.”
The press – and especially the public – are disserved when political entities use partisan clout to under-inform American citizens. The rules should be changed. The public deserves to know more about what truly is happening.