Sunday , July 25 2021

Derek Chauvin’s trial is the biggest courtroom case of the streaming TV age

From a media perspective, the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will be the biggest trial of the streaming TV age.

Opening arguments will get underway around 10 a.m. Eastern on Monday.

People will be watching on streaming-first services like Law & Crime as well as TV networks like HLN. Gavel-to-gavel coverage will be available all over the web and highlights will be available on demand. And Court TV will be back, having relaunched in 2019 with a mix of broadcast, cable and online distribution deals.

Law & Crime proprietor Dan Abrams told me “there have been other trials in the last few years that have garnered national interest” — the trials of Amber Guyger, Michelle Carter, Robert Durst — “but definitely not on the same scale.” He said “the Hulk Hogan/Gawker civil trial also saw big viewership but again nothing like this.”

Abrams will be doing double duty during the trial, wearing his on-air hat as chief legal analyst on ABC and his executive hat overseeing coverage for Law & Crime.

For a primer on what to expect, read Eric Levenson’s overview for CNN.com. “In a first for Minnesota,” he wrote, “the trial will be broadcast live in its entirety to accommodate Covid-19 attendance restrictions, giving the public a rare peek into the most important case of the Black Lives Matter era.”

Ken Jautz, the CNN executive who oversees HLN, told me that “it’s only right that this trial receives such extensive coverage since it involves some of the most important issues of our times.”

The local lead

Here is Reid Forgrave and Maya Rao’s lead in Sunday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune: “George Floyd pleading for his life under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer has become a defining moment of our time. What began 10 months ago at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue has transformed into nothing less than an American reckoning on justice, racial equity, the proper role of law enforcement and the historical wrongs society has perpetrated on Black people…”

The global coverage

“Good morning from Minneapolis,” Larry Madowo of the BBC wrote upon arrival at the city’s airport to cover the trial. “All the world’s attention will be here,” he said. The presence of the BBC and other international outlets underscores the stakes. “The public is watching for signs that police officers can be held accountable when someone dies in their custody,” The Guardian’s team wrote.

The role of cameras

Thanks to an eyewitness with a cell phone camera, “the knee Mr. Chauvin placed on Mr. Floyd’s neck was filmed for all to see,” the BBC’s Joshua Nevett wrote. “Angered by what they saw, protesters worldwide said it was time to end racial injustice. Now cameras will let them see the justice system in real-time.” As noted up above, this is a first in Minnesota. A Court TV crew will have three cameras in the courtroom. The feeds will be pooled and shared with all outlets. “Every move Mr. Chauvin makes, down to the faintest facial expression, will be open to public scrutiny,” Nevett wrote. “While not unusual in the US, that kind of transparency raises long-debated issues about the role of cameras in courtrooms…”

It’s not “the George Floyd trial”

There is a tendency to use Floyd’s name, under the assumption that his name is more widely known than Chauvin’s, but news outlets are being thoughtful about how they name this trial. WaPo’s Steven Zeitchik captured some of the framing discussions inside Court TV in a story a few weeks ago. “This trial really shouldn’t be the George Floyd trial. He’s not on trial,” producer Emanuella Grinberg said during a Zoom meeting.

Court TV’s coverage is using the names “Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin” and “The Death of George Floyd Murder Trial.” HLN’s coverage is titled “The Death of George Floyd — Derek Chauvin on Trial.”

What to expect

“The ideas of excessive force generally, the ideas of police reform, the ideas of police accountability, the ideas of systemic injustice, the ideas of the treatment of Black victims at the hands of White defendants — those will all be touched upon and will be the elephants in the room, but in the courtroom none of that can overshadow the government’s burden of proof in this specific trial,” CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates said. “Derek Chauvin is the defendant. Not the American justice system. Not all police officers.”

Coverage details

— “Much of the coverage will appear on the news outlets’ digital venues,” Variety’s Brian Steinberg wrote.

— Opening arguments will be shown live everywhere on Monday morning. David Muir, Lester Holt and Norah O’Donnell will anchor special reports on their respective broadcast networks.

— HLN (CNN’s sister channel) will have gavel to gavel coverage on cable, harkening back to past courtroom coverage of the Casey Anthony, Conrad Murray, Jodi Arias, and George Zimmerman cases. Mike Galanos will lead the coverage, joined by Joey Jackson and Jean Casarez among others.

— CNN.com will carry a live stream at all times. ABC will have wall to wall coverage on its ABC News Live streaming platform anchored by Diane Macedo and Terry Moran. CBS will “make available a feed from its Minneapolis station, WCCO, via CBSN, its free streaming news offering,” per Steinberg’s story.
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