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Conservative media sows doubt about the verdict in Trump's felony convictions


Push alerts, social media posts in all caps and, yes, live TV. The news came fast and furious for Americans as the trial of former President Donald Trump ended with his conviction on all 34 counts. Now that things have settled down, even if just a little, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been assessing how the media handled the historic moment and how Americans took in the news. He joins us now from New York. Good morning, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Well, I mean, we certainly have a fractured media landscape in a fractured country. How well have Americans been served by the news coverage so far?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think we should acknowledge two kind of concurrent truths, one of which is there is sort of - there are alternate news realities that play out through ideology, particularly on the right but also the liberal sector as well. But if you look at the grand sweep of the news media's coverage, I think the public was pretty well served by this sober moment. It's a moment of portent. It's a moment of reflection. And it's a moment where we're testing not only how we feel about a former United States president being convicted of felonies but also testing what we think is the strength of the case brought against him. Obviously, he gets to appeal, as well.

But you know, I think that there was a lot of context. There was a lot of desire to surround this, in fact, because it's a moment at which news executives and journalists are confronted with the fact that this stuff counts. This stuff's going to matter. And even if we don't hold on to hard copies of print newspapers anymore in the same way we once did, this is a moment that probably needs to last.

RASCOE: There was no video or audio coverage allowed inside the courtroom. And those restrictions had an impact on how we understand this moment, didn't they?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, yeah, I think that you know, we had to rely on circumventions of the fact that this was a really old-school trial. There was no video live allowed. There was no audio live allowed. In fact, there was none allowed to be recorded and played later, as the U.S. Supreme Court now belatedly does. So you've had people in there, live-tweeting, live-blogging to give us updates. And when it was really of the most use was when you had legal reporters in there, experienced courtroom reporters who are doing it shorn of any spin, pontificating, rooting, any of that. They really provide real value there.

The second and, I think, in some ways, perhaps bigger element was Trump used this to his advantage. The former president took - filled the vacuum of any sound, any fury, any of the drama that might have been played from the courtroom itself, provided an alternative court, one of public opinion where he put not - he didn't test the charges against him so much as he turned it back on the presiding judge, as though that's who was prosecuting him, on President Biden as though these were federal instead of state charges. He put the whole process on trial in his own desired court.

RASCOE: I mean, there's a different narrative about the trial on the right. How has the dominant cable news network Fox News covered the verdict over the past couple of days?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, they've drilled down on the fact that the prosecution did rest on a relatively novel and expansive legal theory, which is fair enough, but they only looked at that. There was a drumbeat saying the rule of law effectively is only upheld if this verdict is rejected, and there was an inversion of the idea that there's a respect for the rule of law even if it arrives at a verdict that you don't like. Let's hear what, for example, primetime star Laura Ingraham had to say after the verdict.


LAURA INGRAHAM: Think about this. Donald Trump gave up fame, fortune and a very comfortable life to try to save America from the forces that are trying to tear it down right now.

FOLKENFLIK: An embrace of an us versus them rhetoric, no desire to have her audience wrestle with the implications of this, that Trump's own actions may have put him and landed him in this position.

RASCOE: And that's quite different from more mainstream media. What's been the impact of this coverage?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think for the Trump-focused audience, there's a desire to buffer them, essentially, create a 30-mile zone around which you're not going to entertain the idea there's some legitimacy to these charges against him, either here or in other courtrooms, that the idea that these charges are in and of themselves discrediting the very basis of our democracy. And so, you know, he can be among his base and sympathizers, and they won't even have heard about the idea about whether he had to reckon with his facts in this historic moment.

RASCOE: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. David, thank you so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
David Folkenflik
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