It certainly wasn’t a slow week for the news cycle. In fact, a majority of important stories may have been overshadowed by the wall-to-wall coverage of former President Donald Trump’s arraignment in New York City on Tues., April 4.
A historic day to be sure, due to the fact that no president has ever been arraigned on criminal charges. However, from sun-up to sun-down, cameras followed every inch of Trump’s day, from when his plane landed over the water surrounding LaGuardia Airport in Queens, N.Y. to the moment he left his post-arraignment speech in Florida at Mar-a-Lago.
It was a lot of coverage.
Instead of our typical news roundup and lessons this week, we reviewed three key characters of this week's focus: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, former President Donald Trump and The White House.
The DA Does a Job
For many onlookers, legal protocol is something of a mystery. We can remember various pieces from historical trials in popular culture—O.J. Simpson, the Menendez Brothers, Scott Peterson—but might be somewhat unsure of what is normal practice and what is included to inform the public.
Many viewers awaited a statement from Bragg following the arraignment. He appeared before the media to announce the details of the indictment, which included 34 felony charges. He explained the process of how the office got to the point of indictment, including specific details in the case, as well as provided a sound reminder of what the district attorney’s office does for the public.
“These are felony crimes in New York State, no matter who you are. We cannot, and will not, normalize serious criminal conduct,” Bragg said.
George Haj, president of Haj Media, confirmed that a district attorney’s response after an arraignment is normal and necessary.
“It certainly isn't unusual for district attorneys (or federal prosecutors) to hold press conferences and announce an indictment and provide details on a case,” Haj says. “I recall that the head of the FBI and top Justice Department officials held a press conference to announce the indictment of Ken Lay and other top company officials related to the massive fraud case involving Enron."
Haj also says Bragg did the right thing by publicly delivering a statement to the media, as well as timing it when he did.
“One of the core principles I share with clients is that if they don't shape their own narratives, other parties will do it for them—and probably get it wrong,” he says. “So, it was important for Bragg to tell his own story about why he brought the charges and the thinking behind it. Once the arraignment had taken place and the indictment had been released to the public, it was the right time to face the media and explain the indictment and why he brought it.”
Donald Trump’s Response
The former President has never been one to shy away from a microphone, which may be why the public was so curious about how he would conduct himself in a court of law.
Leading up to the arraignment, Trump waved before walking into the courthouse. Many pundits thought he may speak to the cameras inside, before or after the arraignment. However, none of that happened. In fact, according to an article by The Washington Post, Trump said only 10 words during his arraignment. None of them included “fake news.”
Fast-forward to Trump arriving back at Mar-a-Lago where he delivered a response speech televised by most of the cable news media. MSNBC skipped airing the speech. Anchor Rachel Maddow explained, “We don’t consider that necessarily newsworthy, and there is a cost to us as a news organization of knowingly broadcasting untrue things.”
As NPR reported, Trump stuck to a familiar delivery strategy of “blasting opponents,” labeling himself as a victim and discrediting accusers. These are all tactics the public has seen in previous speeches when the former President was under attack.
Daniel Rene, managing director, kglobal, said no one should be surprised that Trump made a grand showing of his statement following the arraignment, as silence from him would be abnormal and his supporters would see it as a sign of weakness. However, he says, the content of his speech probably didn’t make much of a difference.
“One benefit of wall-to-wall news coverage is the ability to present a variety of opinions and perspectives,” Rene says. “Regardless of how one feels about the indictment, arraignment, and the situation that led this way, there are supporting opinions that can be advanced. The disadvantage is that few, if any, hearts and minds are changing.”
He continues that ill-meaning zingers, such as attacks on Bragg, may get attention and airplay, but fail to really make a difference in changing people’s opinions.
Johanna Maska, CEO, Global Situation Room, agrees and notes that Trump tends to stick to the same crisis strategy he’s used all his life, and his speech reflected that.
“He did an interview in the 1990s regarding President Clinton, and he’s echoing that playbook he suggested for Clinton,” Maska says. "Deny, accuse accusers of ignorance and bad intentions and plead the fifth.
His ranting speech echoed that sentiment of denials and accusations. While his base of supporters will remain…it will be hard for him to appeal to anyone beyond that base. It might work to dominate oxygen and try to suck all the air from his opponents, but it’s not a strategy to grow.”
The White House Stays Mum
And what was President Joe Biden doing all this hubbub? His job. The White House chose to stay out of this news cycle by refusing to comment.
However, that didn’t stop the press pool from asking White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about Biden’s thoughts.
“The President’s going to focus on the American people like he does every day; this is not something that is a focus for him,” she said.
Rene and Maska agree that it’s the right move because no statement is going to change various groups’ opinions.
“The White House is right to sit tight,” Maska says. “They don’t want to pour any gasoline on this situation that is a national security issue. When you can’t help, regardless of response, and you’re a bystander to the situation, often it’s better to know when not to chime in.”
Says Rene, “Thus far the silence from the White House, and statements from Trump, his supporters and critics are completely predictable. We should all expect more of the same. Future events may change some hearts and minds, but for now, most of the commentary is little more than noise. The White House is wise to avoid contributing more to it.”
Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her: @buffalogal