Supreme Court Newsletter
Abduction Defense

Just Say "No" to "Entertrials"

Read my lips: N-O.

There is no good reason to televise trials. I don't care how much money Court TV pumps into David Boies and his band of white-shoe lawyers.

Boies argued yesterday in favor of striking down a New York State law banning televising of trials. His claim? The statute is overbroad. It tramples on the First Amendment. He appeared, untelevised, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. His client? Court TV.

Exhibit One in my case against televising court proceedings is none other than Court TV itself. Pick any day's programing; study the offerings. The network has sculpted something new from the ordinary tales of suffering presented in a courtroom: The entertrial. Never heard the word? It is the merger of entertainment and trial.

Consider, for example, the Scott Peterson case. Hundreds of reporters descended on the courthouse. The queen of Court TV, Catherine Crier, former judge and prosecutor, now full-time hostess of her own show, has even written a book on the case. What, other than gossip-mongering and hype did all this coverage produce?

This all-too-ordinary tale of a cheating husband who couldn't face the impending demands of parenthood suddenly became the breathless wonder of people who actually think in sound bytes. Court TV and the legions of reporters descending on a case du jour trivialize almost all they touch.

It is really not their fault. A camera captures action, not thought. Pick the most dramatic moment of the day and televise it. As any experienced trial lawyer knows, the real drama at trial is intellectual and unseen: It comes in the form of marshaling evidence, citing precedent, blending fact and law. These are things a camera cannot see and translate.

The jury system is under assault by many who believe jurors are not up to the task of doing justice. We certainly do not need television cameras offering yet another distraction. (Question: How different would the OJ case have been if Judge Ito had not succumbed to the need to preen?)

The First Amendment imposes reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on speech of all sort. A reporter sitting with a notebook can take down everything he or she sees and hears. It can be done quietly, and out of the way.

Stick a television camera in the room and everything changes. I recall a trial in Connecticut not long ago -- the Michael Skakel case. Cameras were not present in the courtroom. But reporters mobbed the building. Skakel's lawyer, a darling of the New York media who boasts of dining at Elaine's and does such things as attend Academy Awards galas, couldn't stop grinning at the cameras at every break. Perhaps that explains why his client is now behind bars and Robert Kennedy, Skakel's cousin, accuses him of blowing a "no-lose" case.

Cameras distract. Entertrials trivialize.

Sadly, the trend is to permit cameras in the courtroom. Forty-three states now do so. Only two did in 1965. Is this why people are down on the jury system? All they see is the pathology a camera captures. And they see that because on television the image is the thing.

We don't televise what goes on in operating rooms. We worry about contamination and distracting surgeons as they go about saving lives. The same concerns should animate opposition to cameras in the courtroom. I'll save my preening for the circus on the courthouse steps, and seek justice in the calm of a courtroom.