How Do You Make Trump More Watchable? Borrow A Page From The Reagan Playbook

We’re halfway through week 2 of the Trial Of This Century, and much like a car chase or a rush hour accident, far too many of us simply can’t stop having a morbid curiosity about the details of what’s going on.  Especially since ratings-starved media outlets have been literally trying to create more and more reasons for us to stop and engage, no matter how inconsequential the events may actually be.

That reality caught the jaundiced eye of Jon Stewart on Monday night’s DAILY SHOW, who devoted his monologue to exactly how inane it has become, which THE NEW YORK TIMES’ Trish Bendi expounded on in her BEST OF LATE NIGHT column yesterday.  Using clips of helicopter coverage and talking heads from local New York morning news and several cable networks, Stewart offered these snarks:

“He arrived at the intersection of American history, where he put a quarter in the parking meter of destiny, leaving the car, looking to avoid stepping in the urine puddle of jurisprudence.” — JON STEWART, mocking the media’s coverage of Trump’s arrival in court

“Seriously, are we going to follow this guy to court every [expletive] day? Are you trying to make this O.J.? It’s not a chase — he’s commuting.” — JON STEWART

“At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, ‘How many television hours have they devoted to what Donald Trump, a man who has not been off any of our screens for more than 30 seconds in the last eight years, looks like?’ The answer is not nearly as many hours as describing his every movement.” — JON STEWART

But after Stewart finished his rant, one that eventually made the valid point that (p)erhaps if we limit the coverage to the issues at hand and try not to create an all-encompassing spectacle of the most banal of details, perhaps that would help, his onetime colleague Kimberly Williams appeared to offer the counterpoint from the perspective of an average reporter attempting to appeal to daytime TV viewers.  “You’re no fun, Jon”, she countered.  “With all the bad stuff going on in other news, we need a story where the witness in a trial about hush money to a porn star is actually named Pecker”.

Even Stewart had to admit she had a point.  After all, she was weaned on the kind of gavel-to-gavel coverage and post-mortem analysis that the Trial of Last Century, the one involving that ex-football star turned comic actor who might have slashed his ex-wife and her young companion to early deaths, that dominated the TV landscape of 1995.  But this being New York State, the option for real-time courtroom coverage to actually tell us whether or not a former United States president is actually sleeping or farting through testimonies and procedures is not on the table.

But there has been a bit of a breakthrough on this logjam, as Bendi’s colleagues Alan Feuer and Matthew Haag eagerly reported yesterday:

If you want to follow Donald J. Trump’s criminal trial in detail but can’t make it to the Lower Manhattan courthouse in person, you can still read every word of the proceedings.

The New York State Court system will publish a transcript of each day’s court action by the end of the following day on its website. The transcripts can be found here under People v Donald J. Trump (Criminal).  The court system does not normally release daily transcripts for public consumption and in most cases, seeing transcripts for a court proceeding can be costly. But the court system’s chief administrative judge, Joseph A. Zayas, believed it was the right thing to do.

Well, that’s a start.  That at least gives the prime time cable news tastemakers something to react to and offer their own interpretations on, eye-rolling or defensive.  It certainly gives the few remaining political news and opinion websites the ability to do deep dives and provide analyses for us to sip our morning coffee with. But those vital and disenfranchised daytime viewers are still being forced to wait several hours for their fix.

Well, that was the same sort of problem that baseball fans had to deal with in its pre-television days.  And as many students of the histories of both the sport and the Republican party might know, one of Mr. Trump’s predecessors had some experience with how that problem was solved back in the day.  As Curt Smith of SPORTS BROADCAST JOURNAL recounted in a 2019 recollection, none other than Ronald Reagan did the following as a young broadcaster for a powerhouse radio station in Des Moines, Iowa:

WHO was the sole local outlet doing the Cubs to recreate, not air them live. Dutch got code from Chicago’s Wrigley Field in studio—”B2C” meant ball two, called; “S1S,” strike one, swinging—then fictively recreated a game he never saw. Once the wire broke. Reagan “knew that if we switched to transcribed music,” he said, “the listener would turn to a station doing the game live.” Instantly, he recalled the one thing not to make the paper—foul balls. A batter can hit a million fouls and still have two strikes.

According to Reagan, the batter fouled to the left, right, behind the plate, and outside the park—everywhere. A tornado neared. A fight occurred. None of it happened, but at home it seemed real. Finally, the wire revived, Dutch laughing as he read, “Batter popped out on first ball pitched.” Years later Reagan said, “Making things up, mixing fact and fiction. [Pause] What great preparation for politics!”

And he wasn’t the only one.  Some other teams utilized full-fledged production techniques straight out of radio dramas for coverage.  The National Baseball Hall of Fame website tells the saga of the legendary Pittsburgh Pirates announced “Rosey” Rowswell:

Rowswell turned baseball broadcasts into something resembling more of a variety hour. His home run calls were among the most famous in America: When a Pirate connected with a pitch, he would blow on his slide whistle and yell, “Raise the window, Aunt Minnie! Here it comes, here she (the baseball) comes!” A station aide would drop a pane of glass to mimic a window shattering, and Rowswell would deadpan, “Too bad, she tripped over a garden hose. Aunt Minnie never made it home.”

So it got me thinking.  If you could do all that then, imagine what we could do in a world filled with AI and truly talented creatives who can create TikTok videos (at least for now) in a matter of minutes.

There’s more than enough capacity for the images of Trump and the participants to be generated.  And if a court stenographer can capture the proceedings word for word for posterity, there’s certainly the capacity for a news outlet, or even several offering to pool, to hire their own scribe to enter notes into a word processing program on their phones and hit “send” at the first break.

Heck, they can even teach someone the kind of techniques that office workers had to rely upon for real-time transcriptions back in the day.  You can still find books on Pitman shorthand on E-Bay.  My mom made a living off of that talent, and I suspect even Trump remembers people who used it.

And who knows?  On occasion, just like on cross-country flights (isn’t that right, Larry David?) someone might “accidentally” send those transscriptions earlier than a break when particularly juicy testimony is being offered.  A scolding or a fine might be possible but, after all, even Judge Zayas might have to allow that something like that “is the right thing to do”.

Add some of the sound effects and stage techniques that the likes of Rosewell and Reagan were able to employ.  Put all of that into an AI blender, hit “puree”, and let those who are currently reduced to doing stand-up in front of barricades, and occasionally offering play-by-play on those who might chose to self-incinerate, have at it.

I’m not totally sure what it might look like, but it’ll have to be better than what POLITICO offered up to YouTube as a Week 1 recap.

It will probably make Kimberly Williams a bit more captivated.  And it might even shake up this narcoleptic defendant enough to be more engaged himself.

Until next time…

 

 

 

 

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