Judge Bruce Schroeder took the extraordinary step in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial after a person working for the network was found following the jury bus from the courthouse.
The scene captured the often reckless coverage in this and other cases. (For full disclosure, I previously served as a NBC/MSNBC legal analysts. I have also worked for CBS, BBC, and currently Fox News Channel as an analyst).
Judge Schroeder stated in court:
“Last evening a person who identified himself as James J. Morrison and who claimed that he was a producer with NBC News… and under the supervision of someone… in New York for MSNBC. The police when they stopped him because he was following in the distance of about a block and went through a red light, pulled him over and inquired of him what was going on and he gave that information. He stated he had been instructed by [a supervisor] in New York to follow the jury bus.”
He then added:
“I have instructed that no one from MSNBC news will be permitted in this building for the duration of this trial. This is a very serious matter and I don’t know what the ultimate truth of it is, but absolutely it would go without much thinking that someone who is following the jury bus – that is an extremely serious matter and will be referred to the proper authorities for further action.”
The seriousness of this incident is obvious. It is not simply because the police thought MSNBC may have been trying to take their pictures.
If the jurors believed that they were being followed, it could add to their unease about voting in the case.
Jurors travel in a bus with covered windows to protect their identities and safety. If the jurors believe that they are being followed, it can add to the sense of danger for the members, particularly after threats over any acquittal for Rittenhouse.
Cortez Rice, who is a BLM activist in Minnesota, was previously shown in a videotape saying that the jurors were being videotaped:
Being followed can add an intimidating element for a jury in a city that was previously subject to extensive violence and rioting.
The optics are particularly bad for MSNBC given the network’s criticism of the trial. MSNBC host Tiffany Cross advocated for Schroeder’s removal on air and called on Elie Mystal, Justice Correspondent for the Nation magazine, to discuss the matter.
Mystal, who stated earlier this month that white, non-college-educated voters supported Republicans in the 2021 races in part because they care about “using their guns on Black people and getting away with it,” not surprisingly, has written that this trial is a sham.
MSNBC’s host Joy Reid also attacked the trial and suggested that Rittenhouse’s emotional breakdown on the stand was fraudulent. Her guest, MSNBC legal analyst and Georgetown law professor Paul Butler, concurred and called it “the greatest performance of (his) life.” Butler called the trial “white supremacy on steroids.”
Reid added Wednesday, “If you want to know why critical race theory exists, the actual law school theory that emphasizes that supposedly colorblind laws in America often still have racially discriminatory outcomes, then look no further than the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse.”
Others at the networks have called the trial a travesty and rigged process.
NBC released a statement Thursday about their freelancer’s encounter with police:
“Last night, a freelancer received a traffic citation. While the traffic violation took place near the jury van, the freelancer never contacted or intended to contact the jurors during deliberations, and never photographed or intended to photograph them. We regret the incident and will fully cooperate with the authorities on any investigation.”
NBC’s statement seems intentionally vague. The words “while the traffic violation took place near the jury van” suggest that it was a mere coincidence that the traffic accident occurred near the jury van. The question is whether the freelancer was instructed by NBC to follow the jury bus. That should be easy to deny if it is untrue.
Moreover, the fact that he is a freelancer is immaterial. News organizations commonly use freelancers for a host of different positions. When they are working for a network, they are agents of that network.
Again, NBC is ambiguous in its statement. It goes out of its way to note that this person is a freelancer but not whether he was working freelance for NBC at the time.
The following of the bus by a national news freelancer captures how reckless coverage has become on these trials. Many viewers were surprised in the trial to hear countervailing facts about Rittenhouse and these shootings.
The trial has been reframed to fit the media narrative. Now the media is part of the story because a network may have leaned a tad too far into this story.
This op-ed was adapted from a column that first appeared on the author’s blog JONATHAN TURLEY Res ipsa loquitur – The thing itself speaks.