Play-by-Play and Drawings on an iPad: How Cable TV Covers a TV-Less Trial

The trial of former President Donald J. Trump has all the elements of a made-for-TV thriller: sex, politics and potential consequences for the future of the republic.

One problem: no TV.

Cameras and audio recording devices have been banned from the Lower Manhattan courtroom that is hosting the first-ever criminal proceeding against a former president, creating something of a headache for the cable news anchors and producers assigned with covering a monumental event in American life via a decidedly visual and aural medium.

The testimony on Monday of Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s lawyer-turned-witness for the prosecution, was the kind of highly anticipated, high-drama moment that would make for riveting television if it could be watched live. Instead, anyone following along on TV was treated to a rolling graphic of text-based updates — essentially an on-air blog, with running updates based on real-time feeds sent by a reporter sitting in the courtroom — as anchors and legal experts pontificated on proceedings they could not see or hear.

Sketches, still photographs and footage of Mr. Trump walking in and out of the courthouse now typically fill the screens of the major cable news channels, as their on-air personnel narrate the day’s events. The coverage has the feel of a live baseball radio broadcast, with commentators creating word-pictures for their audience.

“We’ve been told that Donald Trump, as is his wont, is looking straight ahead in his seat, not to the right, where Michael Cohen is the witness,” the anchor Jake Tapper told CNN viewers on Monday morning after Mr. Cohen took the stand. “Cohen leans to his right, then stands up and identifies Trump in court.” He added later that Mr. Trump’s “eyes appeared closed, as Cohen is identifying him.”

Last week, Mr. Tapper, who has been among the lead faces of CNN’s trial coverage, decided that if he couldn’t share live images of the courtroom with his viewers, he would go for the next best thing.

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