Navigating News Coverage of the Manafort Trial

It seems as though Paul Manafort’s first trial will have a verdict by the beginning of this week, but much of the coverage so far has focused on turning facts from the trial into talking points to promote a political agenda.

In a Fox News article from last week about the beginning of jury deliberations there is a clear concentration on casting doubt upon the prosecution’s case. The most apparent example comes from a paragraph meant to describe the defense’s attacks on the credibility of Rick Gates, Trump’s Deputy Campaign Chair and prosecution key witness:

Last week, Gates testified that he and Manafort committed bank and tax fraud together, but the defense team repeatedly called his credibility into question, establishing that Gates had been skimming money from Manafort, defrauding banks, lying to federal investigators, and engaging in extramarital affairs — all by his own admission.”

In fact, the author spends a little over half the article detailing the ways in which the defense displayed its strengths during their closing statement. What this Fox article did not mention was Rick Gates’ response to defense attorneys when asked if the jury should believe a man who just admitted to so many lies.

His answer – “Yes, because I’m here to tell the truth and take responsibility for my actions. Mr. Manafort had the same path. I’m trying to change.” –  is about as strong rebuttal as a witness cooperating with the prosecution through a plea deal can make.

In juxtaposition to the Fox News piece about the conclusions of the Manafort trial, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow aired a segment to cover the same day of court; however, Maddow chose to focus on some very different talking points.

Rather than talking about the defense attacking the credibility of Rick Gates, Maddow attempts to expose the apparent shady practices of the defense and the unfair practices towards the prosecution in the proceedings thus far. She brings up one moment in court when the Judge, T.S. Ellis, ruled in favor of the prosecution and then joked about how the papers make it sound like the defense always wins and the prosecution always loses.

When she continues to discuss the closing arguments, Maddow discredits the entire defense team by saying they broke pretrial agreements and discussed matters in the argument that the jury was not supposed to consider.

“Manafort’s defense team strayed into a few different areas of argument that they were expressly prohibited from bringing up in front of the jury,” said Maddow. She goes on to reference three separate topics which the defense was not supposed to discuss, one of which was a central part of the defense’s argument. The defense repeatedly claimed that Paul Manafort was being selectively prosecuted because of the special counsel investigation.

In contrast to the Fox News article, this Maddow segment repeatedly attempts to undermine the defense team. Instead of focusing on the credibility of the prosecution’s star witness she chooses to focus on the credibility of the defense counsel and their inability to follow the agreed upon rules.

Maddow also spends significant time in the segment painting Judge Ellis as biased or in some way prejudiced against the prosecution. She then goes after Ellis’ credibility by saying that his joke exposes a contradiction in that he said he was not following press coverage of the trial.

It is no secret that media conglomerates can be quick to spin the news in a manner which they find most advantageous. However, this lack of interest in providing a clear and unbiased picture can be detrimental to the public, for it makes understanding current events difficult for many people.

There are a few things that we do know for certain, regardless of any media bias. Rick Gates is cooperating with the special counsel’s office and offered plenty of incriminating testimony about Paul Manafort’s financial dealings.

We also know that Judge Ellis has often been critical of the prosecution during the trial. However, he has instructed the jury to ignore any apparent bias he has displayed, as well as any arguments about the Department of Justice’s motives for bringing charges.

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