As media outlets scrambled to cover the aftermath of guilty verdicts for murder and manslaughter against Derek Chauvin, the differences in coverage on some cable TV outlets seemed as divided as the country’s politics.
The contrast was clear Tuesday afternoon when advocates like Rev. Al Sharpton and attorney Ben Crump, Black men who represented George Floyd’s family, faced cameras to give their thoughts on the jury’s verdict. CNN, MSNBC and CNBC carried much of their remarks live, including a prayer from Sharpton and statements from Crump noting that other cases of unarmed Black men killed by police officers still remained to be decided. But conservative-oriented Newsmax and Fox News Channel offered scant coverage of Sharpton’s prayer before moving on to discussions featuring white pundits and legal scholars critical of the proceedings.
Given the world had anticipated this moment for almost a year, it was a curious decision – to cut away from members of Floyd’s family and their advocates. On Newsmax, attorney Alan Dershowitz maintained Chauvin’s guilty verdict should be reversed on appeal because statements from prominent protestors like Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters unfairly pressured the jury. “The whole judicial system has been corrupted by identity politics,” Dershowitz said.
Fox News featured two experts, Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Turley; McCarthy, a former Assistant United States Attorney in New York, criticized the judge presiding over Chauvin’s trial for not sequestering the jury before its deliberations began, questioning if they could have been influenced by coverage of protests. Fox News, in particular, veered between commentary supporting the guilty verdict and questioning it – once, from the same person. Pundit Greg Gutfeld suggested the trial actually united the country because the infamous video of Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck was so conclusive (he must have missed fellow Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson’s past assertions that Floyd died of a drug overdose).
But then, Gutfeld added he was glad Chauvin was found guilty, “even if he might not be guilty on all charges… because I want a verdict that keeps this country from going up in flames.” Though Gutfeld’s remarks drew rebukes from other pundits around him, they also illustrated the tension at Fox News between commentary supporting the verdict as evidence of a criminal justice system that works and the impulse to undermine a verdict liberals support.
Other news outlets offered more conventional coverage, with CNN featuring pundit Van Jones noting that Floyd’s death ignited a worldwide concern about police brutality that will continue beyond this verdict. On ABC News, senior national correspondent Steve Osunsami urged viewers not to mistake the emotion people were showing in the streets during their coverage for celebration. “It’s not about victory, it’s about relief,” he added. “Because, to many people in America, what this jury told them, is Black lives do matter.”
Those sentiments were echoed by President Joe Biden when he addressed the nation later in the evening, delivering a speech carried live by several networks and cable channels. “The guilty verdict does not bring back George,” said Biden, as Vice President Kamala Harris stood nearby. “But through the family’s pain, they’re finding purpose, so George’s legacy will not just be about his death, but what we must do in his memory.”