‘Arguments’ Differ from ‘Statements’

A reporter on National Public Radio yesterday talked about opening arguments in the Bradley Manning trial.

Reporting like that is an example of what drives judges nuts about media coverage of the courts and court proceedings.

Judges contend and my advice, both as the Los Angeles courts media liaison and as a court-media consultant, is that members of the media need to know what they’re talking about when they report news.

The NPR reporter committed an all-too common mistake. Trials do not have opening arguments. Attorneys representing litigants in a trial present opening statements. That process involves telling — or stating to — jurors (or the judge, if it’s a bench trial) what they will present in the testimony phase of the trial.

After the testimony phase, the lawyers then present their closing arguments. That process involves telling jurors (or judge) why, based on the evidence presented, they must arrive at a verdict in favor of their client and/or against their opponent’s client.

Judges, as the AP’s 46-year veteran reporter of high-profile and celebrity trials Linda Deutsch says, are process oriented. The accuracy, correct application and context of words is critical in their world. While most members of the public don’t understand and couldn’t care less about the difference between arguments and statements in court trials, members of the media who cover court cases should.

Borrowing from the adage that ‘the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,’ the best way to winning the respect and confidence of a judge is through accurate, fair, objective, non-sensationalized and knowledgeable reporting of legal issues and proceedings. Don’t believe me? Just ask Linda Deutsch.

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