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You Can Barely Tell It’s the Same Trial in Cable Impeachment Coverage

Cable news coverage of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump matched the political divide that played out between his supporters and critics on the Senate floor: The proceeding was either a substantive, often chilling deliberation on presidential malfeasance or a case of nothing-to-see-here.

On MSNBC, the star anchor Rachel Maddow described the security footage aired by Democratic House managers as “very powerful.” On CNN, the prime-time host Chris Cuomo warned that Mr. Trump’s violent supporters might be emboldened if he was acquitted. Both networks showed largely uninterrupted coverage of the trial and devoted hours of analysis to it at night.

On Fox News, Sean Hannity invited Donald Trump Jr. on his Tuesday prime-time program to rebut the arguments made by Democratic prosecutors. The son of the former president, a frequent guest on “Hannity,” called the House managers’ case “asinine,” adding that he “thought that these senators would maybe have something better to do.”

On Thursday afternoon, Newsmax cut away from the Senate floor for a discussion of the decision by Mark Cuban, the owner of the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks, to stop playing the national anthem before the team’s home games. At the same time, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and major broadcast networks were sticking with the trial.

Newsmax had a ratings surge in the weeks after Election Day because of programs that embraced Mr. Trump’s debunked claims of widespread election fraud. On Wednesday, the Newsmax anchor Chris Salcedo used violent language to describe the impeachment trial, calling it “a bipartisan betrayal of the American people and our Constitution.” Before cutting back to the trial, he added, “Let’s watch the dagger plunge even further into the backs of we the people and this country.”

The split-screen coverage signaled that the cultural and political tensions that were apparent in the deadly storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 had not abated since Mr. Trump’s exit from the national stage, at least among the leading cable news networks.

The Trump Impeachment ›

What You Need to Know

    • A trial is being held to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a deadly mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers into hiding as they met to certify President Biden’s victory.
    • The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach him.
    • To convict Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to be in agreement. This means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to convict.
    • A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with Democrats in beating back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. Only 27 senators say they are undecided about whether to convict Mr. Trump.
    • If the Senate convicts Mr. Trump, finding him guilty of “inciting violence against the government of the United States,” senators could then vote on whether to bar him from holding future office. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it came down to party lines, Democrats would prevail with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.
    • If the Senate does not convict Mr. Trump, the former president could be eligible to run for public office once again. Public opinion surveys show that he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.

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