NEW YORK (AP) – When the last of five “innocent” convictions was read out on Friday, Kyle Rittenhouse shook off the sob and collapsed, almost out of sight of the TV camera mounted on him in a courtroom in Wisconsin.
It was instantly the crucial image of the 18-year-old’s murder case that became so the subject of passionate debate over weapons and justice that major TV and cable news networks set aside regular programs to expose the jury’s decision.
There was no shortage of strong opinions in the wake of the verdict.
“I knew this case was big,” Rittenhouse’s lawyer Mark Richards said after the trial during a news conference broadcast live by the cable networks. “I never knew it would get so big.”
Rittenhouse’s shot at three people, including two he killed during protests over racial injustice in Kenosha made him either a vigilant who was out to make trouble, or a young man who defended himself from a mob, depending on the perspective of an observer.
Following the verdict, some commentators tried to separate this debate from the mechanics of the trial.
“You saw this unfold in America online in a very different way than it unfolded in court when you saw every single detail,” said Sara Sidner, a CNN reporter.
On Court TV, Kirk Nurmi offered the view you would expect from a network of lawyers dominating, saying the jury’s ruling “should be sacred no matter what the court thinks.”
Commentators Andy McCarthy and Jonathan Turley on the Fox News Channel both dismissed how public opinion had overshadowed news coverage of Rittenhouse’s case. McCarthy, a lawyer, said people were losing faith in the idea that they have news coverage they can trust.
Turley noticed how his job had changed.
“Until recently, legal analysis was not part of the advocacy journalism model,” he said. “No matter what happened to the comments, it differed. That changed in this case.”
Fox News anchor John Roberts introduced Turley’s analysis by saying that many people in the country had “convicted Kyle Rittenhouse before coming near a courtroom.”
Roberts read tweets, some nearly a year old, that were critical of Rittenhouse. He asked McCarthy, “What does this say about the urgency of being judged by, to a large extent, politicians and by what should be a respectable medium that went into this thing?”
Some of what McCarthy expressed was evident in the choices made by networks that covered the aftermath. Fox got David Hancock, described as a Rittenhouse family friend, to praise the verdict, saying Kyle “weathered a hell of a storm last year, a hell of a storm.”
At about the same time, MSNBC read a statement issued by the family to one of the men whom Rittenhouse killed.
“Not everyone will feel like this was just,” CNN’s Sidner said. “There are two people who have died.”
On NBC News, commentator Eugene Robinson said that in a country where weapons are more than people, “what worries me is that the result will be seen as a justification of vigilance, insofar as it legitimizes this mindset.”
News networks had followed the trial sporadically over the past few weeks, almost as Rittenhouse took a stand for his own defense. For businesses where legal news dominates, it attracted a lot of attention: Court TV’s viewership in the first two weeks of the trial had increased by 42% above the network’s average for the previous four weeks. Law & Crime Network said it had more viewers on YouTube for Rittenhouse’s case than when Derek Chauvin was prosecuted for George Floyd’s murder.
In the midst of the televised trauma, attorney Richards stood out to express a relieved wish for his upcoming weekend. He said he was looking forward to attending Wisconsin’s Big 10 football game against Nebraska on Saturday.
“May I go home?” he said as journalists exhausted their questions.
Find the AP’s full coverage of the lawsuit against Kyle Rittenhouse at: https://apnews.com/hub/kyle-rittenhouse