How Media Outlets Are Covering Justice Merchan in Trump’s Criminal Trial

Conservative media has been preoccupied for weeks with Justice Juan M. Merchan, the New York judge presiding over the Manhattan criminal trial against former President Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Trump has long attacked Justice Merchan and his family in social media posts and on his campaign website. But Justice Merchan did not earn a starring role in conservative media until after he issued a formal gag order against the former president, forbidding attacks against various people involved in the trial, including jurors and witnesses.

Since then, right-wing commentators, most prominently on Fox News, have condemned the judge nearly daily in their coverage of the trial. They have painted Justice Merchan’s rulings as biased, decried small donations he made to Democrats in 2020 and suggested that his connection to his daughter, a Democratic political consultant, made him unfit to oversee the case.

Liberal outlets have focused less on Justice Merchan, instead centering their coverage of the trial on the charges against Mr. Trump and the figures in his orbit. But some smaller outlets have praised Justice Merchan for clamping down on Mr. Trump.

Here’s how it has played out:

In addition to covering the trial as straight news, Breitbart has devoted significant attention to what Republicans see as Justice Merchan’s pro-Democratic bias.

Justice Merchan donated $35 to groups that supported Democrats during the 2020 election, including $10 to a group called “Stop Republicans.” That, along with his daughter’s role as a consultant for Democratic candidates, has prompted Mr. Trump to call on the judge to recuse himself. (A state ethics panel last year dismissed a complaint against Justice Merchan with a warning over his donations. Justice Merchan has denied any wrongdoing.)

Matthew Whitaker, a former acting attorney general under Mr. Trump, wrote for Breitbart on April 23 that Justice Merchan should recuse himself so “we can put the blindfold back on Lady Justice.” He added that Justice Merchan was “profiting handsomely” from the trial because of his daughter’s work on the campaigns of prominent Democrats.

Jesse Binnal, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, misleadingly described Justice Merchan as “a Biden donor” on an April 16 episode of Breitbart News Daily, the site’s political podcast. He also misleadingly claimed that the judge had a “vested financial interest” in the case.

“How can a judge be a donor?” asked Mike Slater, the host of Breitbart’s podcast. “Seriously, how is that allowed?”

Deroy Murdock, a conservative commentator, took a similar tack when he wrote for The Washington Times on April 29. Justice Merchan, he said, “belongs in the Conflicted Jurist Hall of Fame.” His daughter’s political work and even small donations, Mr. Murdock wrote, were evidence of bias that Democrats would find unacceptable if Hillary Clinton were on trial.

“Imagine her judge donated $15 to Mr. Trump in 2016 and $10 each to the Conservative Turnout Project and Stop Democrats,” Mr. Murdock wrote.

Cheryl Chumley, an editor and opinion writer for The Washington Times, wrote on May 1 that Justice Merchan had fined Mr. Trump for “exercising his God-given, constitutionally protected free speech rights.”

Michael Popok, a lawyer and host of a podcast from MeidasTouch, a liberal media network, said that Judge Merchan could have been harder on Mr. Trump.

“The only reason Donald Trump isn’t cooling his heels on Rikers Island while the trial is going on, and gets to sleep every night at Trump Tower, is because Judge Merchan allowed it,” Mr. Popok said in a YouTube video on April 16.

On March 26, when Judge Merchan issued a gag order that barred the former president from attacking witnesses, prosecutors and jurors, he “let Trump know right away that his tolerance for foolishness is at an end,” wrote Mr. Filipowski, a lawyer and the editor in chief of MeidasTouch.

Walter Einenkel, a writer for the progressive news site, wrote in Justice Merchan’s defense on May 13. The judge, Mr. Einenkel argued, was not “conflicted” as conservatives said because he had been appointed to his job by a judge who had been appointed by a Republican.

After Mr. Trump said he was “not allowed to testify” because of the gag order against him, Mr. Merchan said the order did not prevent him from testifying. On May 3, the writer Mark Sumner lauded the judge’s response to Mr. Trump.

“The idea that Trump isn’t allowed to testify is a ridiculous reading of Merchan’s order,” Mr. Sumner wrote, with a headline that called Mr. Trump’s claims an “absurd lie.”

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