Are some reporters putting Trump jurors at risk?


A juror requested to drop out of former president Donald Trump’s hush money trial Thursday, over concerns that her identity would be revealed — a situation that shows how intense media coverage could affect the trial and expose jurors to harassment.

The members of the jury are meant to be anonymous. But that effort has been undermined, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said from the bench, by media reports that mentioned potentially identifiable information about the jurors — ranging from their physical appearances to their occupations.

Anonymity is imperiled “when so much information is put out there that is very, very easy for anyone to identify who the jurors are,” Merchan told members of the media in court Thursday morning.

Merchan’s remarks came after a woman identified as “Juror No. 2” asked to be removed from the jury because she felt her identity could be exposed, which in turn could compromise her ability to fairly judge Trump. After being seated on the jury, the woman said family and friends had already guessed she was Juror No. 2 after media reports included her occupation and employer.

In response, Merchan asked journalists not to report information that wasn’t entered into the court record — the jurors’ physical appearances, for example, or an Irish accent, in the case of one individual. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Merchan’s request was an official order or an informal request.

“This is just a matter of common sense,” Merchan said, “and I ask you to please follow that.”

Merchan also told reporters not to publish jurors’ answers to questions about their current and past employers.

The possibility that jurors could be outed — and face reprisal for their eventual verdict — has raised questions about how far the media can and should go in its reporting on the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president, particularly when the defendant in question has demonstrated a hunger for retribution.

In the case of Juror No. 2, a number of media outlets — including CNN and The Washington Post — described her occupation and expertise after she was empaneled. Newsweek and NBC News specified the juror’s employer.

After initially publishing details about where prospective jurors worked, The Post removed the information from an article on the trial. The Post also published, in its live blog of the trial, a policy on handling juror information, saying the newspaper would “be assessing what information shared in court is in the public interest” and “balancing that against concerns about the security of potential jurors.”

On Wednesday, Fox News prime-time host Jesse Watters highlighted Juror No. 2 as a potential problem for the ex-president, saying she “scares me, if I’m Trump.” Watters also broadcast her occupation and media diet.

Trump and his supporters have rhetorically attacked jurors at other trials in the past. After former Trump adviser Roger Stone was found guilty of obstruction in 2019, Trump claimed the jury forewoman was biased against Stone.

Even if mainstream reporters restrict how much they publish about the jurors, more information about the jurors could be published on fringe blogs or social media accounts.

Outside the legal system, ordinary people who have come to be perceived as Trump foes by his supporters have seen their lives upended by conspiracy theories. Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman was deluged with harassment after Trump supporters falsely accused her of election interference. Pro-Trump protester Ray Epps had to leave his home when he was wrongly accused of acting as a federal agent provocateur during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

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