CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all carried a live news conference by Donald J. Trump on Thursday on the final day of his civil fraud trial, a stark reminder that the former president’s legal troubles offer a uniquely outsize media platform as he pursues the Republican nomination.
His appearance lasted only a few minutes, but viewers were treated to an unfiltered fusillade of incendiary and misleading comments, with Mr. Trump assailing President Biden as a “crooked” politician who “could not string two sentences together.”
Fraud charges against a former president are undoubtedly newsworthy, but Mr. Trump has seized on the legal proceedings as a chance to hog the media spotlight — a notable advantage over rivals like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Nikki Haley, who can struggle for similar airtime.
Trump campaign aides took particular pleasure that CNN carried Mr. Trump live and allowed him to deliver his talking points, unmediated, to the American public. This framing — on Mr. Trump’s own terms, with TV cameras capturing his every word without real-time fact-checking — is exactly how Mr. Trump and his allies envisage they can exploit any criminal trials that might be held during the election season.
For the news media, the episode highlighted the tough choices facing journalists as the 2024 campaign kicks off on Monday with the Iowa caucuses: how to handle live coverage of Mr. Trump given his predilection for making baseless claims.
“We just have to fact-check a lot — and brace yourself, because this is going to take a moment,” Brianna Keilar, the CNN host, said after her network carried Mr. Trump’s remarks in full. She and a co-anchor, Boris Sanchez, spent several minutes refuting several of Mr. Trump’s assertions, which Mr. Sanchez described as “largely false.”
Once Mr. Trump left the White House in 2021, TV producers found it easier to justify not carrying his comments live. Even Fox News, which once helped cement Mr. Trump’s status with the American right, declined to air live interviews with the former president for nearly two years.
With Mr. Trump now leading polls for the Republican nomination, networks have become more flexible: Fox News hosted Mr. Trump for a live town hall in Iowa on Wednesday. That event drew 4.3 million live viewers, compared with 2.6 million who watched the CNN debate between Mr. DeSantis and Ms. Haley that aired at the same time.
On Thursday, Fox News carried Mr. Trump’s Manhattan news conference as it happened. The anchor John Roberts took the opportunity to reminisce about Mr. Trump’s lengthy and freewheeling appearances during his presidency, musing that Thursday’s event “may be a harbinger of things to come.”
His co-anchor, Sandra Smith, reminded viewers that Mr. Trump had been ordered to pay $5 million to the writer E. Jean Carroll in a sexual abuse and defamation case — despite Mr. Trump’s on-air assertion that “I have no idea who this woman is.”
MSNBC took a more wary approach. The cable channel, which is popular with liberals, tuned in only midway through Mr. Trump’s news conference as he began fielding questions from reporters. The network aired his comments for about two minutes before cutting away.
Mr. Trump, a former reality TV star who is a master wielder of the medium, suggested in his remarks on Thursday that he knew the legal jeopardy of his criminal proceedings could be spun into television gold.
“I want to go to all my trials,” he told reporters.
Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.