Millions of people tune in every day to see Johnny Depp sue his ex-wife Amber Heard for $50 million in a libel suit in Virginia, USA. Millions more will see the short, fan-made clips and compilations with titles like “Johnny Depp Destroys Amber Heard’s Attorney” and “Amber Heard’s Team Is Hilariously Destroyed by This Witness.”
You may have seen the clip of Depp’s lawyer stealing the actor’s candy. Or the one where Depp grins when Heard’s lawyer asks him for the fifth time to confirm that, yes, that’s his signature at the end of a document. Or maybe the one where Depp gets grilled while pouring himself a “megapint” of wine. In short, it was impossible to escape the process.
It’s a much louder and far more bombastic affair than Depp’s previous libel case. He lost this – which took place in London’s High Court of Justice and was not televised – to the editors of The Sun after a judge found the actor’s description of a ‘woman-beater’ to be ‘essentially true’. The current trial — via Heard’s 2018 Washington Post comment implying that Depp was a domestic abuser — is even stranger because it’s so easy to look at.
Public celebrity trials are nothing new. In fact, the lines between justice and entertainment have been blurring in the United States for decades, as has the debate around them. Famous televised trials include the murder of OJ Simpson (1994-1995), whose verdict was followed by more than 100 million people, and that of serial killer Ted Bundy (1979), which was the first to be televised nationally.
However, since Court TV’s relaunch in 2019, YouTube and live streaming have brought these national spectacles to an international stage. Rachel Stockman, president of Law&Crime Network, Court TV’s biggest competitor, tells me that of the 9 million viewers who watch Depp v. Heard coverage every day, only 35 percent are in the United States, where the trial is taking place. while 7 percent cents reside in the UK.
Meanwhile, Court TV, which is also streaming the case in full after Judge Penney Azcarate granted filming permission, reported that its viewership “virtually quadrupled” during the trial.
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Stockman explains that she has a team of “trial trackers,” like Litigation Storm Chasers, whose job it is to track down court cases that may be of interest to the public and then submit motions to the appropriate judges for permission to film.
Murder cases are usually among the most popular streaming events. Until celebrities come along, that is. “We’re seeing four, five, six times as many viewers” as Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial last November, Stockman says of Depp’s popularity against Heard.
But is it right that these cases should be put on such a public stage? Former US Attorney Neama Rahmani, a regular talking head on Court TV and Law&Crime, believes this is essential.
“There are a lot of people in the United States who don’t trust our criminal justice system,” Rahmani said. “They think that prosecutors or cops are corrupt, and in my opinion, any kind of transparency — whether it’s from a prosecution or law enforcement perspective — really helps.”
Rahmani points to the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd, which was broadcast live on Court TV and had the channel’s biggest audience to date – until Depp v. Heard. “I think it helps maintain and restore public confidence in our justice system,” he says.
Which is all well and good when faced with one of the most landmark public interest lawsuits of the decade, but two famous ex-boyfriends trying it out in a courtroom? What’s in it for society?
Wayne Cohen, an attorney and professor at George Washington University Law School, points out that all court proceedings in the United States are public, meaning anyone can enter if they choose. It’s literally the sixth amendment to the constitution.
“People who advocate streaming tend to ignore that fact,” Cohen says, pointing out that anyone can walk into a courtroom and watch. It’s not like they were closed before. It’s the same in the UK, of course – minus the streaming, which makes checking into a trial easier than ever.
There are a number of criticisms of court recording providers, the main one being that it will affect how people behave in court, from lawyers to witnesses. “If you hold a camera in front of me and I suddenly have the ability to make a very broad impact, it has the potential to compromise my ethical obligation to you as an attorney,” says Cohen.
The Witnesses in particular can feel exposed to public scrutiny. Stockman estimates that about “70 percent or more” of those commenting on the case online are pro-dorks, while Rahmani believes it’s closer to 90 to 95 percent. The anti-Heard bias is evident in a petition to remove the actress from her role in Aquaman 2. She also accuses her of waging a “systematic crusade to bust Depp in Hollywood,” and has garnered nearly 3 million signatures.
Meanwhile, a clinical psychologist who testified as Heard’s first defense witness on May 3 was bombarded with negative reviews on WebMD after describing what she described as the forced abuse displayed by Depp.
Witnesses supporting the defense need to consider whether their comments will anger Depp’s more aggressive sympathizers — it could eventually hurt her career, as the psychologist’s experience has shown. And it’s hard to argue that such considerations don’t affect the course of justice.
The visible tenacity of some Depp supporters could have far-reaching consequences for victims of domestic violence. According to a 2018 report by Women’s Aid, just 2 percent of women using community-based services reported domestic violence to police.
“Many women do not speak out about domestic violence for fear of reprisals, negative backlash and the exposure and judging of their private lives. This public trial will increase that fear,” says a spokeswoman for Solace Women’s Aid, one of the UK’s largest domestic violence charities.
“Men hate Amber Heard because they think she’s the face of the MeToo movement and the false allegations,” Rahmani adds. In fact, Stockman was surprised to learn that 60 percent of Law&Crime Network’s listeners for the trial were male. Many Heard haters watch as Depp gives one of his best performances, drool over his subtle taunts to their attorneys, and hang on to every slow word of his testimony in that infamous throaty accent.
On his Sirius XM show, Howard Stern fumed that Depp orchestrated the televised trial out of a selfish desire to be seen and heard: “This is what narcissists do: [they say]’I’m going to blow America’s pants off at the trial.’”
“I don’t think Depp filed this lawsuit to get tens of millions of dollars from his ex-wife; He submitted this to try to clear his name and revive his acting career,” Rahmani claims. When asked by Heard’s lawyer why he chose to only sue his ex-wife and not like he had done in the UK, the newspaper that printed the words, the actor stepped aside and replied: “It was the only time I was able to speak and use my own voice.”
The Pirates of the Caribbean star got what he wanted – a chance to tell the world his side of the story, using YouTube as his global soapbox. Whatever the actual verdict a week from now, many critics will argue that in some ways Depp has already won.
https://www.independent.ie/style/celebrity/johnny-depp-v-amber-heard-how-courtroom-live-streaming-turned-an-ugly-battle-between-exes-into-a-circus-41620059.html Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard: How live streaming turned an ugly fight between exes into a circus in the courtroom