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Coverage of Depp’s libel suit misleadingly compared to Maxwell trial

April 26, 2022 GMT
Actor Johnny Depp testifies in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Monday, April 25, 2022. The court is allowing media cameras during the trial of Depp's libel lawsuit against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, prompting misleading comparisons to a federal criminal trial that was not televised. Federal courts do not allow media cameras. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)
Actor Johnny Depp testifies in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Monday, April 25, 2022. The court is allowing media cameras during the trial of Depp's libel lawsuit against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, prompting misleading comparisons to a federal criminal trial that was not televised. Federal courts do not allow media cameras. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)
Actor Johnny Depp testifies in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Monday, April 25, 2022. The court is allowing media cameras during the trial of Depp's libel lawsuit against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, prompting misleading comparisons to a federal criminal trial that was not televised. Federal courts do not allow media cameras. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)
Actor Johnny Depp testifies in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Monday, April 25, 2022. The court is allowing media cameras during the trial of Depp's libel lawsuit against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, prompting misleading comparisons to a federal criminal trial that was not televised. Federal courts do not allow media cameras. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)
Actor Johnny Depp testifies in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Monday, April 25, 2022. The court is allowing media cameras during the trial of Depp's libel lawsuit against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, prompting misleading comparisons to a federal criminal trial that was not televised. Federal courts do not allow media cameras. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)

CLAIM: The media is livestreaming the trial of libel allegations by Johnny Depp against Amber Heard, but didn’t do so for the criminal trial of Ghislaine Maxwell.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. Maxwell’s trial was held in a federal court, which do not allow cameras. The trial of Depp’s lawsuit is being held in a Virginia court.

THE FACTS: As the civil trial of libel allegations by Depp against his ex-wife captures media attention, some online are drawing misleading comparisons to Maxwell’s criminal trial.

Maxwell was convicted in December of sex trafficking and other charges after a monthlong trial that featured testimony from four women who said she played a role in setting them up for abuse by millionaire Jeffrey Epstein.

“The media live streams the Johnny Depp trial and not the Ghislaine Maxwell trial because they think we’re stupid,” one conservative activist wrote in a tweet.

A Facebook post asked: “Sooooo, the Johnny Depp trial can be live streamed but the Maxwell trial can’t? Make that make sense.”

But the posts ignore that different courts have different policies.

Maxwell’s trial was held in a federal court in New York, and federal courts do not allow cameras like some state courts do.

Experts told The Associated Press previously that this rule covers all federal courts in the country, despite erroneous claims online that there was a media “gag order” on the Maxwell trial.

Reporters from the AP and other news organizations nonetheless extensively covered that trial in person.

The trial of Depp’s civil suit is taking place in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia. That court does allow photo and video with a judge’s permission, and has coordinated coverage for the distribution of video, audio and photographs captured during the high-profile trial featuring the formerly married actors.

A March 29 order by the judge overseeing the trial established certain parameters around media conduct in the courtroom.

Depp sued Heard alleging libel after she wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post in 2018 referring to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Depp says the article indirectly defames him by referring to abuse allegations Heard made back in 2016. Depp denies abusing her.

Heard’s lawyer has argued the 2018 article did nothing to damage Depp’s reputation.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.