Monday, July 18, 2011

Trial by Media


It wasn’t until the case was over that I had heard about the case of Casey Anthony. When the verdict was announced much of the media and much of the public primed by that media coverage reacted with hysterical fury.

The case involved the disappearance / murder? of Caylee, Casey Anthony’s 2 year old daughter whose body was latter found in a plastic bag having been dead for some months. The fact that Casey the mother had neglected to inform the authorities etc., about Caylee’s disappearance for months, and in fact went partying etc., after the disappearance of her child does not give Casey any points towards being mother of the year. And Casey lied and lied about where Caylee was etc. Not surprisingly Casey was arrested.

It was here that the prosecutors made their first mistake. They charged Casey with first degree murder with the possibility of the death penalty. Even when they found Caylee’s body they were unable to find any evidence that Caylee was murdered as against dying in an accident. The prosecutors apparently thought that Casey’s bad behaviour and lying would be enough to convince a jury that Casey had murdered Caylee. The forensic evidence that they presented, for example the chloroform traces etc., were all spectacularly dubious and the equivalent of grasping at straws. Not surprisingly the defence easily tore it to shreds leaving nothing but Casey’s bad behaviour and lying. That the prosecutors presented this sort of crap as evidence did not help their case at all and given its dubiousness one wonders whether anyone at the prosecutor’s office had any sense of judgement. Or where they simply throwing mud at a wall thinking some would stick?

After thus muddying the waters the prosecutors were left with Casey’s very suspicious behaviour as evidence of first degree murder. Oh and they produced NO evidence that Caylee had in fact been murdered!1

Not surprisingly faced with convicting someone of first degree murder based on such flimsy evidence, i.e., suspicious behaviour and no evidence that Caylee had in fact been murdered, the jury voted to acquit.

A belief that reasonable doubt existed in this case is in my opinion quite reasonable.

Did Casey Anthony in fact murder her daughter? Well that is possible, perhaps even very likely. But just thinking someone probably did it is not enough to convict beyond a reasonable doubt.

What is of interest is the public / media reaction. The out and out hysteria, the sign waving the screams of rage. This is of course a very well media stoked faux popular outrage.

Why the hell would anyone, outside of those immediately concerned give a flying fuck about this case? Well its because certain elements within the media saw the case as a tabloid worthy case that could be used to attract viewers and thus increase advertising revenue. It was also relatively cheap to cover and thus avoided the cost of covering real news. It also pushed certain hot buttons, single moms, very young children, murder. Thus it was perfect to stoke up rage, attract viewers and thus sell advertising.

In other words it was reality TV cheap and it would attract viewers looking for the easy pleasures of feeling righteous and outraged. Leading the chorus of faux outrage while stoking the furnace of self righteousness was demagogue Nancy Grace.

Nancy Grace, presumably not having another blue-eyed blond white teenager going missing abroad to wax hysterically over, focused on this case from day one with laser like fixation. Nancy fed her viewers a diet of distortion, special pleading and one-sided interpretation feeding their outrage over the horrible thing that that bad mother Casey Anthony had done. Over and over again implying and stating that it was obvious and the evidence was overwhelming that Casey Anthony was “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!”. Thus setting up her viewers for spasms of rage when Casey was acquitted. And of course justifying Nancy Grace herself going on a series of hysterical rants.

Given that Nancy Grace is a Lawyer and that one would presume that she knew the facts about the case one would think Nancy would have known that acquittal was very likely. So why did Nancy go on and on. Why did she deliberately stoke her listener’s expectations of righteous “justice” and the bad mother being punished? Why the answer to that is Nancy Grace was likely quite cynically deliberately stoking her fans and cynically setting them up for a fall so that they would be righteously outraged at the verdict and thus attract to Nancy Grace’s show even more viewers and dollars. It feels good to be righteously outraged and for people like Nancy Grace quite profitable also.

In other words it is likely that Nancy Grace cynically and deliberately manipulated her viewers for the sake of ratings and thus revenue.

Since the O. J. Simpson case the media has been ever more cynical in its use of high profile, manufactured, legal cases to generate revenue at little cost to it. Faux outrage allows people to feel good about themselves and so superior. It is a wonderfully self indulgent feeling to pour gasoline on the flames of your outrage and much of the media is more than willing to play along.

Thus we get Nancy Grace racheting the outrage quota by having a meter on the corner of the TV screen counting down the time before Casey Anthony is released. We have mobs of protesters screaming hysterically, with signs, against Casey. I guess their lives are pretty empty. We have people shriek and scream against the jury. And with all this encouragement to form a lynch mob against Casey we have people hurling death threats against members of the jury. This behaviour having been both abetted and encouraged by the media.2

As much of the “News” media continues its lurch towards being fundamentally irrelevant to any real relevance in our lives this case is a telling milestone on the way there.

Casey Anthony

1. See HuffPost, Casey Anthony Trial: Verdict Leaves Public With Many Unanswered Questions, Here. See also James Randi Forum, Anyone following the Casey Anthony Trial?  Here. The above is discussion containing lots of info about the case.

2. Mail Online, Don’t Bother Coming Home Here. NBC News, FieldNotes, A Miserable Postscript for a Casey Anthony Juror Here NYDaily News, Casey Anthony lawyer, Cheney Mason, says client, attorneys, jurors have received death threats Here

There are lots more websites and assorted detail available all over the Web about this rather overblown case. The above references are just starting references for anyone wanting to waste his / her time.

Pierre Cloutier

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