Even after all these years living in a world with cable television, I can still get surprised over its easy cultivation of the mob mentality based on what really just amounts to fiction and money grabbing.
I can still get surprised, too, over how many people-some of them my friends-get completely taken in by the nonsense presented on the cable television news shows. Many cable television news shows on all the networks depict a world that only exists in the imaginations of people who want to make money without regard to truth or realism.
I’m referring, of course, to the cable media coverage of the Casey Anthony case and the freakish overreaction to the not guilty verdict. Anthony was recently on trial for allegedly killing her two-year-old daughter, Caylee.
In no way am I trying to take away from the significance of the life and death of Caylee, but I do have some observations, including one dealing with the overreaction to the case in Oklahoma. Here they are:
(1) A presumption of innocence. The American judicial system has at least in theory embraced the idea that a person is innocent of a crime until they are proven guilty. Perhaps, this tenet, one that upholds the basic democratic value of fairness, has been lost in the country’s collective memory because of the way habeas corpus has been largely ignored recently by the federal government when legally treating alleged terrorists. But the presumption of innocence is still part of the foundation of our legal and criminal system. Specifically, Anthony was legally innocent the entire time of her trial, and the prosecution failed to convince a jury she was guilty. So as the cable news pundits, such as Nancy Grace, convicted her rhetorically, Anthony was, in fact, legally in a state of innocence, and she still is. This doesn’t mean anything more or less than what it is, but it’s the appropriate legal view. It’s fine for people to disagree with a jury’s decision, but when their vehemence is carefully cultivated into blind rage by hackneyed, cliché-ridden television “stars,” well, then we have a problem.
(2) Beyond a reasonable doubt. Another foundational tenet in the American judicial system is that a jury can only convict if they find the evidence in a case so compelling that there are no reasonable doubts. Here’s something lost on the cable news mob in the Anthony case: Just because a jury cannot determine someone is guilty doesn’t mean the accused person didn’t commit the crime. For some reason, many people failed to grasp this issue in their reaction to the case, which always seemed tenuous. The cause of Caylee’s death, for example, was scientifically unknown. Just because Anthony didn’t report her daughter missing didn’t automatically mean she killed her. When you combine the “reasonable doubt” standard with missing facts and circumstantial evidence, it seems logical any jury could vote to not convict. The overreaction to the jury’s decision is what is illogical.
(3) What about Oklahoma’s murdered children? The majority of the Oklahoma response to the case, from the Durant woman who started a petition to make it a federal violation to not report a missing child to the angry tone of the numerous Facebook discussions about the case, lacks historical and cultural coherence. This state, for example, has its fair share of children who get murdered by their parents or caretakers each year in abuse cases. Oklahoma is ranked as one of the states highest in child deaths attributed to abuse. What about those children? Some of them suffered terribly. Why aren’t they just as important as Caylee? Why don’t they deserve a mob and a Nancy Grace on their side? Again, let’s not take away from the significance of Caylee’s life, but let’s also agree that child murder does happen on a frequent basis in this country and especially here in Oklahoma. We need a holistic, larger approach to the issue, not media-cultivated anger over one case.
The Anthony case was carefully chosen by certain cable television programs to get viewers and sell more advertising. It’s not reporting or journalism. It’s the overwrought incitement of illogical views and rage without thoroughly considering legal precedence or even cultural reality. It should be considered unethical and dangerous. Along with the sadness of knowing about another child’s death, this is what we should take away from this case.
Here’s what will happen now: The cable stations will move onto the next case they can sensationalize for profit. That seems so obvious I wonder why more people don’t get it. It was never about Caylee for cable news; it was about money, ratings and egos.