In the wake of Tuesday’s verdict acquitting Florida mother Casey Anthony of murder in the death of her two-year-old daughter Caylee in 2008, Cheney Mason, one of Anthony’s attorneys, criticized TV pundits for excessive coverage of this case. “[M]y colleagues from coast to coastâ€¦,” he said after the verdict was announced, “have condemned this whole process of lawyers getting on television and talking about cases they don’t know a thing about, and don’t have the experience to back up their words or the law to do it.”
We have some sympathy for this perspective. The coverage surrounding the death of this child was, arguably, distasteful and excessive. While any case involving the alleged murder of a child is important, when the coverage turns into a bona fide media circus, it is worth questioning whether it is actually informing the public, or turning tragedy into entertainment. And if it does become primarily entertainment, how respectful is that of this innocent child, of the accused, or of ourselves?
How much attention did the media frenzy generated by commentators such as HLN network’s Nancy Grace detract from other equally important stories regarding the plight of missing or murdered children, for instance? How much did it draw away from coverage of world affairs, including the plight of dissidents and pro-democracy protestors and refugees, among whom there are many children, in places like Syria?
The issue is one of both tone and proportion.
To be fair, the media merely respond to what they perceive are our interests. And we surely are interested when children’s lives are lost under suspicious circumstances. No question, this story was newsworthy.
Whatever criticisms can be offered, it must also be noted that the media focus on Anthony’s presumed guilt did not influence the jury, which found her not guilty of killing her daughter.
What are we to take away from this?
Ours is a system in which the principle of free speech is almost absolute. Grace and other pundits have as much right as this one does to opine on any subject under the sun.
And we have the right, and arguably the moral responsibility, when coverage turns into a circus, to turn off the TV.