Some brief thoughts on the Media and our Judicial System

(as couched in the verdict levied today in the Casey Anthony trial)

Here is the problem with the media being so intertwined with our justice system… After watching the Casey Anthony case, the public at large now thinks they have the right to judge and and lay down a guilty verdict upon her, regardless of the court proceedings, and regardless of how the jury came to their verdict.

While the media filters ‘facts’ through their ratings tinted lenses, we all seem to have forgotten that 12 jurors had to deliberate, vote, and lay their determination based on the proceedings and facts presented. Is it so difficult to believe that perhaps the media has skewed our perception of what may really have happened? Do we all really think we know better because we saw a 30 second spot on TV or read a 3 paragraph news article? I’d love to hold the media as greatly responsible for the deep distrust society has for our system, but really, I can only blame our own arrogance;  our own belief that we know better because we have a little knowledge.

I know I wasn’t on the jury; I have no place to lay blame or judgment. I, for one, can only identify 12 people who DO have that capability and responsibility. The rest of us get to trust that their decision was more well informed and thoughtful than ours ever could be with only the media to influence our perception of the case.

The media has served to thoroughly break our trust in the system time and time again by providing tidbits of information disguised as fact. And, once broken, that trust is near to impossible to regain… even once we realize that cherry-picked facts never provide the whole story; that our condemnation of the accused may have been misguided by poor journalism standards and partial truths.

4 thoughts on “Some brief thoughts on the Media and our Judicial System

  1. Jason,

    I largely agree with what you wrote. Allow me to add a wrinkle.

    Modern ‘news’ media are driven by advertisement dollars, which means they bring news that sells. If it bleeds, it leads, and all that. With internet news and blogs and Twitter we’re down to the nub in terms of factual offerings, and the factoids presented to us are invariably those judged the most tantalizing and reactionary. An editor for an online or cable news outlet cares little for the actual guilt or innocence of anyone. How can we know this? We don’t hear about the hundreds of other murders that don’t involve allegedly lying police dads, party girl moms with disappeared, then dead babies, etc, etc.

    I used the word, ‘guilty’. Here’s my wrinkle: As you have correctly pointed out, we not only don’t know whether she should have been found guilty (and are not in a position to profer a meaningful opinion) – we don’t know if she did it and should still have been found ‘not guilty’.

    Sometimes a killer is correctly found innocent. This can be due to a technicality, which is frustrating to say the least. It can be the result of abuse of police, judicial or D.A. power, which, in the interest of the greater good, makes sense. Yes, even when a killer goes free.

    Who among us knows whether she did it or whether there simply was not enough good evidence? I know this: so many people are being exonerated and freed from death row lately due to the introduction of DNA testing, these safeguards in our legal system, though imperfect, are justified over and again.

    Am I saying she did it, but got off the hook due to a technicality? Nope. I’m saying it’s one more thing we don’t really know about.

  2. Agreed, wholly, Dave. Even with your ‘wrinkle’… Which I also agree with. (Sometimes trusting the system means we miss one or two in order to get the majority).

    Like you, I am calling for people to think a bit more critically about the world we all live in. To not knee-jerk react to “news” stories, but rather to poke deeper into the truth beyond the headlines. Am I saying she is innocent? No way. I have zero capability to even begin thinking that. Am I saying that the judicial system failed? Nope… I am saying that we need to not be sheep and not blindly accept what we read/see in the media.

    You and I know each other well enough that I am confident you know that I am not speaking to you. You are one of the few whom not only CAN think critically, but do so regardless of repercussions. That’s what I like about you 😉

  3. Nicely written, but I’ll presume to correct you on a point, and it may re-cast the conversation.

    We have a Judicial system – the root of the word “judicial” is not “justice” but “judge” as in “decide.” The product of a Judicial system is therefore not “justice” but “decisions.”

    We hope that, more often than not, the decisions rendered are fair and just, however that is not the primary goal – that being decisions that are legal.

    So .. expecting Justice from a Legal system is sort of like expecting journalism from television news. They should be related, and it’s nice when they are, but it’s vitally important to understand the center of the matter:

    Our Judicial system exists to peacefully resolve disputes without public outcry or violence. To provide an ordered society. Television, even television news, exists to produce an entertainment product that captures ratings numbers to support advertising revenues. Neither of these organizations have, at core, our personal or aggregate vested interest at heart.

    However, it does seems to work, in a strange way, because they do somehow check each other’s excesses, even when stuff goes wrong. No one would have planned a system like this, not even brilliant visionaries like Jefferson and Franklin, but this is what we got, and it could be far worse. Watts didn’t burn to the ground, for instance.

    1. Mike, I agree with you as well. I don’t believe I used judicial to equal ‘justice’, as that isn’t what my post was about. I can’t determine if justice was or was not served, but decisions were indeed made, and of those decisions, it seems the public has decided differently… and to your point: “…resolve disputes without public outcry or violence.” I’d say our system failed there. Mind you I am not saying the verdict was correct nor incorrect, but that the public outcry we’ve seen is only based on small parts of the whole story provided by an industry which is rewarded for deep societal manipulation.

      The level of vitriol I have seen in my social feeds (one such comment made indicating the defendant would likely be killed within 48 hours of her release) was, simply said, terrifying to witness. It is this level of mass distrust in our system which paints a clear path to lynch mob mentality and a decided lack of critical thought. The idea that we “know better” than the jury (whom I also saw referred to as -stupid-) or that we know better than the judge appointed to the case because we saw brief glimpses on the teevee is a staggering leap of egotistical self importance that is simply disgusting.

      Now, should the public be listened to when they cry out about injustice? Absolutely, when intelligent investigation has been done to warrant further investigation… should the masses (notice the change of language here) be listened too when they knee-jerk condemn an person who had been process through the system and found not guilty of the accusations made against them? Nope. That’s where I draw the line. Show me intelligent argument of a failure and I’ll listen. Fly off the proverbial emotional handle, and you’ll not sway me to your side.

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