In our legal system, the accused is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. How does a major broadcast network, covering (and commenting on) each wink and tear and nod of a defendant assumed to be innocent, contribute to upholding legal principles such as the assumption of innocence?
Justice is portrayed as blindfolded and holding a scale. What that signifies, in my view, is that Justice is blind to privilege and status (which is what we mean when we say that Justice is “no respecter of persons”). Justice weighs the matter without reference to considerations of birth, income, influence, and so on. Justice is impartial.
But CNN is not blind to ratings and certainly not impartial in its coverage of the trial. They treat the case to the same media blitz, talking-head analysis, daily sound bite that a pop star or political figure might draw. But that drags Justice into the marketplace and loses for us the assurance that every person charged of a crime will get a fair hearing. No fair hearing is likely possible when TV analysts dissect and pass judgment on every statement made by the court, lawyers, witnesses and defendant before the jury has deliberated and given its verdict.
It’s enough that Casey Anthony was already tried on the Nancy Grace show on “CNN Lite” for years but to hear the main CNN news channel cover the trial and say that she just may beat the rap when “the rap” has not yet been adjudicated – why have we forgotten ourselves to such an extent?
Will we see vendors selling hot dogs and popcorn outside the court house? Will Jack Cafferty ask viewers to express their opinion of guilt and innocence? Will we throw tomatoes at Anthony if she is found guilty and shout “Hang her!” Where do we draw the line in our society? Why are we allowing the courtroom to become a media circus?
All of this will disappear shortly as we toss over all the travesties that we’ve become prone to, but the spectacle created of this trial must be, to my way of thinking, our lowest descent into social unconsciousness and folly.