John M. Kunst, Jr.: TV reckless and irresponsible in Anthony reporting
The Casey Anthony trial demonstrates conclusively that network and cable news agencies are trampling all over the most valuable constitutional protection preserved for all of us: the right to be tried by a jury of our peers when the government charges us with a crime. Until California v. O. J. Simpson, our criminal justice system assured a criminal defendant the essentials of fairness through judicial orders that precluded the parties from trying their case in the press, orders preventing the pre-trial disclosure of both relevant and non-relevant evidence and orders changing the venue of a case in the event pre-trial publicity made a fair trial impossible in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred.
The Simpson trial turned news agencies loose in a race to hire “trial experts,” some good, some bad and most bent on nothing more than self-promotion in a very lucrative field of employment, the visual media. These experts have been given large staffs to investigate public interest crimes wherever they occur, find and gather facts in ways that defy judicial rules and decorum and then publicly scoop their competitors by revealing prejudicial facts and innuendo long before trial begins. Then, as “experts,” these celebrity-lawyers are quick to express their opinion and speculate on the guilt or innocence of the accused. Name me one network that had not pronounced or at least insinuated that Casey Anthony was guilty before trial and that the only open question was life or execution?
The basis for cable and network news’ pre-trial conviction of Anthony was her unsympathetic, rebellious and un-motherly lifestyle. Little attention was given to the fact that the Georgia medical examiner could not determine the cause of death, an evidentiary pre-requisite to any determination that the accused deliberately and intentional caused the death of another. But, to the Anthony jury this missing fact was key to their rejection of the state’s charge of first degree. Nevertheless, since the verdict does not square with the pre-trial predictions of the media experts, some of these experts are defending their positions by attacking the competency of the jurors in performing their thankless but vital task that underlies our sacred concept of liberty. These attacks have resulted in death threats to the jurors. When will these networks realize that their obligation to be good citizens and honor our constitutional guarantees extends to their trial experts and trial reporting as well? Sadly, the answer will depend on the ratings.
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