Today a nation gasped collectively as Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder and manslaughter of her two year old daughter, Caylee Anthony. Without getting into the specifics of the case, which I leave to legal experts, or the emotion inherent in the case, which Nancy Grace has exploited already, this case brings into sharp relief the issue of the media as the 13th Juror. It was shocking that Casey Anthony was cleared in the death of her daughter given the media’s treatment of her case.
Nancy Grace led the charge in ratcheting the public’s emotions until we became a collective lynch mob, akin to a witch-hunt. The law is not supposed to be interpreted by our moral outrage or led around by our guts or feelings. America bathes in the slime of reality TV collective emotional purging, as if there is nothing immune from what we seem to view as the imperialism of our emotions.
The Casey Anthony case evinces this perfectly because it involves a child, and nothing tugs at our heartstrings like the death of a child. That is part of our survival mechanism and our humanity, but our emotions have no place running the show in blind justice, and that’s one of the dangers of media as 13th Juror.
We see this in the way we damn people before we even have knowledge of evidence, whether it’s assuming that the women whose stories of Assange having sex with them are lying or assuming Assange is guilty of rape before we know the facts. The media is so desperate to feed the public’s voracious need for thrills that they weigh in before they have evidence and the public is all too happy to wage a conviction of public opinion.
Where is reason in our media treatment of the accused?
The Internet only feeds the basest instinct of humans, the same instinct that caused us to cheer as gladiators killed each other and the Roman public to turn on monk Telemach, who sought to make the Roman bloodbaths illegal, killing him for his call to humanity and reason. Nancy Grace is given airtime to judge and harass the accused and manipulate opinion. The public is outraged by the acquittal of Casey Anthony, calling it the “OJ II” but they don’t even know why the jury made their decision. Apparently they don’t need to know the reason – because they already know in their own minds that she is guilty.
If it were you, or your loved one, would you want Nancy Grace deciding your fate before a jury even got to hear the evidence? Would you want to be assumed guilty because the crime you were charged with is so appalling? Would we want to be afraid to leave jail because the public has decided you were guilty, even though the legal system found you not guilty?
Clearly Casey Anthony made it easy to hate her. She lied over and over again, a charge of which she has been found guilty. But our emotional reactions should not rule the legal system. Appealing to reason is never popular, as monk Telemach proved, and we see the result of this in the media’s catering to our lowest common denominator – turning our trials into a pubic Jerry Springer show where the most narcissistic among us get the microphone.
Nancy Grace’s desire to speak for the victims of violent crime is admirable and a necessary voice, but in the process of appealing to our humanity, she seems incapable of avoiding the dangerously compelling pull of thought ruled by emotion. We are never thinking clearly when we allow our emotions to color the facts, and that is the beauty of our legal system.
These are examples of Nancy Grace’s coverage of this case:
June 2 Grace claims Casey Anthony is Lying on Piers Morgan Tonight”
We must prove someone is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and the jury did not see that in this case. We saw a young woman who gave us chills because she lied so much, and we disliked her out of the gate. But we never saw solid proof that she killed her daughter. We shouldn’t put people away for life for being unlikeable. Our court system already suffers from prejudice against the poor and minorities.
Casey Anthony will be leaving jail soon, but she will never escape her guilt in the eyes of the public. The public made comments after the verdict, saying they were “emotional, maybe because I’m a mother”, while acknowledging that there was not the circumstantial evidence necessary to convict Anthony, but “a little girl is dead.” They are outraged, as well they should be over the death of a little girl, but to leap to the assumption that a jury didn’t do its job, and that they somehow know more than the jury, or that in cases that pull at our heartstrings we should convict because we “know” even though the evidence isn’t there, troubles me.
Will the media rethink its status as the 13th Juror? Will we demand it? We need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict a person of murder. The Nancy Grace type coverage of this case ignores reasonable doubt, and wallows in the frightening ranks of collective emotion. Justice is not always served by catering to public opinion.
Let us hope that justice has been served for 2-year-old Caylee Anthony, for even though the Prosecutors failed to make their case, that doesn’t necessarily imply that Casey Anthony is innocent, but rather that there is not enough evidence to convict her. We now face the daunting task of mourning the death of a little girl without any feeling of closure. And let us not forget about the thousands of children who are killed in this country and ignored by the media, but hopefully not by the law.