Saturday, March 16, 2013

LEE: How have real life court cases become fantasy entertainment?

When did court cases become reality television?

That’s the first thought that went through my mind this week when I saw the relentless coverage on the Jodi Arias case on HLN.

Maybe I’ve been living under a rock or something, but I had no idea the network was dedicating this much time to one court case.

This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. The first time it gained prominence was the O.J. Simpson trial – but he was a national sports hero and that case became a poster child for the still strained race relations in this country.

The Simpson trial can get partial credit for changing daytime viewing habits forever (RIP daytime soaps) – and helping launch the popularity of 24 hours news stations that do more than just deliver a revolving door of tidbits. However, I’m not sure how the Arias case manages to live up to the Simpson standard.

While other cases have grabbed the public by the throat and taken over news cycles, there was always something “special” about those cases in the past.

Natalee Holloway cast a glaring light on crime in other countries, Laci Peterson was a young mother due to give birth at any minute, and Elizabeth Smart was seemingly stolen out of her bedroom in the middle of the night and vanished without a trace.

All three of those cases gathered national prominence, but they didn’t take over an entire network 24 hours a day.

Then came the Casey Anthony trial.

At first, the Anthony story was just a curiosity. A young mother didn’t report her daughter missing for more than a month, the car smelled like a dead body and the mother had lied about her whereabouts to everyone for months.

It seemed like a slam dunk.

The difference with the Anthony case was that Headline News covered it like it was protecting its favorite bone.

Nancy Grace was the first personality to latch onto the show. Grace was once a respected prosecutor who made a name for herself by covering court cases on HLN. She was known as something of a shrew who cut off all her guests and claimed to want justice for victims – but was really all about promoting herself (I call it like I see it).

Grace saw something in the Anthony story, because she let it take over her show for an entire year. When the ratings went up for Grace, the other networks started following suit (although not to the extent of HLN).

Grace essentially tried, convicted and (quite frankly) executed Anthony on her show. So, naturally, when the verdict came back not guilty – Grace had egg all over her face, because she had told her viewers there was no way Anthony wouldn’t be convicted.

The problem you had with that case is that anyone who has ever sat through actual court proceedings knows that it takes a lot more than a media frenzy to convict someone. When you actually look at the evidence in the Anthony case, it was clear the prosecutors thought that public sentiment would convict Anthony -- because they didn't have enough physical evidence to prove their theory.

Now, do I think Anthony was guilty? Absolutely. She acted abhorrently. But we don’t KNOW how the child died. The prosecution painted a gruesome picture, but it was all conjecture. That little girl could have easily drowned in the pool – like the defense suggested – and the mother panicked and hid her in the woods.

Anthony could have just as easily been drugging her so she could go out in party – and accidentally killed the child in the process. That’s second degree murder, not first degree murder.

Anthony could have also set out to kill the kid with premeditation. We’ll never know. The problem is, there’s a whole population of people out there who think they know because of what Grace told them.
With the Anthony case behind us, imagine my surprise to see the fervor Grace is trying to drum up over this Arias case. I was stunned when I saw it the other day.

How is a woman allegedly killing her boyfriend and then turning around and lying about it national news? Especially national news on a daily basis for hours and hours each day?

I realize that HLN must be getting viewers for this – otherwise why would they continue to do it? I think the real problem is that people are starting to treat actual crime as entertainment.

If Arias did set out to kill her boyfriend in a premeditated fashion, that’s for the courts to decide. It is not a soap opera, though. It is not meant to draw viewers in and have them rooting for the prosecution – or the defense.

Honestly, I don’t get the preoccupation with court cases and the need to turn them into full-fledged entertainment.

If a news person is saying this, why isn’t the rest of the country?

What do you think? Do you think that court cases are being treated like entertainment?


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