A major theme in my debut novel One Man’s Paradise is how the media affects the American system of justice. Is it possible for a defendant to get a fair trial when every aspect of the case is discussed ad nauseam prior to the trial on the three major national cable news channels? It seems that in the age of round-the-clock news, voyeur journalism, and odious overbearing pundits, the freedom of the press has wholly usurped the right to due process.
Take the Casey Anthony case for example. If you have followed this case at all during CNN’s prime time line-up, chances are you have made a decision on Casey Anthony’s guilt or innocence. And chances are that decision has been based largely on the slanted views of former prosecutors who now hold themselves out as investigative journalists. Worse yet, you have most likely formulated your opinion based on evidence that may not be admissible at trial.
In a nation where jurors regularly cash in on colossal press cases through book deals and the like, is it possible that a fan of Nancy Grace may find her way onto Casey Anthony’s Florida jury? You bet. Potential jurors lie all the time to get out of jury duty. But what about those potential jurors that lie in order to make their way into the box?
It’s a frightening notion that defendants might be judged on evidence inadmissable in court. Because it means that information and physical evidence obtained by law enforcement through improper means may not be useless after all. Even if such evidence is excluded by the trial judge, it is certainly fair game in the court of public opinion. This has set a dangerous precedent.
And how are such cases selected by the national news media? Clearly producers and pundits select their cases on the totality of the circumstances. First, it seems, they look at the victim. Preferably female, preferably Caucasian, preferably well-educated (or currently studying), preferably young, and preferably attractive, particularly in the face. Then the networks consider the defendant. The case is a keeper if the defendant has a lot to lose. Again, it’s preferred that the perpetrator be Caucasian, that he or she have some connection to the victim, and that he or she look totally out of place shackled in an orange jumpsuit while walking through the courtroom.
Setting is also important. A tropical island, such as the one in One Man’s Paradise, is ideal. But really any affluent neighborhood or popular vacation destination will do. Cruise ship murders work well, too. Especially, if searchers are unsuccessful at finding the body.
Of course, I’m not defending criminals. That was my profession for several years as an attorney in New York City, and I’m glad to say I’m done with it. But the way the media handle certain cases is an issue that needs to be addressed and soon. It’s bad enough when these media vultures swoop down and exploit victims’ families for ratings. It’s worse when they convict defendants based on hearsay and tainted evidence months, or even years, before the actual trial.