Caylee Anthony In Perspective

The internet exploded in anger, prayer, and petitions after the not-guilty verdict reached by the Casey Anthony jury. “The O.J. trial of this century” was a common refrain, mixed with varying degrees of sadness, hysteria, and rage. From the outside, (which is where you are if you weren’t on the jury), the case against this little girl’s mother appears rock-solid. Of course from further outside, (which is where I am), the case against the media prostitution of our criminal justice system appears more than rock-solid.

The death of Caylee Anthony was, and remains, a tragedy; but it is a tragedy far more common than we the people want to accept. It is also a tragedy the side-effects of which could prove catastrophic to our way of life. Our criminal justice system is robbed of efficiency, balance, and fairness when it is invaded by the sensationalizing, ratings-driven media of 21st Century America. Victims are exploited, police and prosecuters are abused, and the rights of the accused are trampled. Regardless of one’s feelings about this particular case, the sum of the situation is threatening to all. What is needed is perspective, not to minimize Caylee, but to bring into the light the full scope of the problem.

In 2008, Caylee Anthony was murdered. A surprising number of Americans know her name, her picture, and the details of her case (as related by the media via communications with adversarial legal teams). Caylee, however, wasn’t alone that year. In 2008, 1,709 children were murdered (including the little girl pictured at the top), more than 500 were under the age of 5 at their time of death. How many of them have you heard of? How many of those children have suffered and died in the shadows? More to the point, how many of them have driven revenue streams at the major networks?

The last question goes, of course, to the heart of issue number one; we the people don’t care about an issue unless the media cares about the issue. Caylee was adorable, and her mother (if nothing else), is an immature, unbalanced, and self-centered train wreck. The combination makes for great ratings, and the promise of great ratings brings in the scavengers who hide behind the 1st Amendment. The media as an entity essential to the free society is circling the drain; it is being flushed by the profit necessity. But media elements are only as good, ultimately, as their most engaged audience. Millions were obsessively glued to their TV’s throughout the proceedings, and those millions took to their social networks in a demand for something, anything relating to vengeance, retribution, or a reckoning, after the not-guilty verdict. Public outcry rose in defense of the victim.

After the fire that killed the children of Todd Willingham in 1992, what part did public outcry play in stoking the flames of the media in Texas? What part of public outcry solidified the need for, and will of the police and DA to aggressively prosecute the father of those poor kids. Public outcry is a good thing, providing the public knows what it is crying about; that situation is far from the norm however, and far from certain. Almost two decades after the tragedy in Texas, the public had decided just as emphatically that Todd Willingham was innocent, as they had that Casey Anthony was guilty. We Americans are capable of believing Texas officials absolutely wrong, and Florida officials absolutely right. We are capable of absolute belief in our ability to judge evidence, but are so enraged by the Anthony verdict as to question the notion of jury trials.

The moral to this story, I would submit, is not that jury trials are bad. We Americans value the balance between judge and jury, and we used to value the absolute truth that we are innocent until proved guilty. But many of the same folks enraged by warrantless searches and Guantanomo incarcerations are perfectly willing to decide, in their wisdom, in the guilt of Casey Anthony. She may be guilty, but if you value the principles of our system, you must deal with her innocence. Public outcry paired with the toxic effect of media whores is a fatal combination for our criminal justice system. It leads to bad decisions that punish good people, and bad decisions that let the evil walk free. It also destroys the lives of many innocents guilty only of being associated with the wrong people at the wrong time.

In 21st Century America, a victim of crime can’t lodge an accusation without risking the full glare of the profit-driven media. The police can’t do their jobs without the full weight of America’s credulous and ill-trained amateur detectives (equipped with all of the experience that CSI and Law and Order affords) being brought to bear. Prosecutors can’t make considered decisions without Nancy Grace and her acolytes demanding their version of appropriate action. While the internet is alive with suggestions, demands, and petitions that aim to fix “the problem”, the real issues of the Anthony case (and Willingham before) go unattended. The justice system is not an entertainment vehicle; let’s work to take the media whores off the street.

The Rational Middle is listening…

3 thoughts on “Caylee Anthony In Perspective

  1. Thanks for the attention on this subject. My wife is one of those outraged by the acquittal and I have been looking for some ideas on how to discuss this with her in an objective, unemotional way.

    It’s kind of strange how people react to this sort of thing. I mean, there are something like 6 million children that starve to death every year and there is never any justice for them. They die in total anonymity after years of suffering, but no one is ever brought to justce for this tragedy. Then one American girl dies and everyone freaks out. I guess if the media spent as much time focused on even a small part of the tragic deaths that happen every day it would cease to become a source of income for them because Americans would become bored with it pretty quickly.

  2. Another great writing from the Rational Middle. I concur on your assessment of the media whores and I concur on Carver’s jury assessment. I am one of those who got caught up in the case and from what I saw through the media; I thought it was a slam dunk conviction. Even though, I have an education, my wife was a paralegal and I am suspicious by nature, I thought the Prosecution proved she was guilty of some type of murder. Then, I started to think of what I had been able to see versus what the jury was able to use to make their decision. Maybe it is not the media or the juries, but maybe it is all the little things that have crept into our legal system over the years. One of them is allowing cameras into the court another would be what Carver wrote about the way we select juries. I’m sure there are at least 10 or 12 people in every district that are smart enough to understand the BS that attorneys try to pull off and that can be fair and honest. But, I know most people cannot take off the time for a trial. So, we get the people who are in between jobs or people who fit the perfect demographic the Defense can bargain with the Prosecution. Also, I’m not so sure the Prosecution wasn’t playing to the cameras where the Defense was playing to the jury. I guess I’m skewed by what I was fed by the media. But it has been fun watching the media tip toe around this to not hurt their cash cow. Mark Oldham

  3. I think it’s time to consider how juries are selected. I agree the media circuses that arises from high profile cases sours our judicial system, however, the basic incompetence of a jury of uneducated (in the law) individuals has to be considered.
    When lawyers (both prosecution and defense) can weed out those potential jurors that may be inclined to actually evaluate the evidence in an unbiased way and go with those that are more inclined to be swayed by an emotional appeal.
    Certain professions are very likely to be dismissed – people associated with the legal profession, doctors, teachers, policemen,scientists etc., thus resulting in a fair number of morons on the jury subject to irrational emotional judgments. People that can accept an abduction by aliens defense as constituting reasonable doubt.
    Until that is addressed we will continue to see miscarriages of justice as was demonstrated in the Anthony trial.

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