Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Casey Anthony Saga

Several readers have asked me to weigh in on the Casey-Caylee Anthony story and the media's coverage of it. I have been reluctant to step in because I dislike this type of story and tend not to pay close attention. Neither my life nor your's will rise or fall because of Caylee's disappearance or Casey's alleged involvement in her child's disappearance or possible death. As a mother I know this sounds harsh, but it needs to be said. There are other stories, such as the Wall Street fiasco, that do indeed affect every man, woman and child in this country. But that is a much more complex story to cover.

We have witnessed a number of cases like this in Florida. Trenton Duckett is another local-child-goes-missing case that fell under a 24-hour media watch, as did the Terry Schiavo case (which some people considered a crime, although I disagree). And who can forget Elian Gonzalez, who got the same media treatment? There are a number of others on the national scene, such as Jon Benet Ramsey, OJ Simpson and Natalee Holloway. Seeing a pattern here?

These are all crime cases, and crime is one of the easiest beats to cover. Put a police scanner, a reporter and crime tape together, and you have a story on the 5, 10 and 11 o'clock news cycles -- often with just a bit of new info added, if that. (Note that crime reporting has not suffered in the past 10 years or so, although crime rates fell significantly. This had the effect of distorting the role or rate of crime in communities. However, crime rates are beginning to rise again.)

In print, the Orlando Sentinel practically ignores the Anthony case, but splatters it all over its Web site, where it's all-Cayley-Casey-all-the-time. There's a reason for this: The Anthony case drives visitors to the site. In an earlier post, I wrote that in August the Sentinel landed on Nielsen Online's list of Top 30 online newspaper sites (it was No. 30), as reported by Editor & Publisher.

There's nothing to account for it, except the Anthony case. The Sentinel has not reported anything spectacular or breathtaking lately. The Central Florida area has not had a major disaster, such as shuttle going kaput. Tourism traffic is down, so it can be that. It's got to be the Anthony case, which has gone national in broadcast and print. The Sentinel and other local media have latched onto the story and are are milking it dry. In these lean advertising times, an increase in Web visitors or TV viewers is a boost to the bottom line.

The media -- print and broadcast -- whip up a public frenzy with these cases that is unconscionable. Do we really need to know that Casey Anthony visited her lawyer on any given day? No. If TV vans and reporters were not permanently parked outside the Anthony home, would the vigilante crowds disperse? I think so. All the world's a stage, and when when you take away the platform the actors scamper, looking for their next close-up.

Time and time again, this type of coverage has created a downward spiral that has contributed to a miscarriage of justice. The magnification of the crimes is so huge and out of proportion to reality that it results in spontaneous combustion. Law enforcement, under extreme pressure to resolve a case, screws up procedurally, tactically and in other ways. The defendants, under the glare of enormous spotlights, attract shady characters looking for publicity. That was the role played by the Padilla (no relation) bounty hunters in the Anthony case.

I am no Casey Anthony fan (no mother waits 30 days to report her missing child), but can she get a fair trail here? If Casey Anthony were ugly, would the media be following her around? Probably not.

The Jon Benet Ramsey, Natalee Holloway and Trenton Duckett cases have all led to dead ends. In the Duckett case, the mother, considered suspicious, committed suicide. The Ramseys had to move from Colorado and were cleared of suspicion only recently. Elian Gonzalez appeared as if he were about to have a nervous breakdown and the FBI had to use armored vehicles to break down doors to get Gonzalez out of Miami. The media frenzy had a lot to do with it. (I covered part of Gonzalez story, and have never experienced anything like it.)

And don't forget that the Atlanta Journal Constitution had to pay out a nice chunk of change to security guard Richard Jewell because of its faulty coverage of the Atlanta Olympics bombing case. I could go on -- how about the New York Times and scientist Wen Ho Lee? -- but I think I've made my point.

We are likely to see a non conclusion to the Anthony case. Of course, the Sentinel and local TV will pretend they had absolutely nothing to do with it.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for calling them on this.
News organizations are using their Web sites as sleazy lures to attract visits, hoping to convince advertisers it's a place they should spend their marketing money. Smart advertisers don't just look at hits, but at what got people there. A look at the tricks being used by the Sentinel and others would turn most serious ad clients away.
I's a desperate move that's demeaning the dignity (remember that?) of journalism.

Anonymous said...

what's even funnier is the pathetic attempt to get cleavage into the little photos pasted in the middle of the site's front page. for some reason they keep using - and reusing - stills from that stripper movie that bombed from 15 or more years ago.
Yeah, that's "news" today in central Florida! Um, no. Some days they manage to have cleavage in three of the little posts - does someone get a bonus if all the photos have breast exposure?
is Simmons proud of this? I think it is sad, almost tabloid-like. hey, move down to Boca and work for a tab - they pay well and you are already trained to think as they do.