Saturday, February 21, 2009

What Ever Happened to Shame?

It used to be that when alleged bad people did alleged bad things, you could detect a teensy-weensy bit of shame in their attitude or that of their families: The head held low, the biting of the lips, the inability to look you in the eye.

Oh, how that has changed.

Now, when alleged bad people do alleged bad things they get the 15 minutes of fame (maybe even wealth) that Andy Warhol predicted would be every one's due. Instead of the perp walk, you get the cat walk. Instead of a jail sentence, you get a book contract that, hopefully, will turn into a television movie of the week. And it's not just the alleged perp who's strutting his or her stuff before the world's stage. It's the whole dang family.

I am referring, of course, to the Casey Anthony case. Casey's parents have appeared on major television shows, including "Larry King." We now know that when Caylee's remains were found they stayed at the Ritz Hotel, courtesy of ABC television. Casey's dad cannot even try to commit suicide in private.

And now there's also Haleigh Cummings' father's girlfriend, who didn't waste time appearing on the "Today" show, ostensibly to defend herself or her relatives. When it was announced the little girl was missing, Casey's dad -- all better now -- made a beeline to Satsuma in Putnam County in a show of solidarity.

I have wondered throughout all of this: Doesn't anybody agonize in private anymore? Doesn't anybody close the door and say they would like to be left alone? (This is valid only if attempted before the big-publicity cry for help, before the big-publicity search and rescue effort, before the big-publicity help-me-find-my-missing-child poster and before the daily press conference updates.)

Must the press and television pull back the curtain a la Wizard of Oz each and every time to show the family mayhem and dysfunction? Shouldn't the media do a little pulling back of their own?

Does the press and television always have to work itself into a tizzy about one more missing child, as if other nameless, faceless children do not go missing everyday that are never found and that we never hear about. Why Caylee and not the others? Why Haleigh and not the others? Is anybody still looking for or writing about Trenton Duckett? And why does it seem that these things are happening only in Florida?

The glare of television lights and scribblings in reporter's notebooks have greatly diminished the sense of private agony and sometimes shame that, to my mind, was a lot healthier for the family and the community. It has also diminished the media's sense of credibility.

We are all now under siege from the mutual exploitation society that exists between the parents/relatives of the chosen few missing children and the press and television. Once on the stage, you can't yank these folks off. Once the television ratings, newspaper circulation or online "uniques" soar, you can't get the media to retrench.

We will hear and read about the Casey Anthony case everyday whether there is news to report or not. We will get the daily videotape or photo of the family, lawyers or other folks who weasel their way into the spotlight.

Now, to the delight of the media, we have two such cases. I can see the headline: Haleigh and Caley: What Went Wrong? It's a great stroke of luck for the media that the names happen to rhyme.

I am not unsympathetic to the cause of missing children. I am a mom and I know what I would do if someone tried to harm my child. But I am unsympathetic to the hoopla, hullabaloo and carnival sideshow that has little to do with the cause of missing children.

For the sake of decency and credibility, someone please draw the curtain. Bring back a little shame and embarrassment for the good of the community.


Anonymous said...

Not only was I once, a long time ago, a cop. I also covered cops,as well as state and federal courts for a newspaper.
Never in all of that time have I seen the state dump so much evidence into the public arena before the trial as it has in this Anthony case.
When I was on one side, we had to follow strict rules of evidence in order to not ruin the case.
On the other side, cops and prosecutors always closely guarded their case, so they wouldn't risk misconduct and also so they wouldn't poison the well of potential jurors. They could get pretty nasty when we uncovered one of their secrets.
What has changed? Why do cops leak so much stuff--accurate or not--and not get stepped on by supervisors? How can prosecutors release so much evidence and feel there is a chance of a fair trial? What's the story behind a judge who not only allows this, but also seems to be driving this pre-trial guilty express?
I bring up all of this to put the blame for all of this unusual frenzy not only on the victims/suspects/family, but also on the judicial system, which seems more interested in its chance to stand in a spotlight than in assuring that, when a trial happens, the accused gets a fair trial and justice ultimately is fairly administered.
If that is possible in an era of cutthroat TV competitions that value being a star over everything else.

Anonymous said...

prosecutors earn less than private defense lawyers' secretaries. they are bottom of the law school barrel, low in martindale hubbel - the dregs. they are happy to have some attention and play reporters off one another. only people paid worse are baliffs and then public defenders, in that order.
this trial will be run so participants can sign book contracts. hello? O.J.???