Trial by Media: Justice for the Most Hated Woman in America?

7 Feb

 1

Casey Anthony with her daughter Caylee

Source: facesofangelsblog.blogspot.in

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“I want to commit the murder I was imprisoned for.”
―  J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

We live in an age where the media is playing a pervasive role in our lives. It has entered various spheres including  that of ‘justice’ and has even gone to extent of trying to challenging the verdicts of the existing judicial system. At times it almost plays the role of the judge and pronounces verdicts.  In this article, I will attempt to deliberate through the recent Casey Anthony case in Florida, USA, the extent to which the judiciary is influence by the media and the ramifications of such an influence.

Like cases before, such as the O.J. Simpson (CNN, 1995) and Rodney King (CNN Wire Staff, 2012), the State of Florida v Casey Anthony trial was no different. Casey Anthony, the mother of Caylee Anthony was tried in Orlando, Florida from May 9 to July 5, 2011 for the alleged charges of her involvement in the murder of her two year old daughter and acquitted. As a In view of the nature of the crime  she courted notoriety. Time magazine dubbed her case as “the social media trial of the century” [Cloud, 2011] to being described as the “Most Hated Woman in America” [Roberts, 2011].

Casey Anthony was tried on seven counts which included, first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and four counts of providing false information to law enforcement authorities [Wikipedia, 2013]. According to the verdict she was acquitted from the first three counts. The case against Casey Anthony was mostly circumstantial, but as it unfolded she was portrayed in the trial as a promiscuous, self-centered woman who became a cold-blooded killer. The motive, prosecutors alleged, was to allow her to live a carefree life; it was alleged that she used chloroform to suffocate her daughter. However, the defense attorney, Jose Baez, stated these claims to be baseless and maintained that the death was the result of unintentional accident resulting in Caylee being drowned in the family swimming pool. Furthermore, due to lack of evidence it became extremely hard for the prosecution to prove the case as much of the information given by Anthony was misguided. She was charged guilty for having left her daughter Caylee at an apartment complex with a babysitter causing law enforcement to pursue the missing babysitter; for having informed two “employees” of Universal Studios, Jeff Hopkins and Juliet Lewis, at Universal, of the disappearance of Caylee; and for seemingly having  received a phone call from Caylee on July 15, 2008, thereby causing law enforcement to expend further resources.

23

From left: The not-guilty charge divided many people who followed the case. Flora Reece, center, of Orlando protests the verdict outside the Orange County Courthouse on July 7, 2011. From right: Tim Allen, right, and David Antolic hold signs in front of a jail in Orlando, Florida, on July 16, 2011, the day before Anthony will be released.

Source: cnn.com

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Americans were furious after the verdict as majority of Americans as well as the media believed that the jury had got it wrong. Media personalities such as Julie Suzanne Chen of CBS expressed her dismay in her daytime show, ‘The Talk’. The people expressed their views against the verdict through social media like Facebook, Twitter etc. Few media persons such as Sean Hannity of the Fox News Channel felt the verdict was fair as the prosecution did not have enough evidence to establish guilt or meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

At the end of the day, what was remarkable was that the attorneys from both the sides believed that justice had been done. The defendant attorney Jose Baez stated that the American system of justice has not dishonored Caylee’s memory as it prevented a false conviction [Hayes, 2011] whereas on the other side, the prosecution attorney Jeff Ashton still continues to hold a strong faith in his country’s system of justice. In his first interview about the case on ABC’s ‘The View’ on July 6, 2011, Jeff Ashton commented that it is impossible to hold faith in the rule of law and not accept that sometimes it doesn’t go the way you think it should. Furthermore, during the interview, he also mentioned that the Casey Anthony case struck such a nerve with the public as they feel that Casey Anthony had not played the role of a mother. Seeing her partying soon after the death of the child outraged them and felt that she ought to have penalized for such an unbecoming behavior.

As the great Stoic philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said that if we let things terrify us, life will not be worth living. Indeed, this can be said with regards to Casey Anthony. In an telephone interview to Piers Morgan on CNN’s ‘Piers Morgan Tonight’ on July 12th, 2012, Casey Anthony confessed to being ashamed in many ways of the person she was and furthermore referred to herself as a stupid girl who has gone through hell. However, as her lawyer Cheney Manson puts it Casey Anthony has accepted the reality of having the reputation of being the most hated person in America. She has resigned to the fact that it would be not advisable to be seen in public as she has received death threats. She is also aware that at the present moment nothing can be done about that tag attached to her. Furthermore she is revisiting motherhood and recently on the same show on January 31, 2013 it was confirmed that she has filed for bankruptcy as a step towards closure and longs for a normal life.

This case is just one of the many reminders to us that we need to reassess the role of  media that can sensationalise a case to the extent that it can vitiate the public perception of the justice system. The resulting public hysteria in the case, made a free and fair verdict difficult if not impossible. Though, Casey Anthony has got justice, but her right to privacy and her self-image has been tarnished.  Ever since, the media saw a TRP boost in this case, justice was compromised.

                 By:  KESTER PEREIRA

REFERENCES

Cloud, John (2011): “How the Casey Anthony Murder Case Became the Social-Media Trial of the Century”, Time, June 16th

CNN (1995): “Simpson judge OKs jury prospects who admit bias”, CNN

CNN Wire Staff (2012): “Rodney King dead at 47”, CNN, June 18th

Hayes Ashley (2011): “Casey Anthony not guilty of murder, other charges in daughter’s death”, CNN, June 6th

Roberts, Kristal (2011): “Casey Anthony considered the most hated person in America, according to celebrity poll”, ABC Action News, October 8th

Wikipedia (2013): “Timeline of the Casey Anthony case”, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Casey_Anthony_case > (last viewed on 6th February 2013)

18 Responses to “Trial by Media: Justice for the Most Hated Woman in America?”

  1. SM February 7, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    A well-researched article. It shows how public emotions can be played with using media as a tool. With regards to the Casey case, we’ll never know the whole story. The last I heard was that Casey is trying to monetize this whole hoopla through a biography (lol). Another media-crazy trial is that of Amanda Knox, a student of UoW, who allegedly killed her roommate. Sadly enough, India ranks at a poor 140 out of 179 countries in terms of freedom of press: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/opinion/indias-limited-freedom-of-speech.html . I guess the press coverage has fizzled out a few days after the delhi case drama?

    • Kester Pereira February 14, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      Thanks! Very true, voices of all need to be hear for any country to be qualified as a people’s government or simply a democracy. The media is influencing us at all levels, however what is important is to realize such control and have restrains, if necessary. On a more optimistic note, our freedom of speech and expression is increasing through the cyberspace, perhaps the new ‘public sphere’. Seeing the impact of this relatively new medium of communication, the governments around the world are trying their best to regulate it. Yes, did follow the Amanda Knox trial through CNN. With regards to the media coverage, very much similar to that of Casey Anthony. Such occurrence are always tragic and seeing such level of emotions which can be played at, the media will go to no end to cash on it. Leaving the media trashing aside, the media did also play to some extent a positive role, for example Meredith Kercher scholarship fund (Amanda Knox); Caylee Law (Casey Anthony).

      A contemporary political philosopher, Micheal Sandel would argue that a greater amount of public discourse is needed for issues like justice in order to create a society which is truly aware of it surroundings and this only can happen through greater engagement with one and another. Another philosopher, J. Krishnamurti, shares a similar view. In the Krishnamurti perspective, we should form our opinions and not allow others (in this case, the media) to mold our level of thinking. Furthermore, this is even seen in our toilet training level as our system of upbringing is based upon what to think, and not on how to think. Even, as we grow up, our entire system of education reflects the same. In order to truly understand something (like justice, morality etc), we should become aware of ‘what is’, rather simply by just going on ‘what ought to be’. Keeping this in mind, I feel our generation, (in the case of India, its young population which is her biggest asset) can make a considerable difference by fighting for our rights as enshrine in our constitution. Then only we can expect change as we will be the change.

  2. anuragtagat February 7, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    Well written and well argued! No one’s ready to set hard and fast rules or even guidelines for trial by media cases such as the ones you’ve referred to. I hope every country’s respective media authority gets around to doing something.

    • Kester Pereira February 14, 2013 at 11:40 am #

      Thanks! …. Indeed the media should play a greater role in the affairs of society. But to what extend, is debatable. There is an urgent need for the true incorporation of media ethics in the industry. In doing so, truth telling is of great importance as any opposition to this is deception.

      The media doesn’t act along as there are various actors involved. It is these actors who many a times influence the way the media functions. In this day and age, it is difficult, if not impossible to stop these actors and thus making the imposition of rules or even guidelines for such trial by media cases hard to happen. Hence, people should become aware and thus take the opinions of the media with a pinch of salt. Furthermore, to set rules for the media could be considered as a restriction on their freedom of expression. Thus, in my capacity, I feel that media ethics is becoming more and more important in this day and age.

  3. Ani February 8, 2013 at 5:18 am #

    I think it’s interesting that a powerful news force in America can create just as much uproar as any sensational news channel in India (take your pick) — that’s something that you won’t really expect in a country that fully believes in efficient justice (as your article mentions). Very good read, and would have liked to also know if the entire angle of female emancipation/infanticide was also investigated by any news agencies or social media outlets. Looking forward to reading more of these, man!

    • Kester Pereira February 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

      My Grandmother through her upbringing would certainly not agree to the notion of ‘Justice’ being commodified and commercialized. However being born in this neo-liberal era, we have come to an understanding that everything has the potential to be commodified and commercialized. Due to the free exchanged of ideas, news channels around the world tend to show similar characteristics. After all, they are run and supported by the big corporates. Thus, it doesn’t matter which country one is part of as such sensationalization and uproar are part and parcel of the system and the biggest reason is competition, that is, TRPs. Hence, various issues in the case like that as you asked about ‘female infanticide’ are used in such a way by the media that it not only catches the eye of the viewers but also strikes a chord with the viewers. Furthermore, even such an issue like female infanticide became one of the main reasons pitted against Casey Anthony as exaggerated by the media as well as the prosecution while the case was going on . Since this case (as mention in this article) struck such a nerve with the public as they feel that Casey Anthony had not played the role of a mother and furthermore seeing her partying soon after the death of the child outraged the public and thus felt that she ought to have penalized for such an unbecoming behavior.

      Although justice was done to Casey Anthony, but it has been compromised due to the role of the media. If you ask me whether I was surprised after this case to the see such a role played by the american media, I would say no. However, I would like to point out that in India we do see a lot of “breaking news” flashing in our television screen by our local as well as national news channels unlike the international ones. Furthermore, every moment in the Casey Anthony case didn’t make a ‘breaking news’ in CNN. If such was the case with India, I would think otherwise.

      Thanks! Will definitely keep writing more. My next article will be on “Brazil’s Green Economy”, mainly chose this topic because of my concern for the environment. The best is yet to come…

      • Ani February 15, 2013 at 6:23 am #

        Yeah, definitely agree that there’s a global competition among media houses for reader/viewer-ship. The idea behind a trial by media somehow explores multiple angles so its always interesting to see if all of them are sensationalized just the same. If that is indeed the case (for example, sometimes channels purposely downplay some parts of a case/incident and hype only the ones that are likely to strike a chord with the people).

        And the difference of breaking news that you pointed out was exactly the type of thing that I was referring to, so that’s an important difference in my opinion. Looking forward to that one!

  4. Espoir Manirambona February 9, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    Good article Kester, I remember following the case closely like many North Americans. Although its understandable that americans wanted to see justice and felt some anger towards Casey, they need to be more mindful of why the case was shown so much and what the motives might be. During this time there were wars going on, famines, crimes by the US government and global capitalists in general but yet CNN chose to cover this story for weeks on end. It is no secret that much of the mainstream media in the US, the corporate media, is owned and controlled but the tiny ruling capitalist elite.

    The ruling capitalist class use the media to program americans, keep them ignorant and distracted from the truth. They want to create negative responses from Americans and global audiences like fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness, etc. because these negative emotions can be manipulated for their ends. Through hate, americans strengthen their sense of separateness and its this sense of seperateness that keeps them divided and easy to control; divide and conquer. Hate prevents unity.

    Justice should be sought, but we should not hate those who fall prey to unconsciousness, we should help them see the light. We should forgive and help them become better human beings. American prisons are designed to enslave, to punish, not to rehabilitate. The US has the largest prison population by far; the so called land of the free. The lesson from the whole Casey Anthony case is that americans need to stop watching CNN and other corporate media networks, wake up and focus on the task at hand; freedom from the grips of finance capital and the ruling capitalist elite that seeks to control our lives, the capitalist system that commits murder every single day in the form of war, extreme poverty, climate change, homelessness, disease. Americans need to learn to love, forgive, and embrace kindness and restorative justice.

    • Kester Pereira February 14, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

      Merci beaucoup, Espoir!! Yes, my comrade the capitalist will suck as much of blood out of us as they can. Espoir, my pal, you are a nice guy and a good person. You are the salt of the earth, a prince among men. No wonder why my Granny always ask about you. However, the reality is that we are not constantly living in a world of sunshine and merriment. In this world. there even exist something as a “21st Century State of Nature”. Even among the capitalist, there are rivalries among them and what is truly a pity is the ramifications of such rivalries. It is very convenient to blame the capitalist, however more than the capitalist, it is money that corrupt individuals and I for one, in this sense pity the capitalist media in america as even they are bothered for their survival, but to what costs is and will always be debatable.

      A great Indian philosopher by the name of J.Krishnamurti once said that is it no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. Yes, very true in today’s times too, and being in the 21st century the time is right to stand up in what we believe in through experience and not through the process of corrupted education which society sadly favors. Hence, if we find something wrong with the system (say, in this case Justice for Casey Anthony), we should engage in greater public discourse as suggested by the contemporary political philosopher, Michael Sandel. Then only, we can not only help those who fall prey to unconsciousness to see the light but also justice can be sought as through such deliberations, people would be made aware of the true plight of Casey Anthony instead of what is just shown by the media and that to at the individual basis and thus makes it far more easier to control opinions and colonize minds.

      I firmly believe in the institution of justice, the source of all laws. JUSTICE can’t be defined by vagabonds, especially devoid of proof. It is the purview of the JUDICIARY. Those who condemn the verdicts of the judiciary, then better start rethinking DEMOCRACY.

  5. Pratik February 13, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Clear and provoking! The objective tone of the article does the matter plenty good, especially in the face of such mass hysteria that you speak of. What comes to my mind is that the personality traits that the news media pushed the people to condemn – partying, responsibility-free lifestyle, etc. – are the ones that american entertainment endorse! And we know that the news and the entertainment industries are not separable. Keep writing and sending!

    • Kester Pereira February 14, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

      Thanks!!! Will definitely keep writing more. My next article will be on “Brazil’s Green Economy”, mainly chose this topic because of my concern for the environment. The best is yet to come…

      Precisely, the dual side of the media. Can we boil down such an attitude by the media to TRPs or it is the public that is hypocritical and thus the media is only reflecting the status quo? Such a predicament… what say?

      • pratikali February 15, 2013 at 6:57 am #

        When cultural similarities are seen on such a mass level, they must be the outcome of a centralized force rather than local ones; there definitely are variations, but the variations are bound by dominating forces, right? That’s hegemony. The public is not organized, and doesn’t decide together what it must think directly, and hence I feel that attitudes are bred by the media which is both highly organized and motivated by the concerns you have pointed out. But I agree with the broad point that you make, and which also you mentioned in your reply to Espoir, that the master, along with the slave, is bound to the condition of slavery. In order to make the public believe in lies, the media-professionals make a world in which their children must also live in lies and deceit.

  6. Espoir Manirambona February 16, 2013 at 2:14 am #

    Thanks for the reply. I completely agree that the capitalists too are victims of unconsciousness and manipulation themselves. They too are fearful and use the media to reflect this fear. I try hard not to demonize them, ultimately they are just lost brothers and sisters, lost in ignorance. Hence why its urgent that Americans reduce their influence and create a more democratic society with real freedom of the press.

    • Kester Pereira February 16, 2013 at 10:20 am #

      Espoir, one thing I like about you is that that you are not afraid to speak your mind. From your views, I feel you will be interested to read more about J. Krishnamurti. What say, Pratik?

      “To understand the misery and confusion that exist within ourselves, and so in the world, we must first find clarity within ourselves, and that clarity comes about through right thinking. This clarity is not to be organized, for it cannot be exchanged with another. Organized group thought is merely repetitive. Clarity is not the result of verbal assertion, but of intense self-awareness and right thinking. Right thinking is not the outcome of or mere cultivation of the intellect, nor is it conformity to pattern, however worthy and noble. Right thinking comes with self-knowledge. Without understanding yourself you have no basis for thought; without self-knowledge, what you think is not true.”
      – J. Krishnamurti, “The First and Last Freedom”, pp.3-4

      • pratikali February 16, 2013 at 11:49 am #

        I don’t know about that. Consider this: the nature of the answer is also determined by the question. Now that’s what I find puzzling about the ‘know yourself’ bit: what is being sought? I have tried a few times without finding anything. I guess it is important to know what one thinks, what one means by things, what the consequences are of it. But that’s an obvious thing, right?

  7. Kester Pereira February 17, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    Taking off from J.Krishnamurti, society (if believes it is oppressed or controlled), then should emancipate itself from this oppression and this can only happen through “Emancipatory Knowledge” as suggested by Frankfurt School theorist, Jurgen Habermas.

  8. Ryan Rodrigues February 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    A very well researched, well thought out,unbiased point of view put forward. We do hope that the role and power of the media is used for the right reasons, to create the right impact in the correct direction. Any misuse of this powerful medium can also have disastrous consequences. Once again kudos to Kester!!!

    • Kester Pereira March 4, 2013 at 4:34 am #

      Thanks Ryan…. it means a lot. Couldn’t agree with you more.

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