A Not-So-Innocent Diversion: Trial By Media

Breathless celebrity "news" reporting isn’t enough… apparently we also need a direct invitation to trial by media. From McNews:


This is a perilous question in deceptively casual clothing. There should be nothing "Quick" about a question involving children’s lives. (Spears’ name is immaterial — one could as well replace "Britney Spears" with "Anyone’s Name," including yours or mine.)

It’s refreshing to see that McNews agrees we all have the right to enjoy a presumption of innocence. And that they would never encourage Joe Public to casually pass severe judgment on someone they don’t personally know, in absentia, based entirely on hearsay (especially hearsay reported by media with a selection bias favoring sensational value), with a passing click of the mouse.

Removing children can be necessary, but it is a serious matter and so should be considered seriously through careful firsthand examination [*], not treated lightly as worthy of drive-by opinion-poll jurying. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive; I know of kids wrongly taken from their parents under outrageous pretexts, and the results can be tragic.

I understand the intent was just to throw out a quick question, and not to take it too seriously. That’s the problem. But then again, maybe making something profoundly important appear inconsequential is just playing the B side of celebrity "news" that tries to make the inconsequential appear profound.


[*] Even with careful deliberation and due process, staggering mistakes can be and are made in serious matters. I’m currently reading John Grisham’s first nonfiction (and somewhat polemic) book The Innocent Man, the tragic account of Ron Williamson, who was wrongly sentenced to death [PBS] [**] for a murder he did not commit. According to Grisham’s account, Williamson was publicly hounded in a similar trial by media in the local newspaper that influenced community (and juror pool) opinion for years before he was ever charged with anything in that crime. Disclaimer: Of course, Grisham’s book too is a media voice, and his account of the case is itself charged with one-sided reporting. Nobody seems to dispute that the conviction was unjust, however, though people do disagree on where to lay blame.

[**] No, I’m not expressing an opinion on the death penalty.

2 thoughts on “A Not-So-Innocent Diversion: Trial By Media

  1. Herb,

    Interesting and at the same time unexpected post from you. When I saw the title, I was expecting a lament on programming language state of affairs ;-).

    I am 100% with you that the matter of any child custody should never be taken lightly. I also agree that this kind of "poll" is totally inappropriate. Media can and does shape the public opinion, that is why an enormous responsibility lies with them and they are no doubt abusing it nowadays. Back to the kids, children’s welfare in our society is gravely violated. I will not even go into (late-term) abortion and similar issues, because it’ll spawn a debate without end (the above link is probably enough to do it). However, let me just state that I believe a society should be judged based on how it treats its weakest members. It is clear from the facts that we are failing miserably.


  2. Journalism has gone through many incarnations. A sign of progress over time some people thought was its striving to become a profession, with professional codes of ethics. The empowerment of the Web has tipped the scales [or pendulum] on this matter, tipped it away from journaism as a profession. People feelings and psyches will be hurt in great numbers. Because unfairness seems okay to so many people.

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