Casey Anthony and the Real Goal of the Media
The entire debacle with the Casey Anthony trial brings something into sharp focus that we all should consider. The media has two goals:
- Increase circulation (i.e. sell more papers)
- Report the news
And they go at these goals in that order. Controversy sells papers, so they tackle stories like a mother allegedly murdering her toddler because they know that that is going to sell like crazy.
Now, Casey Anthony has been found not guilty by a jury of her peers. But, in the court of public opinion, she had long ago been convicted and sentenced. But, we have to ask ourselves, did we hear all of the facts?
I’m going to guess not. We didn’t hear all of the facts of the Rodney King case. We saw an edited version of the tape, that when played in its entirety, cleared the officers involved of any wrong doing. I saw the entire tape a long time ago, and believe me those officers acted in self-defense. They got a bit excessive and should have been disciplined for that, but they didn’t act as disproportionately to the situation as the media had us believe.
I’m not saying that the media deliberately distorts the facts of a case. They don’t. But, they give us a minimalist set, the set most convenient to the story they are trying to tell. They leave out or gloss over other facts.
For those of us that have taken journalism classes, we know that a news story is written in the “inverted pyramid” style. First comes the lead, which is supposed to grab our attention and pull us into the story. It’s the most interesting and attention-grabbing part of the story. Then, the facts of the case are presented, in order of importance.
But, who gets to decide that order? The reporter. I may disagree with the reporter ordering of the facts. But, knowing that news stories contain the substance of the story in the first half or so, I seldom read an entire news story. I give the reporter the benefit of the doubt, assuming that he is going to get the important facts correct in the first part of the story and use the leftovers at the bottom of the article. So I seldom read a newspaper article beyond the sixth or seventh paragraph, knowing that is “unimportant facts” after that.
Or is it?
It occurs to me that these “fluff” facts might make all the difference. It might be facts that the reporter or his editors wish to minimize or conceal. Print journalism is all about word count, so some facts may have been omitted altogether.
None of this amounts to deliberate distortion, but you do have to wonder if this case, like many others, presented the public with a minimalist set of facts to paint Casey Anthony as guilty when she’s not and we’d know she’s not if we were given the remainder of the facts. So, let’s remember that we weren’t on the jury and maybe we should trust that the 12 people in possession of facts we weren’t privy to made an informed decision.