The Casey Anthony Case and the Media Frenzy: What About all the Others?
I have been around long enough to remember the OJ Simpson trial and many other trials that fall under the category of what Samuel Walker calls “celebrated cases.” These are those rare cases that exceed normalcy, largely because of the nature of the offense (one recent example of The kidnapping of 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard by Phillip Garrido who was held prisoner for 18 years) and often because of the celebrity status of those involved.
Another thing many of these kinds of cases have in common is the ages of the victims and often the unusual circumstances of the crime (e.g., the Lacy case in San Francisco involving the murder of a woman and her child). When the victims are very young children the media often go into a frenzy. Such was the case with Casey Anthony, who was accused of murdering her 2-year-old child Caylee. Eventually Casey was found not guilty of the major charges (first degree murder, etc.) and convicted of four lesser charges of lying to the police. She was sentenced to 4 years in jail but because of time served and good time credits she was released July 17.
The media coverage was almost non-stop, especially on cable channel NLN, headed by former prosecutor Nancy Grace. Grace’s show typically focuses on the most sensational cases and she consistently comes on with self-righteous indignation. Throughout the non-stop coverage of the trial she assumed it was an open-and-shut case as she (along with just about every other reported representing this station, especially Jane Velez-Mitchell) pronounced the “obvious” that the mother (Grace labeled her as “tot mom”) was guilty of first degree murder. When the final verdict was read she and others on her show (plus a large crowd gathered outside the court house) was outraged, stating that "there's no way this is a verdict that speaks the truth" and that "death has gone unavenged."
An analysis by the Los Angeles Times found that more than 600 press passes were given to the local and national media, while “CNN and NBC built two-story air-conditioned structures across from the courthouse for reporters and crews” and People Magazine “had writers in court every day” and ABC News had a special called "Crime & Punishment: The Casey Anthony Story."
What is totally lost in all of this coverage (and I barely scratched the surface on the extent of this coverage) is one important and neglected fact: yearly more than 1,700 children die while in the custody of their parents or other caretakers, either from abuse/neglect or from murder! The Los Angeles Times has kept a running account of children who have died at the hands of their adult caretakers (either their actual parents or other caretakers) and in 2009 alone at least 98 died. Their ages ranged from newborn children (less than a few days old) to 17. What almost all of them had in common was their minority status (mostly black or Hispanic) and their lower social class background (11 whites and two Asian). Most were either murdered or died because of neglect and/or abuse.
Those covered by the Times are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Nancy Grace and the rest of the media apparently believe cases such as these are not worthy of extensive coverage.
Update: This commentary was written prior to the release of Casey Anthony from her jail sentence. Since that time she has remained in hiding, although she was reportedly seen in Ohio. Also, a judge in Florida has ruled that she has to return to Orlando in order to begin serving a one year probation sentence for check fraud.