Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Media Ghouls and a Defender of Juries



On holiday on Monday, June 13th in Pismo Beach, I didn't watch any television or get on the internet so when Tony and I sat down for dinner at an overpriced Italian restaurant named Giuseppe's we had no clue what everyone else had known for hours: Michael Jackson acquittted on all counts.




We did notice, however, a crazed group of busboys and waiters were running back and forth across a parking lot to a building behind. We finally asked the busboy dude what was going on and he said it was a Fox News celebration over the end of the Michael Jackson trial. A whole group was driving thirty miles north on Highway 101
even as we spoke, fleeing the carnival in Santa Maria where the trial took place.

There were about thirty people at the "party," and they looked like ghouls for the most part, intelligent and urban, filled with equal parts bravado and neurotic questioning, but working for Satan and They Knew It. Sorry the picture of them is so bad but I really did get the evil eye as I took it.



Today, Wednesday the 15th, in the Los Angeles Times, there was a truly great media critique by somebody named Tim Rutten who I have never heard of before. He starts off his analysis of the media and celebrity trials with a joke: "If you hang around a courthouse long enough, one of things you learn is that people willing to predict a jury's verdict are the sort who take stock tips from their barbers. These days, however, the news organizations most preoccupied with sensational trials are the cable television news outlets, and they are creatures of appetite rather than principle or even brute experience. Their sets may be crammed with more lawyers and shrinks than a Beverly Hills office building, but the constant references to their alleged expertise notwithstanding, they're basically there as shills to lure more suckers into the tent."

Mr. Rutten continues with all the prognostications from the various networks about the eventual verdict (they are almost all completely wrong) and includes this in his roundup: "On Court TV, which routinely uses everything but card stunts to cheer on the prosecution in whatever case it's covering, those onetime prosecutors turned Valkyrie anchors, Nancy Grace and Kimberly Guilfoyle, unhesitatingly predicted conviction." And then he writes this great summary: "So what happened when Jackson was acquitted on all counts? Red faces? Second thoughts? A little soul-searching, perhaps? Maybe one expression of regret for the rush to judgment?"

"Naaawww."

"The reaction, instead was rage liberally laced with contempt and the odd puzzled expressions. Its targets were the jurors."

"No more solemn on-air pieties about jury service as citizenship's highest calling. Oh no, hell hath no fury like a cable anchor held up for scorn."

" 'Not guilty by reason of celebrity," shrieked Court TV's Guilfoyle."

The latter struck me as a great case of cognitive dissonance, rather like Dick Cheney's recent characterization of Howard Dean as somebody only a mother could love. The sentence makes no sense in that Howard Dean is beloved by lots of strangers and Dick Cheney really is a classic case of somebody who "only a mother could love." I felt similarly about the phrase by Miss Kimberly. Here's a national television commentator whose only qualifications are having been married and presumably having sex with Gavin Newsom, having anorexic cheekbones that rival Maria Shriver's, and having been decorative at that grotesque dog-mauling trial. At least Michael Jackson provides interesting music to the world. What has this stupid, ambitious woman done?

But enough. Mister Rutten quotes a long exchange where Nancy DisGrace from CNN bullies and intimidates a Mr. Rodriguez, who was the foreman of the jury. Here's Mr. Rutten's summary which is just plain awesome:

"Getting the last word is the cable bullies' stock in trade, but there is something particularly repellent about watching a conscientious juror, who clearly honored his oath to put personal views aside and decide the case according to evidence and law, abused for the sake of what the show's producers doubtless regarded as "great TV."

"There is something larger here than civility, or even the issue of the damage done when news organizations abandon the standards of ethical journalism wholesale for the sake of their commercial advantage. What's really at issue here is that the way the cable news operations have elected to conduct their business threatens the integrity of the jury system itself."

"Anybody who does not sit through every day of every witnesses' testinomy in a trial really cannot have an opinion worth hearing. Even then, only those who consider that testimony with the ears of a juror mindful of their oath and attentive to the trial judge's instructions can speak with real authority. Everything else is blather --- entertaining blather, perhaps, but dangerous, too."

"We invest the jury's awesome power in 12 ordinary people because it is the ultimate exercise of our democracy's popular sovereignity. In those things that matter most, we only trust each other."

"If jurors who conscientiously fulfill their oath -- as Jackson's did -- then are subjected to contempt and abuse for contradicting the self-interested sentiments of an electronic mob, then who among us is safe?"

This brilliant writing was not in the first news section of the L.A. Times or the op-ed section, but hidden in the Entertainment Section, called "Calendar."

But Rutten is dead on, and if you've ever served on a jury, you'll understand.

11 comments:

Sam said...

when i started reading this post, i thought it might be a piece of competition for my food blog. Despite no pornographic pictures of lusty cream cakes, (although I shared your enjoyment of the image of a crazed group of busboys)
I still managed to make it all the way to the end of your piece.
Thought provoking stuff - I'll be back

sfmike said...

My Dearest Sam:

There's no way I could compete with you when it comes to pornographic cream cakes and I wouldn't even think of trying. Sorry to hear you're being tortured over at the Niebelungen Mines of San Rafael (or have you moved to the Presidio yet?). Thanks for the kind words and I'm glad I stole as much as I did of that great Rutten piece.

Gordon said...

I don't know much about pornographic cream cakes, being a simple hill folk, but Giuseppe's has great pizza and they deliver.

sfmike said...

Dear Gordon:

The pornographic cream cakes are the recent subjects on Samantha's extremely beautiful food blog, Becks & Posh.

http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/

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