Scott and Laci Peterson Coverage

Josh Marshall says he should have figured it out sooner-- Larry King has been feeding cases to Mark Geragos . [link via Instapundit] Josh also reprints the Larry King transcript from the show a few nights ago where Nancy Grace got her come-uppance from Scott Peterson's father. I saw that show--and agree, she had it coming. But she always has it coming. The real question is why does Larry King put her on so much--both as a guest and as a substitute host? The answer is very clear. Ratings. The public loves her "try 'em and fry 'em" mentality, and when she's on the air, ratings go up. I hope that in a future column Josh will address what the more significant and troubling import of the media's massive coverage of the Peterson case: Guilt sells.

The public will tune in to watch a person who under our legal system is presumed innocent-- that is, a person accused but not yet tried for a heinous murder-- get crucified on tv night after night, for weeks and months. I have been in three states since the Peterson case exploded in the media--Colorado, Texas and New York --in all three, it was the topic du jour in public places like airports, hotel bars, taxicabs, beauty salons and department stores. Everyone knew Scott Peterson--and had an opinion about his guilt. Everyone knew that he dyed his hair, had an affair with a woman named Amber and was arrested with $10k in cash in San Diego while DNA tests were being on the remains of his wife and unborn child --they even knew his alibi of going fishing.

Ask yourselves, what happens when someone is found innocent? How long does the case stay in the news? Can you name even one of the 127 persons released from prison or death row after DNA proved their innocence? Of course not. There is a short AP story on the case, usually never to be mentioned again.

Guilt sells. Innocence doesn't. This is what is so sad about the massive, non-stop Peterson coverage. The media disappears when it comes to covering the innocent - because it doesn't get ratings. People aren't interested in watching cases about innocence. We might as well be living in the days of gladiators and the Roman Coliseum. It's a game, a sport to the American public.

The issue shouldn't be whether Mark Geragos gets another case or whether Nancy Grace is a disgrace to the legal profession. The real issue is why does the American viewing public tune in night after night to see a person presumed to be innocent get ravaged, tried and convicted on sheer speculation by former prosecutors, cops, forensic experts and criminologists who have no first-hand knowledge of the facts or evidence in the case?

Gary Condit, John and Patsy Ramsey--none of them were charged, let alone convicted, of the crime for which they were under investigation or "the umbrella of suspicion." Yet former prosecutors went on TV nightly proclaiming their guilt based on rank speculation.

The media is positively giddy about the Peterson case. And like it or not, the coverage is going to continue. I went to the studios five times this week for Fox and MSNBC (two of the five times I was bumped while in the chair when Bush chose the exact moment of my segments to make long winded speeches.) I turned down three more requests due to schedule conflicts. I fly back to Denver at 8 am Sunday morning, will be back on Fox at 4:35 pm EST and then again at 8pm for an hour long show covering the Laci Peterson memorial service. I have already been asked about my availability for the coming week. As they say in the media business, the story has legs.

Personally, I'm glad. I'll take every chance I can get in any case, be it Scott Peterson, John Walker Lindh, Robert Blake, Zacarias Moussaoui or anyone else, to stick up for the presumption of innocence, remind people about reasonable doubt and try to convince the viewing public to view these cases through the lens of the Constitution.

I'm glad Mark Geragos will be representing Scott Peterson. He did a great job for Susan McDougal, is media savvy --essential in defending a high-profile case--and is a seasoned, skilled defense lawyer. He will assemble a team of quality experts to assist him in investigating, preparing and presenting Scott's defense.

As for having to endure Nancy and the legions of former prosecutors who, for whatever reason, don't find anything unprofessional about going on television to voice their opinion that a person is guilty before trial, all I can say is get used to it. This is what the public has dictated it wants to watch, night after night.

Unless people stop watching and ratings go down, the Nancys and Marks are here to stay--as are we defense lawyers. Television is a business. The higher the ratings, the more the stations can charge for advertising and the more money they make. I want people to keep watching. I think we defense lawyers have a point of view that needs to be expressed at every turn. But I'd also like to see intelligent journalists like Josh Marshall cover the real issue--why does guilt sell?

< Mark Geragos Will Represent Scott Peterson | First Hand Account of the Patriot Act at Work >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort: