It’s really easy to sit back and believe you “know everything” about a case. This is called “perception bias” and is a well-documented phenomena in the Criminal Justice world. It’s especially true if you live in the area that the case occurred in. Watching the news and reading newspaper articles gives one a sense of expertise in any given criminal issue.
Alas, this is not so. This merely gives you proximity. Proximity does not make you any more informed than the rest of the country. I know, that’s hard to hear, but come with me on this. You know as much as anyone knows. You are not privy to the investigation or the case file. You are merely reading articles based on the information that police and other officials are releasing to the public. That’s it.
When it’s an especially “big” case, this becomes even worse. Highly publicized, sensational media makes for great TV. Everyone knows this. I am sure we all remember that sickening scene in Making A Murderer, where the producer is discussing how “Murder is hot right now.”. I don’t know about any of you, but I threw up in my mouth just a little bit with that one. Murder is murder. It is the ending of a human life. It is not something to be milked for ratings, or used to fluff up your career. (I’m lookin’ at you, Nancy Grace.)
The additional tragedy comes when the media does descend upon these cases like flies on a horse’s patoot. This puts additional pressure on the investigation and the police to solve this crime. Most homicides are not solved quickly. I blame Jerry Bruckheimer for this nonsense. Folks, most murders are never solved. Of those solved, most take months to even catch a break. They certainly are not solved in the span of an hour with frequent breaks to tell you about dish soap. With a heavy media presence in a world where most people never give a thought to the inner workings, this puts immense amounts of pressure on police and investigators to solve the case quickly. You either want it fast or you want it right. There is no having it both ways.
We have seen this time and again throughout history since the advent of the daily newspaper. Sensational murder happens and the media descends like vultures. Public outcry rises to a fevered pitch, and one of two things happens. Usually, either the wrong person is arrested, charged and convicted of said crime, or, the case is never solved. Look at the case of Jon Benet Ramsey. The media was so involved and while all of us have a pretty good idea of who did it, the constant public scrutiny made the ability to solve this crime nonexistent. How about Jack the Ripper? Again, heavy media presence, no one charged or convicted.
I am not saying the media is solely responsible for either of these two outcomes. Like the crime rate itself, there are many factors that play into a wrongful conviction or an unsolved case. I am saying that it is, however, the main factor in portions of the population claiming an expertise that they simply do not have.
Trial by media is an abhorrent, disgusting tactic. One we have seen used in cases such as the West Memphis Three, Avery/Dassey, Scott Davis, David Thorne, and Scott Peterson. If one looks hard enough, one can see common threads between these cases. Let’s look in depth.
- Each case was sensationalized almost immediately, though there was really nothing exceptionally special or brutal about each. There are just as many of these cases that are even more brutal or even more insane than these, yet you have never heard of them. It all depends on how slow it is that day in the newsroom.
- Heavy media presence in close time frame to initial discovery of crime. In the Peterson, Avery and Memphis cases, these were proceeded by missing persons. In Avery and Peterson, no missing protocol was actually adhered to and immediate murder investigations began. At the time of the investigations, this was not reported on by the media and it was believed the police were involved in search efforts when they were actually involved in evidence collection efforts. In the Scott Davis case, it was the fame of the victim that caused the immediate public attention, to say nothing of the fire at the victim’s home.
- Due to the high publicity of each case, the public outcry demanded a quick resolution to the case. The general citizenry does not understand what it actually takes to investigate crimes and therefore are ignorant to what goes into it and how long different aspects of investigation take. DNA, for example. There is a reason it takes so long. A simple DNA sample is not enough. In most cases, the strain of DNA has to be grown in order to test it properly. This takes time. TV shows like NCIS and CSI have given the impression that you can just feed a sample into a machine and it spits out a result. This is not so.
- As a result of unrealistic expectations by the public and the media, police departments will often cut corners in the investigation, thus resulting in either the apprehension of the wrong person or no apprehension at all. Most police departments are ill-equipped to handle instant fame. Murders are not a daily occurrence outside of major cities, therefore, most police departments do not handle them frequently. As such, they do not have an in-house public relations department. They are not accustomed to a sudden scrutiny of their methods or procedures.
- Media tend to invade where they are not wanted or needed and in many cases have actually compromised the crime scene and crucial evidence. This also leads to either the case never being solved or in the wrong person being convicted. How these people sleep at night knowing this is beyond me. This is true especially of the David Thorne case, where there was at least one non-police person who was admitted to the crime scene and trampled about it, thus destroying evidence and compromising another person’s freedom
- Media is not there to report facts. They are there to make a name for themselves. The pressure from their higher-ups to be the first to break a detail is immense, and they are unscrupulous in their quest for those juicy bits. We see this in the Scott Peterson case, where one reporter admits to having an “inside track” on everything that happens and is usually first to report the bits the police want her to report.
- In the quest to be the first to break, many media sources will either embellish or spin the facts or, worse yet, will simply make them up.
- In the West Memphis Three case, Avery/Dassey and David Thorne, there was involved an individual with a low IQ pressured into a false confession. Interesting that none of the ones pressured into the confession were the main person charged. Always, someone else in the case is charged and punished more severely. The confessions are then played by the media, carefully edited “for time”, and the general public does not get the full story. Many believe they have, however, and form an opinion based on this spoon-fed information.
- In every case, the public mobbed the courthouse for each and every appearance of the accused and were often interviewed by the media, thus stirring the pot of sensationalism.
- In every case, we see the District Attorney giving an inappropriate press conference upon apprehension of the suspects. Many people in the general public believe that once there is an arrest, the investigation is at an end. This is not so. Up until the first day of trial and even beyond, both attorneys and the police are still in evidence gathering mode. By giving these press conferences, the District Attorney’s office poisons not only the jury pool, but any potential eyewitnesses and other possible evidence that could either prove or disprove the accused’s innocence or guilt.
The simple fact here, folks, is that unless you have read through the case file, you are not any more informed than anyone else. Guilters love to tell truthers that we think we are experts because we watched a “tv show”. What is interesting here, however, is that they, too, have merely watched a tv show. The news is a tv show. That’s it. The difference, however, is a truther sees a tv show and then proceeds to research what they saw in order to either flesh out their beliefs or debunk the show itself. A guilter buys what the media tells him wholesale and then stands on the other side of the fence screaming about how “uninformed” the truthers are.
I have seen, recently, that there are truthers for one case who will morph into a guilter in another case simply because they live in the area. This is interesting to me. They will decry the guilter in the case they believe in as not being informed because they didn’t research, etc, but will claim to have omnipotent knowledge of the case they live close to simply by virtue of living nearby. This sort of “blinders-on” philosophy is precisely why there are so many wrongful convictions. Truthers are not out to prove innocence. That is why they are not called “innocencers”. They are out for the truth, whether the party winds up guilty or innocent is immaterial. Typically, truthers are more concerned with the dirty case run by the state. Guilters do not care how dirty the case was, so long as the convicted stays in jail. There is an inherent flaw in this logic.
Standards must be upheld. Even if the right person is in prison, the dirty case run by the cops produces a huge issue. That is, if they are guilty, the chances of them getting out on a technicality due to a dirty investigation is very high. Then we have a killer running about and it’s all the police officers fault. If they are innocent, this becomes even more tragic. In the case of Scott Peterson, if he is not responsible for her murder, do you think it is justice to have Laci’s husband and Connor’s father in prison and their killer actually roaming free? If he did do it, do you think it is justice to have their killer released because the police department screwed the pooch?
This is the issue here, people. Not just the guilt or innocence of the accused. It is the problem of police departments cutting corners to satisfy a public that doesn’t understand the first thing about murder investigation. It is the issue of the media over-sensationalizing cases and stoking the flames to create that public outcry for ratings. Not to keep you, the public, informed. Not to bring the killer to justice. For ratings. That’s it. For money. At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. Money. Remember that, and do your own research before you a. form an opinion on anything and b. degrade another person’s opinion simply because you live nearby. Your living close to where the crime occurred does not make you an expert. It makes you geographically close to the case.
To put this another way, did you ever have a class in school where you actually were not that good in the subject? Don’t lie to yourself, you know you did. Well, if being in the same geographical location as the kid who got perfect marks didn’t consequently give you perfect marks, then neither does living in the same town as a sensational crime give you omnipotent knowledge into what actually happened.
The ability to keep an open mind and to form opinions based on independent research is the mark of a truly intelligent and wise person. The ability to stick to your principles even when they are unpopular among the general population means you have integrity. Go forth and research, my friends. And remember to always follow the evidence.
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