Being surrounded by legal minds, it’s always interesting to take a step back and analyze the relationship between attorneys and the media. From our perspective, the defense attorneys are often hard to get ahold of, distant and sometimes, just crazy for defending who they do. Prosecutors are the “good guys,” because they’ll often speak to us and give us the allegations and updates we want.
But having spoken to one particular aspiring J.D., I’ve realized just how much the news SHAPES justice. This is why:
1. We love to have a “bad guy.”
Even in the first graf, I used the term “good guy.” Sheesh. Now, the media are supposed to be unbiased, and in political stories, we certainly aim to be. But when it comes to crime, I’ve found the more shocking, the better. The more heinous the crime, the higher it goes in the newscast. So on and so forth. Thus, when we receive a press release from police, the “bad guy” radar comes on, and I know that I for one, will look to emphasize the most jaw-dropping point in the case when I’m telling the story.
Then we balance it by using the word “allegedly.” We don’t want to convict the person, obviously. DUH. Which leads to point #2.
2. “Allegedly” does not equate innocence
Technically, it does. If you write that someone allegedly smashed a storefront window, then it’s fair. But how many of us have learned to tune out that word? You aren’t listening to the word “alleged.” You’re listening to “smashed.” As a result, in your mind, you’ve already come to believe this person did it. Done. Over.
3. People watch the news. That means jurors may watch the news.
While those who are called to jury duty aren’t allowed to be keep up with the press’ coverage of the case… oftentimes, they do. I believe it’s because it’s fascinating to see the media all over something that you are involved in. It almost makes you feel famous. At least, I think that’s how I would feel. I haven’t been on jury duty yet… but that may have just jinxed me.
Anyway, an example. Another aspiring J.D. I know is working on a case, and as soon as I found out the attorney-to-be was going to be assisting the attorney-that-is DURING THE ACTUAL TRIAL, I went online and researched the case.
These are a few of my thoughts. I recently read an article that referred to an “alleged rape victim” as “the accuser.” It certainly takes the whole meaning away from “victim,” doesn’t it? I think I’m 100% guilty of sensationalizing news stories to get someone’s attention, even if that may imply a suspect is guilty.
Then again, is this part of the job?
In which case, it’s not just that news shapes justice. It could hinder it. Hm.