Vail Daily column: Murder trials being used as entertainment?
By the time you are reading this column, the Jodi Arias murder trial in Arizona will be history. I use that phrase — “will be history” — only in the colloquial sense as there is nothing truly historic about it.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “historic” as “a chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes.” Note the word “significant” in the definition.
While there is nothing “significant” about the Arias case — except, of course, to the players and their families and, most significantly, to the victim — the case has captured the imagination of a certain segment of the media.
As I used the word “historic” deliberately, so too did I intentionally employ the word “players” in the preceding paragraph. For while the Arias case involves the brutal, real-world death of a young man, the case is treated as if it is a cast of characters populating a soap opera and is comprised of “players” on a stage. There is something prurient, wrong and deeply disturbing about this.
When the towers fell on 9/11, the media was rightly in frenzy, and images of that horrible day commandeered the airways. This was proper and correct. 9/11 was historic and the “need to know” to try to make sense of what had happened was essential. The Arias trial, the Anthony trial before it, and the O.J. trial before that are nothing like that. Since when did murder become the focus of our entertainment?
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Starting with the O.J. trial and progressing through the Anthony and Arias trials, coverage has been 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I venture to say, that while not as widely dispersed, those media purveyors who have peddled this stuff have given it as much time — if not more — than matters, such as 9/11, of truly historic and consequential import.
Without meaning any disrespect, the Anthony and Arias trials are, sadly, run of the mill. With disturbing frequency in this county, parents kill their children, lovers kill their mates and jilted lovers lash out at who has hurt them. Even in the O.J. trial — studded as it was with celebrity — there was nothing new under the sun. Two innocents died a violent death they did not deserve.
Were these cases not “made for TV,” none of them would have dragged out so interminably long. The Arias case — had it not been vaunted in a chase for ratings by HLN and others — would have taken a week or less to try, not the three-months-and-counting that it has dragged on. In my opinion anyway, the only reason these cases consumed so much time and resource (remember, the taxpayers are paying for the “privilege” of this “show” — the prosecutors, judge, court report, bailiffs and so on, do not work for free) is because the antagonists and protagonists in each of them were sexy, celebrities or otherwise attractive, made, in other words, for TV.
The Anthony case featured a gorgeous little girl who deserved better than the family that she got. Her mother — an arguably physically attractive woman — came complete with raucous party photos, a pathological ability to prevaricate and a compelling story of dysfunction of the daddy-abused-me variety and others. This made for gripping daytime drama. At least, that is, until you pause to remember that the precious child who was taken suffered unspeakable violence against her and was discarded in a field like so much unwanted garbage.
The Arias case is similar. Again, the accused is, at least to some tastes, an arguably physically attractive young woman. Like Anthony, her skills of fabrication and invention seem truly without limit. Better still, at least so far as television ratings go, there are salacious details aplenty to be had, from racy nude photos of both she and the lover who rejected her, to the most intimate details of their sex lives. But remember, someone died here, not in fiction but in actuality. He was stabbed repeatedly, had his throat slit from one ear to the other and was shot in the head.
O.J. was, of course, cloaked with celebrity and, in his case anyway, the story fell into the trope of “oh how the mighty have fallen” which has antecedents even in the Bible.
Each of these, however, should be private tragedies rather than play productions staged for the public amusement. In each, young people died violent and unnecessary deaths. Should we consume their tragedies with our beer and popcorn in front of our TVs?
Mind you, I am not advocating closed courtrooms or clandestine proceedings. As Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter once famously observed, “the best disinfectant is sunlight.” But shouldn’t it trouble us when spectators line up hours before each trial day to snag tickets to the “show” and then sell them, as if on StubHub? Shouldn’t it trouble us equally when a murder trial is featured on Entertainment Tonight? I wish I were kidding but I’m not. And what about Nancy Grace who has made a career out of salaciousness, pre-judgment, stereotyping, and priming prejudice and tribal fires?
Murder trials as entertainment?
No. We should be better than that.
Shame on the media that perpetuates this stuff. And shame on us for allowing ourselves to be meekly led there.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECOTV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his e-mail addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.