Friday, July 5, 2013

Nancy Grace and the Running Man

For well over a year I've been growing increasingly aggravated over the farce that is Court TV (now truTV), as well as its imitators and enablers (that includes you, O'Reilly). What promotes itself as vitally important programming in the public interest, is little more than a parade of modern day Madame Dafarges delightfully waiting for the next head to fall.

Chief among the beneficiaries is the lamentable Nancy Grace. Controversial, opinionated, and hard-as-nails, there is no pretense in Grace as she appears to make no attempt to be an unbiased observer. She is and was, first and foremost, a prosecutor. On several occasions the Supreme Court of Georgia has criticized her prosecutorial conduct. In one case a three-judge panel "criticized Grace for not following her obligations to disclose to the defendant's lawyer information about other possible suspects."

The Supreme Court of Georgia, commenting on Grace's conduct as a prosecutor, concluded "the conduct of the prosecuting attorney in this case demonstrated her disregard of the notions of due process and fairness, and was inexcusable." Additionally, the 11th Circuit "found it hard to believe that Grace did not knowingly use a detective's false testimony that there were no other suspects."

In a 1994 appeal the Georgia Supreme Court reversed one of her convictions because, in her zeal, she had "exceeded the wide latitude of closing argument" by introducing crimes that were not at issue. As a capper, two individuals (both young mothers suspected of inadequate child care) subjected to Grace's aggressive interviewing style, committed suicide shortly thereafter (Grace settled the latter case out of court).

Although more telegenic and less strident, Jane Velez-Mitchell regularly takes the prosecutorial side of the televised cases. However, unlike Grace, she accomplishes this in a low-key, apparently thoughtful manner - as a result she is frequently asked to make guest appearances on other programs to give her view on current cases. She has authored several books and received numerous honors (her biography, as outlined on Wikipedia, reveals that she is partially Hispanic, an animal rights advocate, a vegan, a recovering addict, and a lesbian).

The third major player in these courtroom dramas is Vinnie Politan. Though more subdued than the others, Vinnie regularly sides with the prosecution. His background is not anywhere near as exciting or remarkable as those of Grace/Velez-Mitchell, and other than at one time being a lawyer and TV news personality, I can find nothing (other than his enthusiasm) that distinguishes him for his current role.

He does, however, present a wide variety of lawyer/guest commentators (unpaid?). Some, it has to be admitted, will occasionally make a case for the defense providing at least a modest nod toward even-handedness.

But what all three have in common was shown when the notorious Casey Anthony was found not guilty by a jury! (Can you imagine that? Twelve individuals, tried and true, disagreed with collective minds of the nation's self-appointed TV jurists.) The outrage they displayed that day, and which continues, was remarkable. And their audiences, by now convinced that Anthony was the devil-incarnate, were equally disturbed, angry, and vociferous. 

(This hate [and that IS the proper word] lingers as Anthony is regularly followed, filmed, critiqued, and denied a modicum of privacy - the things to which exonerated individuals are traditionally entitled.)

Shortly thereafter, insult was added to the collective injury when, after almost five grueling (and repetitive) months of examinations and cross-examinations, the penalty phase of Jodi Arias' case resulted in a hung jury. The most notable thing about that trial was the prosecuting attorney, a nasty little man who stormed up and down, yelled at every witness, and challenged every utterance; and, until the verdict was announced, became a minor rock star to a bevy of adoring middle aged women who, apparently with nothing better to do, traveled miles to witness his performances.

This post has been a longtime in the development stage and I'm brining it forward now because of the pro-defense drift taking place in the George Zimmerman trial in Florida. There has been a consistent insistence that this case should never have proceeded to trial; that it was butchered early by a seriously mis-edited 911 tape by NBC, followed by rallies and marches led by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and the presidential contribution "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

Regardless of the strengths or weaknesses of this case, a trial became inevitable…the media-generated beast had to be fed. Unfortunately, elements of the African-American community are not being shy in threatening repercussions should anything but a "guilty" verdict by reached. This may, of course, be a tactic aimed at influencing a verdict, but a group of local pastors is concerned enough to be working on post-trial efforts to maintain calm. These include, I understand, an appeal to members of the World Champion Miami Heat to make themselves available should it become necessary.

None of this is good. Neither side will "win." However, no one old enough to recall the case, can forget the aftermath of the Rodney King trial. That a repeat is even a remote possibility demonstrates that, despite advances in racial equality, there has been little progress in race relations. 

Sad to say, but speaking from a public safety perspective, a guilty verdict would, in the short run, be the better option…and everyone of those six jurors is well aware of this. A hung jury might seem appealing but might not the Trayvon partisans see this, too, as a miscarriage?

Perhaps we ought to adopt a system similar to that seen in the Schwarzenegger movie, "The Running Man." The arrested are just assumed guilty and, in a "trial by TV," the audience is asked to select an executioner. (The unarmed condemned does have an opportunity to survive, IF he can escape the onslaught of four sadistic killers). It would rid us of the Bread and Circuses/Nancy Grace contingent which adds nothing positive to the common good and, quite possibly, does irremediable harm.