Media and the Casey Anthony Trial

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A look at why the Casey Anthony trial got so much media attention, and the nature of media in these cases.

Ted Simons: Why did the Casey Anthony trial receive so much media coverage? Was it the nature of the crime? The nature of the defendant? The nature of the media or the nature of media consumers? Here to talk about the trial is Stephen Doig. He's a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Thanks for joining us tonight.

Stephen Doig: My pleasure.

Ted Simons: What's, first of all, before we answer that long question there, grade the media's performance in cover this trial.

Stephen Doig: The trouble with the media is it's encompasses everything and I think newspapers did a fine job. It was fine, actually most broadcast, you know, like straight TV news was fine. It was the cable channels that live on the number of eyeballs they can attract and those right ones that really went crazy. And, of course, the sort of the worst offender was headline news and Nancy Grace who was just frothing through the whole three years of it and now her head is going to explode.

Ted Simons: Talk about the journalistic ethics of having a clearly biased pundit actually headlining the coverage, anchoring the coverage there. That seems problematic.

Stephen Doig: Well, to me, the problematic thing about, in fact, the disregard so much of the public has about the news media is we see people like Nancy Grace and they get treated as though they were the news media. Nancy Grace is an entertainer and so I don't see her as a colleague. She has a shtick and she plays it well. It certainly increased her ratings but that wasn't, you know, that is an ethical problem I guess something for headline news to worry about but I don't see that as a media ethics problem.

Ted Simons: The original question, why this particular trial got so much coverage? You got an attractive defendant. You have a very cute child. You have got a horrific crime and apparently you have got Chris -- was anyone anywhere telling the truth about anything in this whole trial? It seemed like the stories were all over the place. How is that not a big story?

Stephen Doig: That's a good question. I personally didn't watch it. So I don't know a lot of the details about all those things that weren't or weren't said about it. The -- any number of trials could be sort of arbitrarily chosen as the ones to cover. I looked up something today. There are about roughly 350 children, two and under, that are murdered each year in this country. That's like one a day. Why were the other 349 who were killed in 2008, why wasn't there this attention on their cases? I don't know. Headline news particularly Nancy Grace who has made a real career off the picking a particular country. I have forgotten the name of her. The girl that disappeared in Aruba. That was her previous obsession and that became a, you know, a thing that she just has covered incessantly since then.

Ted Simons: You mentioned an obsession and something that they cover and just relentless coverage and yet headline news ratings doubled during this trial.

Stephen Doig: Well, it's the gawk effect, basically. Even I when I drive past an auto accident on the road, I will turn and look. And that's what particularly cable news lives for the number of eyeballs that it can attract. So they will do anything to get that. I mean, the look at the various pundits that take ever more extreme views. The reason why is they can get people to talk about that.

Ted Simons: How do you get journalism, you are a professor, how do you tell students that, yes, you can double your ratings by X but the journalistically ethical way of doing things is Y. But X is job security. X keeps us on the air.

Stephen Doig: That's a good question. I would hope that the, our students at least pick up the sense of mission that a good journalist should have about telling a story fairly and objectively. That clearly is not the thing for some journalists. Nancy Grace, again, an entertainer. She makes no claim at all about objectivity. In fact, she had convicted Ms. Anthony, years ago, actually, the whole tot mom thing, she reduced her to a stereotype.
Ted Simons: Impact of Facebook groups and iphone apps and the Twitter, the whole social media, that kind of netherworld that very much a part of the media. What was the impact on the trial?

Stephen Doig: Right. If you remember the Frankenstein movies when the mob would come in with the pitchforks and the torches, this is the modern way of gathering that kind of mob. And by, you know, if making it easy to gather together a group of people who want to believe a particular thing that is being fed by one segment of the media, it becomes very easy to make them very visible and loud.

Ted Simons: It sounds like this is almost similar to what we have some folks who only watch fox news. And you have some folks that will only watch MSNBC and some folks, a lot of folks would only watch Nancy Grace because they agree with her.

Stephen Doig: Right.

Ted Simons: It's happening all, even in regular stories as opposed to network and home.

Stephen Doig: Well, she has taken on the mantle which has worked for her at least financially, of being the outraged member of the public who wants to execute every criminal. And there is absolutely a sentiment like that out there. So people can hear their own view reflected back at them but it was comforting.

Ted Simons: Which is comforting, but not necessarily what journalism is all about. What does this say about what journalism is all about these days? And where it's going?

Stephen Doig: Well, the larger journalism industry is in various kinds of financial straits so there are, there are those even on, I like to think of the saner newspaper side of it all. But even on my side there are journalists who will do things that 10 years ago we wouldn't be, we wouldn't be doing more to get stories. Certainly broadcast because of the immediacy of ratings and the idea they have to have audience there overnight ratings and so on. It's almost impossible to avoid that pressure.

Ted Simons: Last question. Did the fact that a two-year-old child was brutally murdered, did that get lost in the coverage?

Stephen Doig: There was a lot of, you know, talk about it. But I think the thing that really drove most of the attention right now is on, you know, let's have revenge on -- what's her name? Casey Anthony and when that revenge lust wasn't satisfied that's what's caused all the attention. Yeah, I think basically the victim herself is probably not the thing that's in most people's mind right now.

Ted Simons: Steve, do to see you here. Thanks for joining us.

Stephen Doig: My pleasure.

Stephen Doig: ASU Journalism Professor

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