In the courtroom that is the media, everything is admissible. All evidence, whether it is damaging or not, is released to the jury that is the American public. Innocent until proven guilty is not guaranteed. People are being punished just because they are accused of a crime.
Take the NFL players who are being punished by the league before they are ever convicted. Players are being suspended and even banned because of accusations and charges that have not yet been brought into a court of law. While we admit that sometimes these players do have bad behavior, we acknowledge that false accusations are possible. Unfortunately, some media outlets publish incomplete facts that further a particular opinion concerning the player’s guilt. Often times, those opinions are more like convictions. Because they are convicted in the media, these players are faced with the burden of these accusations for the rest of their lives.
It is a little different for pro athletes and those people who have chosen to be public figures, because they are already in the public eye. Many times, though, normal people accused of a crime are convicted by the media before or during a trial. The media picks up his or her case, looking for someone to make an example of. Take Casey Anthony or George Zimmerman for example. Their trials were both media circuses. There were various news outlets focusing on only the racial aspect of the Zimmerman case when there were several angles to the story.
These two were found innocent, but their lives were ruined by the publicity of their cases. They both had to go into hiding and have struggled to find jobs post-trial. We all have our own opinion on these cases and that is fine, but we should not find such joy in ruining the lives of other people. The whole point of having a judicial system is to allow those accused of a crime to get a fair trial. They are guaranteed due process, but as a society, we are not giving it to them.
When the media capitalizes on cases such as these, there are different aspects of the story flying in a million different directions. Media sources often take advantage of the trust given them by their consumers. If someone doesn’t apply due diligence in how they receive the news, they can fall prey to formulating an opinion without all the facts.
For those people who want to make sure they get the full spectrum of the story, an undue burden is placed on them. They cannot simply turn on the TV and watch one source; they have to follow the same story on multiple news sources.
The media needs to be mindful of what their job is – to report the truth while working to minimize harm to all parties involved. Wrongful accusations, or even implications, can devastate a career or a life.
It is understandable that the media needs something to fill a 24-hour news cycle and viewers and readers drive that content, but professional media should make every effort not to contort the news to fit their personal or corporate agendas.
In these situations, the blame is not only on the media, but also on society and the accused. All three aspects of this detrimental triangle add fuel to the fire. Until the media cleans up its act, society will have to be mindful of the information being funneled to them. They must make sure that they are not jumping to conclusions and that they are receiving all the facts.
Really though, it is hard to feel guilty for judging people who do wrong. This judgment should not come before a trial. Then, those people convicted of a crime will receive the punishment and criticism they deserve.