A warm All Things Crime Blog welcome to Rick Stack, former Assistant U.S. Attorney and superbly balanced All Things Crime Blog commenter. 

by Rick Stack

It is readily apparent that a great deal of misinformation and propaganda is involved in the media-hype surrounding various “high profile” trials including those of Jodi Arias and Casey Anthony. it wasn’t always this way, however, and our society’s obsession with the next big “Trial of the Century” can be traced back to certain key events.

First, in the late 1990′s, President Clinton deregulated the media and allowed ownership of the media to be concentrated in the hands of a very few families (i.e., the Murdoch News Empire). This, in effect, led to the actual news “being cancelled.” Instead of being required to serve the “public interest” as a condition of their continued license to broadcast on the public airwaves, the news divisions of the networks were forced to become profit centers rather than the “loss leaders” they had been during the Murrow-Cronkite-Chancellor-Brinkley-Rather era.

lifeIn order to make profits, the networks closed down their news-gathering offices (foreign and domestic bureaus) and focused on lower-cost, easy to cover stories, like selected criminal trials and “human interest” stories, to the exclusion of real reporting on real issues. Sensational trials, especially those with titillating facts and physically attractive defendants or victims, attract higher-ratings and the desired 18-35 year old demographic base to which advertisers flock. As the adage goes: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Today’s conglomerate-based media owners (once again Murdoch comes to mind) prefer to have the masses focus on tearing each other down and apart rather than addressing real social problems (e.g.; witness the lack of electronic media coverage of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in 2011).

Second, the wall-to-wall TV coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial in the mid-1990′s, spawned the careers of a new generation of media-trial watchers (Dan Abrams, Jeffrey Toobin, Jane Velez-Mitchell, etc.), and made the attorneys, judges, and even key witnesses in the case famous (attorneys Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Barry Scheck, Robert Kardashian; trial judge Lance Ito; witnesses Kato Kaelin, Henry Lee, and Michael Baden), and gave rise to an entirely new media construct: the 24-hour trial channel (the now-defunct Court TV).

life6So many people watched the O.J. trial on a daily basis during the mid-1990′s, that the economies of Los Angeles (and possibly elsewhere) began to suffer because everyone without a job stayed home to watch the life9trial coverage instead of patronizing local businesses. Media moguls realized that they were onto something with this new real-crime TV model, and they decided to expand it into their prime-time offerings. Around the year 2000, “reality TV shows” began to take hold across the broadcast spectrum (Survivor, Big Brother, Bachelor/Bachelorette, Living With the Kardashians, etc.). This new genre of  television offerings “enabled” people to live their lives vicariously through the televised exploits of the shows’ “contestants” whom, depending on what the script called for, were to be either canonized or vilified.

Third, due to the 24-hour news cycle, the cable networks were forced to fill their allotted time with the banal drivel provided by trial pundits like Nancy Grace(less), Geraldo Rivera, etc. Those broadcasting hours are very easily (and cheaply) filled with a hash, rehash, and re-rehash of the latest details of the current “Trial of the Century.”

life4Finally, people who “do not have a life” can focus their energies on the latest “demon-defendant” and somehow fool themselves into believing that the much desired conviction and punishment of that person will somehow allay their own problems (i.e., unemployment, boredom, mental illness, etc.). This, in turn keeps people from searching for solutions to their own actual predicaments. Why take a long, hard look at yourself and your family’s issues and problems when you can easily and rather effortlessly divert your attention 24/7 onto the latest media-hyped bad guy — or more often, as the “trials of the century” clearly demonstrate, “bad girl”? Unfortunately, the habit of devouring media-hype is now so firmly established in the psyches (and daily viewing habits) of literally millions of Americans that this enervating phenomenon is unlikely to change any time soon.


rikRick Stack, a native Iowan, is a former Assistant United States Attorney who currently practices civil and criminal tax litigation in the Los Angeles area with Brager Tax Law Group. His interests include fitness, hiking, politics, Chicago sports teams, Big Ten and Pac 12 football, cats, and All Things Crime Blog.



3 Responses to The Evolution of Media-Hype and the Invention of the “Trial of the Century!”

  1. BJW Nashe says:

    Thanks Rick, for clearly explaining the economic realities underlying the shift from “news” to “entertainment.” In his essay on toxic talk radio (“Host”) David Foster Wallace observed that one result of the media conglomerate takeover was a kind of extreme relativism where there are no longer any “facts” but rather myriad points of view and endless spin. This kaleidoscopic fragmentation would seem to be at odds with the conservative need for absolute truth (as Wallace points out). Yet I wonder whether the pure relativism has itself become homogenized and flattened. The one constant unifying theme I find across the entire corporate media spectrum is dehumanization. There is no possibility of any meaningful human interaction there. This is certainly the case with all of the “trial coverage.” Obviously, any system of dehumanization needs to be at least changed, if not totally destroyed.

  2. Judy says:

    Only prob is Jodi was number one

  3. Rick says:

    Thanks for the kudos, BJW. Do you have a link to the David Foster Wallace essay? I’d like to read it.

    As you’ve aptly indicated, facts are in short supply in the media these days, with the proliferation of 24 hour “news” channels, which largely pitch the conventional wisdom (opinions) of the power brokers. The dehumanization to which you refer is also evident in the commercials shown on TV, which focus on people as consumers rather than as citizens and thereby commodify human life. The message is that human beings have no intrinsic value except to the extent that they can generate profits for corporations. The problem with this approach is that we are running out of resources to consume and we have only one Earth. Capitalism worked fine as long as there were untapped resources that could be exploited (i.e., settlement of the New World, slavery, the expansion westward across North America, colonialization, etc.). However, once there are no longer any resources to steal, capitalism begins to devour itself and the planet.

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