CRIME AND ITS FASCINATIONS : MEDIA ISSUES — DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV

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PART IV : IMPEDIMENTS TO TRIAL PREPARATION — MEDIA ISSUES

Wow. That’s just about all we can say by way of a start to this, the fourth in Here and Sphere’s “Crime and Its Fascinations” op-ed series.

Wow.

No sooner has the typhoon of outrage and gloating over the verdict in People v. Zimmerman begun to coalesce than along comes Rolling Stone magazine with its Dzhokhar Tsarnaev cover, and off we go, chasing the next jet scream in this season’s long and obsessive flight of major criminal airplanes.

We at Here and Sphere like jet flight as much as the next journal, so let’s say it : Rolling Stone is to be congratulated, journalistically, for doing its job : getting and telling a story that people want to know and have every right to know. Telling the story AND featuring it : because yes, it IS a feature story. Dzhokhar Tsarnaevs do not come along every day. How DOES a 19-year old boy — just two years older than Trayvon Martin — go from being a pot-smoking party guy to a dedicated Islamo-terrorist ? Of course we want to try to know. Human life is a mystery: it is a mystery that we all live a part of. Why shouldn’t we want to know as much as we can about one of the most mysterious mysteries of the human mystery ?

And who would dare, or presume, to upbraid us, or the media that serve us, for featuring and reading this story ? What motive arises in the mind of a person who condemns a news medium for doing its job ? We vigorously oppose any such motive.

We at Here and Sphere commit this to you : if we get a story that people want to know, and is not on its face libellous, we will research it, confirm its factual assertions, and publish it.

The larger issue, though, is that media coverage of major criminal trials always arouses controversy, much of which is damaging to justice. Media coverage of criminal cases should be used for information, not for judgment. Judgment is the province of the jury. We can form an opinion, but as recent trials have made clear, our opinion is likely to miss the mark. Often, too, it is the opinions that most miss the mark that make the loudest cry — cries heard all too readily by prosecutors,. who face election and act to convict someone — anyone — rather than to pursue their mission, which is justice, not scapegoating. A major portion of people wrongly convicted are so because media coverage and the furor it arouses in the public intimidate prosecutors.

Media coverage and resulting anger endangers jurors, too. That is why many juries in passion-arousing criminal trials go unnamed and why they deliberate in sequester. The same anger threatens defense lawyers. We say that we accord every accused his or her day in court, including competent defense attorneys. We say it; but when our words are put to the test, we often voice the opposite.

Justice demands that we defend the rights of the most heinous accused all the more strongly. An unjust trial exonerates the accused and shames those who enabled injustice.

But it begins now: the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who faces almost certain conviction of a terror crime as ghoulishly casual as it was grievously hurtful to our city’s people, community, and spirit. Do we want to try to understand how he got to here ? You bet we do. Does Tsarnaev merit every facet of the defense rights enshrined in our law and Constitution ? You bet he does. And so does “Whitey” Bulger, whose long and gruesome trial is nearing its mid-point. And so does Aaron Hernandez, soon to go to trial in his own peck of tsouris.

Here and Sphere will see you in Massachusetts Federal court. And see Rolling Stone’s report on the trial as well.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

NEXT : PART V : THE TRIAL

GUEST EDITORIAL : RACISM AND THE MEDIA, IN LIGHT OF THE TRAYVON MARTIN CASE

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By Curtis Atchison, house music DJ and track producer

“We’re all blitzed with the same images, propaganda and distorted information wherever we turn. Mainstream media (regardless of ideological leanings) tends to be nothing more than overgeneralized information, watered down for the lowest common denominator to ingest.
“I know when I was growing up, I saw much of the same gripes and complaints people are voicing today. But I did have a mother who was willing to explain things to me the best way she knew how, without trying to make it about “white people” or “black people”. She wanted to make sure things were as objective as possible so I could form my own opinions, but kept me in line to make sure at the very least I wouldn’t physically act out on any discriminations or bigotries I developed. That’s the best she could do, and because of my love for my mother that’s the best I can try to live up to.

“Case in point… right now I’m helping to raise four nieces and nephews in my family. They all know I’m in a committed relationship with another man of a different skin color. My family has opened their arms to him, and out of respect for me they have the kids refer to him as “Uncle” even though we’re not married. They run up to him, give him hugs & kisses and show him love that only another family member could give. But once in a while they do come in with conflicting messages about how life is “supposed to be”. I know they hear many negative things about “white people”. But then they see my partner and the love he bestows and they aren’t able to make the connection between their newly “acquired knowledge” and the man they see in front of them. Even though he’s white, they grew up thinking that he was “Italian” and not “white”.

Same thing on an LGBT level. The kids have no problem jumping into our arms and always want to stay with “the Uncles”. But I know they hear messages from other outside sources about how the LGBT lifestyle is a sin and all that other stuff. And occasionally, those thoughts come into the home whenever they see me kiss my partner. The six year old on rare occasions will go, “Ewww! You two kissed!” But in the next five minutes, he’s asking us when we get married how would they know who the bride is?

IMO, media and outside forces can only do so much to mold minds. If that was your only connection to learning about society, I could see how that could affect you negatively. Beyond that, one needs to be surrounded by loving people who can help them see things through the headlines and the generalizations. OK, now I’m babbling and I have a new mix show to work on…”