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.
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