Thursday, May 30, 2013

The carnival around pretty white girls, sex and murder


Murders are almost always ugly. Never mind the killer's carefully chosen story in the courtroom or last words before execution. What victim hasn’t pled for his life as his life's blood literally drained from him? What family hasn’t suffered after the murder of a loved one, whether that murder was the result of a instantly-killing drive-by shooting or 29 stab wounds?

Jodi Arias may be a liar with a major personality disorder, but there are few if any indicators that she represents a risk to commit future acts of violence. She has no history of sociopathic acts. Her murder of Travis Alexander was senseless and horrible, but it has captured the media’s attention only because she is an attractive, young, whitefemale from an at least arguably middle-class environment. And also because sex sells, and Arias and Alexander had the texts and emails to prove young people like to get it on. So what? Completely irrelevant legally, and nothing new in the universe.

I recorded some of the Arias trial and watched it remote in hand, to blast past the astounding number of commercial interruptions to actual courtroom activity wedged into increasingly shrill and silly shows by Vinnie, Drew, Nancy, Jane and their C-list of “expert” lawyers and psychologists, one of whom bills herself as “the human lie detector.”

We are better served by having unfettered access to the judicial branch of our government. For a time in the 1990s it seemed that might be possible with CourtTV’s gavel-to-gavel coverage helmed by genuine class acts like veteran lawyer and journalist Fred Graham and a slew of serious younger commentators like Terry Moran and Dan Abrams, Roger Cossack, Catherine Crier and Cynthia McFadden. Greta van Susteren and even Nancy Grace (!) were at least somewhat serious then.

But the OJ Simpson trial scared off a lot of judges from allowing cameras in their courtrooms, and soon CourtTV began to supplement its schedule with B-minus cop shows. CourtTV begat TruTV, which morphed into HLN, the white trash version of CNN.

Beth Karas is the only moderate, reasoned and well-seasoned reporter left, and has to share her time with the more sensational Jean Casarez. There are limited number of truly well-known trial lawyers and legal reporters willing to weigh in on national TV, and I never saw any of them on HLN, CNN, or any of the few channels that give ANY airtime to what is a very ordinary murder. (You may want to count Jeffrey Toobin on CNN, but I don’t.)

It all adds up to a sort of voyeuristic non-analysis by people whose main qualification is how loud he can speak on a Jerry Springer-style television show.

Jodi Arias's guilt has never been in doubt. But her penalty should have been and, as it turns out, it was. She will never get out of prison. Sentence Jodi Arias to life and move on to a new case with real issues.

And bring back Fred Graham and CourtTV.

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