This guest post was written by Myles Alderman ’14, a molecular biology major from West Hartford, Connecticut.
When religious conservatives choose Bible segments to support a position that liberals find offensive, they are frequently attacked by the media for their biased selection. Yet when the media wants to prematurely judge a case before the investigation is complete and the facts are known, they carefully select the laws and constitutional amendments that advance their objective.
In the United States, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty (Coffin v. United States). Journalists demand their First Amendment rights that allow them to report selected facts, but seem perfectly happy to neglect others’ rights under the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Constitution states that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” These words seem forgotten sometimes, most recently in the Trayvon Martin case.
Around campus today, people in hooded sweatshirts are making a statement about the Martin case. But history shows that something far more dangerous is evident, too: a group of people, not a jury, have determined the guilt of an alleged perpetrator, George Zimmerman, without considering evidence from the state or even the outcome of a fair trial. When protests throughout the country demand that Zimmerman be held responsible, a fair trial is no longer possible for this man. Just the other day, the New Black Panthers posted a $10,000 reward for the “capture” of Zimmerman. Spike Lee tweeted a phone number he thought was Zimmerman’s. We learn in school about the inequalities of the past, when men were killed without a fair trial for crimes they didn’t commit. How men were hunted down like animals to be found, beaten and hung. When dozens of convictions are overturned every year by new evidence, it is irresponsible of us, especially those who protest in the name of justice, to be the judge, jury and even executioner without knowing all the facts? We only know what the media has decided to share with us, and which facts we choose to accept. This is not justice.
Martin’s story, as sad as it is, is only the latest event used by the media to make money. During the Kaylee Anthony abduction, CNN’s Nancy Grace had no doubt who the abductor and murder was, insisting it was Casey Anthony even after she was acquitted, saying that “the devil is dancing tonight.” The First Amendment, especially freedom of the press to cover trials, is vital to securing freedom from oppression by the government. But that freedom should not be used by the media as a sword to proclaim the guilt of a man or woman before the trial has even commenced. There has been a drastic change in the motive of the media over the past forty years. Gone are the likes of Walter Cronkite and the old CBS news, where information was presented without editorial interpretation. Today, we are told what to think directly by the Anderson Coopers, Rachel Maddows and Nancy Graces of the airwaves, and indirectly by their producers who select which evidence to air. Just the other day, CNN cut off Zimmerman’s brother mid-sentence because they didn’t like what he was saying. The purpose of televised news used to be to get information, but when was the last time you heard the words alleged or allegedly on the news? With the internet and a 24-hour news cycle, these talking heads cannot sell information because it’s available for free. Instead, they sell conflict, making money by promoting debate, fear and hatred.
The media is also selling power: now, for the low price of watching advertisements and giving up your freedom of thought, you can tune in and become your own jury and judge while the media plays the lawyers, with Fox News on one side and CNN on the other. The difference is that there is no code of conduct for the media (as seen in the News of the World scandal), no difficult entrance exam and no legal or ethical obligation. In fact, the media has free reign to say whatever it likes, even if it is false and only tells one side of the story. Who will hold the media accountable? The government cannot. The media itself will not. So the people of the United States must.