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20 November 2017
Out of Jail, but Still Imprisoned: The Media’s Impact on Criminal Justice
Everyone loves a good crime story, and because of that love, the media loves to rush in immediately to cover the story. Due to the frequent lack of information on a new case, the media tends to start coverage by calling in experts and using generalizations. There is also an unfortunate tendency to skip over the truth in order to further a narrative. The result of such careless behavior is often a rush to judgment. By the time the case actually gets to trial, the public will often have convicted the defendant at least in their minds, so if a jury that has the benefit of hearing all of the evidence decides on a verdict of not guilty, the defendant then has to deal with the fact the public views them as guilty even though they were exonerated.
Contrary to the Actual Justice System
The problem with the media is that they do not follow the rules of evidence. They tend to pick and choose their facts that support whatever they find politically correct, or worse, they insert they own version of the story that may have little to do with the facts, One of the best examples of this was after the Columbine school shooting when the media created a narrative of jocks versus geeks, and made the story one of bullying. No evidence of bullying ever emerged, but by the time those stories were revealed to be false, the media had moved onto the next big crime story (Cullen, 2009).
The media does have a job to do, but it must always be kept in mind that they are ultimately a business and that means they always have to keep an eye on the bottom line. In other words they are driven by an economic motive rather than truly wanting justice to be served accurately (Beale, 2006). This desire for increased ratings has caused the media to overstep its bounds with the results being disastrous to individuals. People have been tried and found not guilty, but their lives are forever ruined. People have the right to a fair trial, which they may or may not receive once the media meddles with their story. The media is just as culpable when they fire the public up so much that the law enforcement and prosecutors often rush to trial without being fully prepared. Those cases often end in acquittals or hung juries, and justice is not served.
One of the biggest problems is that the media now has a full twenty-four hours to fill with programming for each day. Both cable channels and internet news sites always want information instantly and the criminal justice system is not best served by rushing the story. The result is that huge errors are made and eventually people find themselves free, but still convicted in the minds of the public.
Beale, S. S. (2006). The news media’s influence on criminal justice policy: How market-driven news promotes punitiveness. William & Mary Law Revue, 48, 397.
Cullen, D. (2009). Columbine. New York: Hachette Book Group.
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