Sunday, July 10, 2011

Harry Potter and the Lost Crusade

The countdown has begun. After years of buildup, the final chapter is at hand. Crowds are forming, many camping out for days in anticipation of the opening of doors. All minds are on the conclusion of the saga, with little talk of anything else. It is the most anticipated media event of the year.

And it will take place the same week as the release of the final Harry Potter movie.

Orlando is a city renown for entertainment. Its amusement parks draw millions of visitors annually, with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter the latest and most popular of Universal Studios’ attractions. Yet the focus of most Orlando eyes this week will be not on amusement park rides or cinematic premieres, but on the doors of the county jail, from which Casey Anthony will soon emerge a free woman.

It was not supposed to end this way. The talking heads at HLN (new motto: “All Casey Anthony, All The Time”) assured us that she would be convicted of first-degree murder. When the CNN affiliate decided to alter its format from news to scandal, it expected to carry the story through its logical conclusion: Casey Anthony’s death at the hands of the State.

Yet something happened on the way to better ratings. Despite all assurances, despite network plans to further enhance its coverage of the story, a jury of twelve convened and found Anthony “not guilty” of the most serious charges against her. They acknowledged that she lied to police, and Anthony’s final days in custody will complete a four-year sentence imposed by the judge on those charges. But there will be no execution, no stories about death row appeals or Anthony’s last days on earth. Instead, Anthony will emerge from the Orlando jail to face angry crowds, civil litigation, and disappointed “journalists.”

The media personalities at HLN are trying to make the most of a bad situation. With their credibility questioned, they are attacking the intelligence of the jury and the effectiveness of our judicial system.

HLN’s Nancy Grace, the self-anointed leader of the “Anthony Death Sentence” movement, an apparent graduate of the Hogwarts School of Journalism, would prefer to believe that Lord Voldemort cast a spell on the proceedings. It would be easier to blame the “not guilty” verdict on dark powers, rather than inconclusive evidence and prosecutorial overreach.

But, with Anthony’s image fading from our television screens, the focus of public frustration and scrutiny is increasingly shifting to television commentators and legal analysts. The public feels manipulated and misled by Grace and her counterparts, who may have violated a public trust by placing self-interest before journalistic integrity.

Nancy Grace refuses to acknowledge either responsibility or defeat. She continues to highlight Anthony on her nightly show, refusing to refer to her by name, and instead calling her “Tot Mom.” She has gone on the offensive against those who would find fault with her approach to the case – yet arrogance and self-righteousness make for bad television.

After the jury returned its verdict, a friend confessed that she would watch Nancy Grace that evening because she wanted “to see her head explode.” Had HLN’s management arranged for such a spectacle, ratings would have been substantially higher.

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