The big concern with saturation media coverage of trials is that juries will be unduly swayed by that which happens outside the courtroom. But that’s not necessarily what the data show. Communications scholar William Loges argues that press hype has no discernible effect on trial outcome. Loges makes his case for Mike.
MIKE PESCA: Recently, two researchers looked at 300 federal murder trials from 1993 to '95. They researched every news story written about those trials. William E. Loges of Oregon State University is co-author of Free Press vs. Fair Trials: Examining Publicity's Role in Trial Outcomes. Thanks for coming on, Bill.
WILLIAM E. LOGES: Thank you. It's a pleasure.
MIKE PESCA: So how many of these 300 got no coverage, that you could tell?
WILLIAM E. LOGES: 70 percent.
MIKE PESCA: And what was the conviction rate there?
WILLIAM E. LOGES: The conviction rate for that was 79 percent.
MIKE PESCA: Then you had different grades - some trials got some coverage, some trials got a lot of coverage - how did you define some and a lot?
WILLIAM E. LOGES: We had a low publicity condition where people got from one to five stories, total, written about the crime and trial. The conviction rate there was actually the highest. That was 92 percent of those people were convicted at trial. The moderate amount of publicity was between five and ten stories. Now that was in fact the lowest conviction situation - only 68 percent of those were convicted. And then in the high condition where there was 11 or more stories written about the crime and the trial, the conviction was 81 percent - just about equal to the rate for no publicity at all.
MIKE PESCA: And so from all these numbers you concluded what?
WILLIAM E. LOGES: Concluded that the amount of publicity that a trial or a crime get is not directly related to the outcome of the criminal trial.
MIKE PESCA: Nancy Grace has a book and a TV show where she argues that defense attorneys do a lot of things to affect the outcome of the trial through the press and people don't laugh her off the screen; in fact, a lot of people believe what she's saying, and you know, maybe people think of Michael Jackson, Robert Blake-
WILLIAM E. LOGES: Sure.
MIKE PESCA: -- O.J. Simpson - they all walked - why does it seem to be that a lot of publicity decreases the chance of conviction?
WILLIAM E. LOGES: Well, the celebrity is likely to have some advantages that, say, a Scott Peterson or other high publicity, non-celebrity defendants may not have. One is a fan base - you know, sympathetic people already - and the extent to which you're able to exclude those people completely from juries might be tougher to do. It's also the case that by nature of being a celebrity, they may have more money to spend on a high profile defense attorney, and so where Scott Peterson, for instance, had the benefit of counsels, you know, like Geragos, who's very high profile attorney, the amount of money that Geragos could spend defending Scott Peterson, getting DNA tests and all that sort of thing, is not likely to be the same amount they could spend if an O.J. Simpson is bankrolling the defense.
MIKE PESCA: And so perhaps, in contradiction to the subtitle of Nancy Grace's book, high priced defense attorneys, celebrity defendants and a 24/7 Media Have Hijacked our criminal justice system - you're suggesting what celebrity defendants have done is maybe highjacked the criminal justice system for celebrities.
WILLIAM E. LOGES: To the extent that high priced defense attorneys and former prosecutors like Nancy Grace are part of the criminal justice system, I think it's more reasonable to say the criminal justice system has hijacked our media, and to the extent that that's true, if there are any bad results, I think they have only themselves to blame.
MIKE PESCA: All right. William Loges, co-author of the book Free Press vs. Fair Trials, Examining Publicity's Role in Trial Outcomes. Thanks very much.