Opinion: Casey Anthony Walks, The System Works, But Who is the Biggest Loser?

Sunday, July 17, 2011 - 11:00 AM

Casey Anthony listens to testimony during her murder trial at the Orange County Courthouse on June 30, 2011 in Orlando, Florida. (Red Huber-Pool/Getty)

Today, after three long years, and an acquittal on the most serious charges leveled against her, Casey Anthony is free. In a free country, a person is innocent until proven guilty. We cherish that right, yet we don’t much seem to like it when prosecutors fail to make their proof. By “we” I include those of us who cover these cases for a living.

I became television journalist, during the OJ Simpson trial, in an effort to recalibrate the coverage of criminal cases, defendants and the lawyers who represent them. As a woman of color, I am particularly troubled by the exploitive coverage of African Americans, Latinos and women caught up in the criminal justice system, and have worked for over a decade to affect a correction.

When I was a kid, my favorite movie was To Kill a Mockingbird and I grew up watching reruns of Perry Mason, media portrayals that celebrated the important work that criminal defense attorneys do. In recent years, I had become hopeful that the pendulum of pro-prosecution bias in media was beginning to swing back, from “Law and Order,” to center.

With the coverage of Casey’s case, however, my hopes have been dashed. I have been dismayed to see my colleagues, many of them lawyers who certainly know better, prosecute this case in the media, without full respect for the system, the evidence or the purview of the jury. The grossly exploitative nature of the coverage, in the name of journalism, has been nothing short of shameful.

There have been a few analysts – most of them criminal defense attorneys - who have tried to raise the public consciousness of the detriment not only to Casey Anthony’s case, but to our larger legal system and to all our of constitutional rights. There have been some reporters who have labored to cover the case objectively. But the steady drumbeat, day after day and night after night has been raucous, reckless and relentless, motivated, in my professional opinion, not by a search for the truth, not by a desire to serve justice, not by a desire to educate the public about the legal system, but by the hunger for ratings. The public may not realize this; but anyone inside the business of broadcast journalism does.

While I continue to have great respect for many of my colleagues, too many who claim privately to share my view remained publicly silent while their news organizations participated in the daily crucifixion of Casey Anthony. Guilty or not, this young woman was entitled to a presumption of innocence. In the end, she received a fair trial, thanks to the firm hand of the judge, the fierce advocacy of her defense team, the courage of the jury, among many other factors.

Since the verdict, however, we have not been chastened. Instead, in response to comments made by defense attorney Cheney Mason, on the heels of the verdict, we have come back swinging, fiercely defending the media against Mason’s thoughtful criticisms. Perhaps we should, for one moment, stop talking and reflect.

I, for one, am so disturbed by what has occurred that I propose removal of cameras from courtrooms in all criminal cases, where the camera threatens to undermine the sixth amendment right to a fair trial. The right to a public trial belongs to the defendant alone. It is time for the circus to pack up and go home.

Jami Floyd is an attorney, broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues. You can follow her on twitter.


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Comments [12]

Harrison Bergeron from Fair Lawn NJ

We have no news media. We have only an entertainment industry that is happy to serve up any sort of stupid reality show that the fools among us will buy.

At some point, people in the public sphere must perform on the reality shows. Politiicians always do. Mostly they like it. Technicians like police and court personnel might not want or like it, but in a truly entertaining case -- like any involving muder or sex -- they'll be draw in also.

If the fools among us would stop buying it, then the entertainment industry could not sell it, and they would try to sell us something else. If we are lucky, they might even fulfill their constitutional OBLIGATION to free press, and give us responsible news reporting. (But I won't bet on that).

Jul. 19 2011 07:37 AM
Sylvia from Louisville, Ky.

I could not be prouder of a fair and accurate portrayal of the Anthony case. What a RIDONKULOUS situation this has become. I praised you and now I thank you for making this important statement. We, must not be sheep that are EASILY led, we mustt adhere and cling to our Laws, or what good are we as Jurors?

Jul. 18 2011 07:11 PM
idrum from USA

Unreal. All of this is pathetic and unjust. No one KNOWS for sure WHAT occurred except God. Casey Anthony will receive the proper and due judgement in God's timing if this is what she deserves.Guilty or not, Casey walks "free" now, she TRULY free? No. We all know she will suffer violent scrutiny from the public voices that hate the sight of her name and despise her face that was plastered over the nation by the media. Casey Anthony is likely America's most hated person! The public attacks, death threats, or life in prison are all a happy carnival ride compared to the fate Casey Anthony will face when she meets her OWN Creator if she IS in fact guilty. Personally, I believe she's completely guilty, but still...IT'S NOT OUR BUSINESS! It's Casey's business and God's business. Little Caylee is rejoicing with the good Lord and she will suffer no more. Caylee was a gift from the Lord, given to Casey. Innocent or guilty, Casey is a person and if she DID take Caylee's life...then we all should pray for her. Those who respond irate to this comment aren't aware of what the living God instructs us to do. I never said it was EASY, but it's the RIGHT and noble thing we are instructed to do. Im a believer...this road isn't always a breeze, but it's gonna be worth it. Caylee is at peace and is in the best hands that exist!

Jul. 18 2011 07:11 PM

Before Cheney Mason became Casey Anthony's defense attorney, he was interviewed by Tony Pippitone of WKMG TV out of Orlando, FL. after Caylee's body was found. You can view the interview on Youtube; it is entitled "Cheney Mason....really?" He predicts a guilty verdict and says Baez "has no credibilty whatsoever". I would think twice before I cited Mason as an authority qualified to deliver "thoughtful criticisms" on journalists or lawyers who express opinions on camera for money.

Jul. 18 2011 03:21 PM
Big Tex from Galveston

The system did and did not work. First, it worked because a woman that was not proven guilty in a court of law was set free. It didn't work because the defense was not able to acquire a conviction. Whether or not Casey Anthony is guilty doesn't matter here. Not a single one of us knows whether or not she is guilty. What we do know is that the media went crazy over this story, and it is a shame that Caylee died, and that forced the prosecution to find someone they could blame for the death of Caylee. They proceeded without any evidence. Every piece of circumstantial evidence they presented was based on the media hammering Casey for not showing the amount of emotion they would have desired. Everyone deals with things in their own way. She was dishonest with the authorities, but that doesn't mean she killed her daughter. The prosecution couldn't even prove how Caylee died. They couldn't prove that Casey knew anything about Caylee's death. And they couldn't prove that Casey killed Caylee. So, yes, the system did work, even though most people thought Casey is guilty based on the media hype. Jami makes a good point although I feel she could have done a better job of articulating it. When I saw Casey Anthony on TV I didn't see the monster most people saw. I saw a woman on trial. I expected the jury to convict her because of the media hype, however the judge and the jury did their job properly by not letting any of it get to them. I don't know if Casey is guilty or not, but it was right for her to be set free. If you have to be angry at anyone, then be angry at the prosecutor for pushing a case to trial that couldn't be proven.

Jul. 18 2011 11:21 AM
Leo from charlotte nc

the system didn't work. The biggest loser is caylee and the whole system. The circumstantial evidence is far beyond reasonable doubt

Jul. 18 2011 09:42 AM
Barbara Jackson

Pat! Speak the truth and shame the Devil!

Jul. 17 2011 07:25 PM
Pat from Boston

Jami, I couldn't agree with you more. I want to say so much but I know me and I will start naming names and I don't want to be a part of the circus.

Jul. 17 2011 06:22 PM
Ashley A.

Justice For Caylee!

Jul. 17 2011 01:11 PM
V J Schmitt from Pittsburgh PA

Of course the babykiller won. We can talk about this in philosophical terms until the cows come home. However, the fact remains: Casey Anthony killed her baby daughter and a worthless jury let her walk free for it. Thus, society lost because it not only knows an unchecked murderess now roams freely among us but also because it knows this childkiller and her sleazy legal team will now make money off the memory of little Caylee.

Jul. 17 2011 12:38 PM
B Real

You can say what you want, but you can't say "the system works" unless you know the definition of "works", which in this case, is taken to mean "correctness". If the outcome is not correct, the system did not "work" in this case. You can say that the system works most of the time, you can say this is the best system we can come up with, but general statements like "the system works" which is both simultaneously false and undefined by you, simply won't cut it.

The biggest "losers" are Caylee and quite possibly the next person Casey harms, because people who have the capacity to commit acts like this, and/or people who are psychopaths, can not just simply "stop" being that way. They cannot.

Jul. 17 2011 12:36 PM

The biggest loser is Caylee Anthony whose life was taken from her before the age of 3

Jul. 17 2011 11:56 AM

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