THE MEASURE OF ANY CASE is the evidence produced in open court, on the record, before the trier of fact. That’s not necessarily what the public learns, however. Media types who report these matters are not exactly attuned for accurate portrayal. To begin with, they likely do not have all the facts. Incomplete knowledge can often be worse than no knowledge at all. In addition, because their job involves selling their newspaper/magazine/TV outlet, they may tend toward accenting the more lurid or sensational bits and pieces while ignoring more technical issues upon which the case may actually turn. Third, they typically have no understanding of the applicable laws involved, laws that jurors will have explained to them in detail by the judge at the appropriate time during the trial. Finally, because they frequently bring to the table preconceived ideas gleaned from other media reports, incomplete & inaccurate police reports obtained via public records laws (but not evidence in the trial), and pre-trial speculation, their reportage can be colored. Besides, it’s not the media’s job to present, digest, or reach fair conclusions about the facts of the case. Their role is to sell their product, print or otherwise.
It is therefore risky business for people to draw firm conclusions about court cases from the reports in the media. We all know that, these days, celebrities are tried and found wanting in the press. It’s hard not to participate in this very public process but, to a certain extent, the public humiliation of these people is the price they pay for their celebrity and the misuse of their good fortune.
Some states permit cameras in the courtroom. One of the goals is to open the courthouse to public scrutiny and that’s a good thing. Nevertheless, some judges balk at the prospect of being so exposed, as if what they do is supposed to be somehow secret. They’re public officials, after all. Still, the media guy pulling the trigger of the camera has media-oriented motivation which, we all know, doesn’t necessarily lead ineluctably to fair reporting. A little swatch of a trial may get exposure and to hell with the rest.
Of course, most real-life trials can be very boring. Even an otherwise exciting trial will have large portions that can put an insomniac to sleep. One of the big differences between fictional TV vs. a real trial is that, due to time constraints and drama dictates, the former don’t show all the tedious evidentiary crossing of t’s that is necessary to prove a case. A prosecutor, for example, will have a laundry list of points, known as elements of the case, each of which must be proved, but much of which may not be very exciting stuff. And in what’s referred to as a “paper case,” for instance some kind of insurance fraud or the like, the trial can get downright mind-numbing.
The crucial difference, then, between the juror judging the case in court and the guy on the street judging the case from the media reports is that the former hears all the admissible evidence (plus the judge’s instructions on the applicable law) while the latter gets only what the media chooses to put out there. It can be a significant difference.