I never got sucked into the Jodi Arias vortex. The four-month long trial had all the drama, sex and lies of a Lifetime movie. Maybe that's why it seemed so enticing to such a large and presumably mostly female audience. One friend of mine confided that watching the case unfold every day on television made it easier to endure her treatment for breast cancer. A manager of a store my wife frequents got me on the phone as I was heading to Phoenix to cover the verdict and told me, "Anything you need to know, call me. I followed every minute of the trial." The case provided a massive and fiercely loyal base of viewers for HLN which dedicated hour after hour of live gavel-to-gavel coverage, followed by a series of replays and seemingly endless analysis of even the minutest details.
It reminded me of the first "Trial of the Century" which I had anchored for CNN nearly two decades before. The OJ Simpson criminal trial ushered in a new era of cameras in the courtroom and TV trial addicts. That case had a bizarre confluence of celebrity, a beautiful couple savagely slain, and allegations of jealous rage, racism and police misconduct. It proved intoxicating to a nation and preempted make-believe soap operas by bringing the audience the real thing. The soaps themselves never really recovered and now, years later, many new viewers are hooked on these sensational cases. We speak of the players by first name as if we know them. Those trials which do not involve celebrities make household names of the defendants and the victims. After OJ, Nicole and Ron there was Scott and Lacey, Michael (Jackson), Anna-Nicole and Dannielynn, Casey and Caylee and now, Jodi and Travis.
I certainly do not intend to belittle the importance of these trial to those families whose lives have been shattered. As a lawyer, I am committed to and passionate about our legal system. The cases are real, but the over-the-top coverage may tell us less about what is right about our criminal justice system than it does about what is wrong with our own prurient fascination with the defendants and their alleged crimes. This trial-as-entertainment nature of modern coverage reminds me of the film "Network." What was once considered a farce now resembles a documentary of the modern media.
I cover these cases on a regular, sometime full-time basis. I am not here to bite the hand that feeds me. I simply marvel at their appeal and the underlying radical changes in society which created this insatiable obsession. Some of the coverage has become little more than a knee-jerk scream-fest of "experts" and pundits often claiming to have uncovered explosive new developments and theories. As for Jodi Arias and her fate -- keep tuning in for the latest -- and turn up the volume to 11.
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