Monday, March 29, 2010

Watching the "News"

Watching the news as a criminal defense lawyer is different than watching the news as someone who buys into the notion that it is actually “news.” Someone recently told me when it comes to reporting on criminal cases, it's editorial disguised as news. True.

So last week I was out of town watching one of those local news stations that have no network affiliation. All news, all the time. They need to make it interesting.

Seems a baseball player was arrested for prostitution. Ho hum. A semi-famous person arrested for picking up a prostitute. What is this world coming to?

Three things about the story caught my attention:

[1] The first line of the story: “We were the only news station outside the jail when the defendant was released.”

This was not a defendant arrested for killing someone, hurting someone, stealing from someone, a defendant who the police were looking for, or a household name. Are you proud you were the “only” news station standing outside the jail waiting for this misdemeanor defendant to post bond and walk out? Am I supposed to watch you from now on because you are on the cutting edge of important news? Of course the point is exactly that – watch us, we will give you news no one else will (because they don’t care and think you as the audience don’t care, but we will make you care.)

[2] The reporter said the defendant “ran away from our camera.” As this is stated, a video is playing showing the defendant normally walking down a sidewalk. No running. No running away.

But “ran away” sounds better. Even if it’s not true.

[3] At the end of the story the reporter becomes a PR agent for the police and in the same breath, tries to justify the reason for the story:

“Police say that crimes like prostitution often lead to crimes involving drugs and robbery.”

And driving cars often lead to fatal car accidents.


Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.

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