Nancy Grace on Casey Anthony

While I wouldn’t ordinarily see the need to speak publicly on the coverage of a criminal trial by a celebrity non-journalist (to be polite) or whatever you want to call Nancy Grace of HLN, I do think her treatment of the Casey Anthony verdict merits some small comment in passing, as others already have. (Steven Brill of CourtTV called her a monster, while the Baltimore Sun opined that Grace’s performance explained “why so many hate the media so much.”)

Grace, a former prosecutor from Georgia turned bleach-blond-talking-head (and that should really tell you all you need to know about her), has been from the beginning of the Anthony trial outspoken in her belief that Anthony was guilty. (See this piece in Time magazine.) When Anthony was acquitted, Grace had one or more conniptions on television to prove how morally outraged she was.

Presumably Grace actually believes Anthony guilty, although the point is moot whether this is her true belief or a belief she has adopted for purposes of her television program, ratings, etc., etc., since persons in Grace’s exalted position really cease to be human beings once the cameras are on them but rather fleshy conduits for whatever opinion seem appropriate at the current moment to the current audience.

But Grace is dangerous.

The only people in the world with a right publicly to give their opinion about a criminal defendant’s guilt are the twelve people who sit on the jury, who deliberate, and who are able to arrive at a unanimous decision about guilt or non-guilt.

Grace was not a juror. She was not selected by the lawyers in the case as someone who could be fair. She did not hear the evidence against Anthony, or all of it. She did not see the witnesses in person. She did not hear the summations of counsel. She did not hear the judge’s instructions on the law. She did not refrain from contaminating her opinion with matters outside the record of evidence at trial. She did deliberate with 11 other men and women also determined to be fair judges of the facts to reach a conclusion on the question of guilt.

In other words, when she states that she is “certain” of Anthony’s guilt, as she did to Bill O’Reilly, she assumes the power of the entire jury, a power she does not and cannot hold. In fact, even the jury is not required by the law to determine guilt to the point of “certainty,” as Grace in her omnipotence has seen fit to do. The jury need only find guilt proved to a reasonable doubt. If they cannot, then they must return a verdict of not guilty.

Remember in our system (even if Grace has forgotten) the government bears the burden of proving guilt and if it does not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt then the jury must acquit. It may very well be that the jury in the Anthony case personally believed as men and women that Anthony was guilty, but nevertheless found that the government failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt. If that is so, then they did their job – and a difficult job it must have been to be sure.

Nancy Grace, however, who was not a juror nor (as I’ve already pointed out) even a human being any longer for all practical purposes, has no apparent reticence about burdening her viewers with her own “certainty” of Anthony’s guilt.

She should know better. Of all the made-up non-entities one sees on the fever swamp of opinion television, Grace at least had in her former existence as a human being some experience in the criminal justice system. As I understand it she was at one time a prosecutor. And if a former prosecutor, any former prosecutor, is willing to proclaim publicly her “certainty” of a criminal defendant’s guilt, a certainty that is wholly at odds with the jury’s verdict, that former prosecutor is harming the system she once swore to serve. And when that former prosecutor has a public following, as Grace to my astonishment does, then her failure to qualify her opinion harms criminal justice system with special force.

Why? Because people rightly or wrongly will give Grace credit for having been a prosecutor. They will assume she is right. And they will believe, as Grace evidently does, that the verdict was wrong or tainted or the product of some malfeasance or that the system is broken or beyond repair.

The criminal justice system is doing just fine, Ms. Grace, but we thank you for stopping by on your way to the green room to give us the benefit of the certainty of your opinion on the subject. Now go stick it up your ass. You have long since lost any authority you ever had on the subject. You’ve ceased to do God’s work, if ever you did. You have become instead a barnacle on a sinking ship. You are a remora on a dying shark. You are a tick on a sickly deer. You are a . . . oh, to hell with it, you get the point.

If you want to do some good, I mean if you really want to do some good, why don’t you examine your newfound profession, quote journalism unquote, which obviously pays better than your last? Why don’t you ask yourself whether the moronic extremism of public debate (for which I’ve just given you a prime example . . . ) in the twenty-first century may have anything to do with television “personalities” such as your loathsome self who feel no absolutely no compunction about making the most outrageous, ill-informed statements behind the fig leaf of being “journalists” all the while knowing full well you’re just rousing the rabble, inciting the incitable, in the name of selling more dishwashing detergent.

For what it’s worth, Nancy, the best prosecutors I’ve ever known have understood that “certainty” cannot exist in matters involving human nature, particularly crime. Neither have the best journalists I have known. You of course are neither.


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