A conflict exists within our country. No, I am not talking about Democrats versus Republicans or Kentucky versus Louisville. There is a conflict within our very own Constitution that gets played out all too frequently in our society via the news media.
The First Amendment grants freedom of the press. The Sixth Amendment grants the right to a fair trial. All too often, however, the former hurts the latter. Allow me to illustrate some examples for you.
Jerry Sandusky became a household name after allegations of more than 50 counts of child molestation were aimed at him. He has become a figure of great disdain in America, with no one outside of Penn State rushing to his defense. He has already been convicted in the court of public opinion, even though his official trial has yet to begin and has been postponed until June 5, according to CNN.
Sandusky is a villain in the U.S. now, and yet 12 members of our society are supposed to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his innocence until proven guilty in court. I am doubtful Sandusky can find a jury of his peers that can walk into court without any preconceived notions of guilt after all the news coverage and the creepy Bob Costas interview.
Do not get me wrong, I am morally disgusted by the actions of Sandusky. The problem is I am disgusted, at least in part, because everyone tells me to be disgusted. All of the media and the public have already lynched Sandusky for his crimes, but he still has not had his day in court. That last bit of proof of guilt — the part where he is actually convicted — is still missing.
Let’s look at a more recent example. The Trayvon Martin case has sparked outrage across the nation, myself included. George Zimmerman certainly looks like a bad guy. Zimmerman looks that way because the media is focusing less on the facts of the case and more on the public outrage sweeping the country.
Again, do not get me wrong, the facts of the case are very suspicious when you look at them. There is a lot to doubt about Zimmerman’s story. However, as the public has become more and more aware of this case, the media has decided to pick up on that more than anything else — creating a feeding frenzy that is equally maintained by the general public and the news media.
Want some proof? Look at the two photos being displayed across the media of Martin and Zimmerman. The Associated Press reports both photos are a few years old. Martin’s photo depicts a “smiling, round-cheeked youngster,” not the 6-foot 17-year-old he was at the time of his death, according to the AP article.
The most commonly used Zimmerman photo is from a 2005 mugshot, featuring a “heavyset figure with an imposing stare, pierced ear and facial hair, the orange collar of his jail uniform visible.” Zimmerman has reportedly slimmed down since then, although the fact that this is a mugshot does not lend much credibility to his own defense.
This does not reverse who is to blame in this case. It is merely an example of how media perception can influence public portrayal. The media has already crucified Zimmerman. It is only natural the public would follow suit.
And they have. We have seen the New Black Panther Party issue a $1 million bounty for Zimmerman’s capture. We have seen an elderly couple forced to flee their home in fear for their lives after Spike Lee sent out a tweet of Zimmerman’s home address — though it was the wrong address, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Believe me, I love the First Amendment and the right to a free press. What I do not like is a feeding frenzy that stirs up the public. None of you would want your right to a free and fair trial impeded by the media’s love for a good story.
Of course, a major factor in the Martin-Zimmerman case is that Zimmerman is currently not facing trial, but I assume that will change due to this national attention. Zimmerman will face justice at some point, I just do not like his chances of finding an unbiased jury when the time comes.
I will also add I am so glad that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has come under scrutiny through all this. Maybe now Florida can move out of the Wild West and join the 21st century.
So while the nation rages at Sandusky and Zimmerman, I am going to sit back and wait for the final verdicts — maintaining my suspicion, but no longer holding onto my rage.