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Bill Barth
Race to ratings blinds judgment
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          After three years of breathless babbling masquerading as news coverage by the cable television networks, the jury had the impertinence to find Casey Anthony not guilty of slaying her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.
         One can say they have doubts about the verdict. One can criticize the prosecution. One can even be angry at the jury.
         But this much is undeniable. The evidence failed to convince a jury of her peers that Casey Anthony was a child killer. If one believes in Americaís system of justice ó and we all should ó then itís time to reassess.
         That is not likely to happen at the highest levels of cable news. They thrive on ratings. They make money on ratings. They lust for ratings. The Anthony slaying, investigation and subsequent trial delivered ratings. Case closed.
         Never mind an annoying detail in the march to righteous retribution, like the woman being found not guilty.
         This case, by the way, demonstrates the real bias of the so-called news channels. Itís not all about liberals and conservatives. Itís about business. Itís about latching onto a story with a good arc and potential to fixate Americansí attention, then selling it 24/7. When facts are scarce, just tart it up with a lot of babble and innuendo. Talk, talk, talk.
         Take your pick ó Fox, CNN, MSNBC, HLN. They all did it. And theyíre not apologizing.
         Forgive me the media shop talk, but I remain convinced news ought to be a serious enterprise undertaken by serious people. Getting it right and being responsible takes time and thought and restraint. Real news impacts real people, which doesnít translate well into the same amped-up marketing used to sell soap or network mini-series. Something important gets lost in the overheated 24/7 cacophony of cable, let alone the explosiveness of the Internet and such social media trivialities as Facebook and Twitter.
         Fairness, more often than not, becomes the first casualty.
         While the stunning lack of professionalism and caution on the part of the babbling heads of cable stands out for its sheer recklessness, this also should spark a moment of reflection among the viewers. After all, the breathless media canít sell what the viewers wonít buy. The passiveness of modern viewers ó too lazy to be bothered with the hard work of separating facts from hype ó all but encourages what amounts to an electronic lynch mob.
          At the risk of seeming old-fashioned, journalism should be better than this. Serious matters can be followed in serious ways ó even in high-profile cases ó if principle, fairness and professionalism are responsibly exercised. The race for ratings should not trump good judgment.
         As for Casey Anthony, and what kind of person she really is, thatís hard to say. Plenty of character issues were revealed. Weíre not defending her. Anthonyís presence on the streets as a free woman will not improve Florida culture.
         But a jury said sheís not guilty. Even if three years of media stampede all but screamed otherwise.
         Believe in the system. Or believe in the shouting heads inside the box.
         Iíll take the system.
         Meanwhile, Iíll also encourage my over-caffeinated brethren of the airwaves to do more restrained fact-based reporting and less hyped-up jaw flapping.
A long and bloody decade
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