Are televised trials our modern-day bread and circuses?

Published 6:28 pm Friday, July 19, 2013

There’s nothing wrong with televising criminal trials in American courtrooms; the Supreme Court said so more than 30 years ago. But just because something isn’t wrong doesn’t make it right.

Or smart.

We should’ve learned this from the O.J. Simpson saga back in 1994-95, when the nation spent almost a year watching the celebritization of lawyers, witnesses and reporters in and around the California courtroom where the one-time football star was on trial for the murder of his ex-wife and her companion.

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What good came from our sordid romp in that muck?

Not much. Likewise, not much good came from the televised trial of George Zimmerman. Once again, we allowed ourselves to become mesmerized by 911 tapes, a dramatic demonstration by the defense attorney (this time with a life-size dummy instead of a glove), daily score-keeping by the news media’s canonized experts, and the fact that the victim and the accused killer were of different races.

We wanted reality TV. What we got was a verdict that reflected the reality of the U.S. judicial system – a system designed for juries to evaluate evidence, weigh the testimony of witnesses, consider the arguments of prosecutors and defense attorneys, and follow the instructions of the presiding judge on interpreting the law and understanding the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

We can either say “no” with our remote controls, or we can watch as court coverage increasingly becomes the new reality TV.

And we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.