Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Reading: A Sordid Cast Around Casey Anthony

dramatispersonaeI didn’t follow the Casey Anthony trial that closely. There was even a period of time where I thought Casey was the child’s name, and all the talk of nannies led me to believe for a short while that a nanny was the one on trial.

The information mess was cleared up for me in the last week as the country sat through the trial, listening to 911 calls, reliving the horrific details of a little girl’s disappearance. This story didn’t just dominate the news, it smashed through newsroom walls and grabbed microphones away from anchors, demanding it be discussed.

And it’s not surprising we listened, or that the trial itself whirled into town like a travelling circus. Harming children has for ages been represented in our culture as the ultimate crime. The Greeks had Medea. Shakespeare sprinkled his tragedies with scores of child-murderers. Films like Rabbit Hole weave narratives out of normal, twenty-first century people’s primal reactions to an incredible loss.

Writing for the New York Times, Frank Bruni elaborated on the Anthony trial’s dramatis personae. There are the defense lawyers: bird-flipping Cheney Mason and the boastful Jose Baez. There’s Casey Anthony herself, who will the burden of this nightmare long after the relief of a Not Guilty verdict fades. What I found so refreshing was Bruni’s indictment of HLN anchor Nancy Grace:

“No wonder he so thoroughly riled Nancy Grace, who doesn’t need any riling. While other commentators, responding fairly enough to what they were seeing and hearing, put their chips on Anthony’s guilt, Grace bet the whole house on it. Crusaded for it. Brooked no alternate outcome. Ever certain, ever merciless, she’d give 25-to-life to an alleged jaywalker based on the testimony of a 99-year-old with cataracts.

After the Anthony verdict, her wrath was biblical: “The devil is dancing.”

She doesn’t serve the cause of victims with such histrionics. She serves the cause of Nancy Grace.”

Bruni concedes that Grace is a bit of a chicken and the egg question. She wouldn’t be so successful if there weren’t 5.2 million people willing to watch the verdict on HLN. But her ascent is still unsettling, as it represents more people turning to “news” networks for affirmation rather than information.