Nine Tattoos and a Mustache

11/10/2004

Media-nation is atwitter over developments in the Lacy Peterson murder trial. In case you missed (God love you if you did, that’s a sign of having a real life), two jurors deliberating the fate of young Scottie have gotten the boot, and the media are wall-to-wall with psychoanalysis over the why’s and what-for’s.

It’s another sad diversion and missed opportunity driven by lowest-common-denominator journalism. Breathless reporters have told me that one new juror has “magenta hair and nine tattoos” and that the next in the cue has–gasp–facial hair. (Actual breaking news today: “Juror number five has been replaced by alternate number three, who is now juror number five, and he has a mustache!")

The Muse is conflicted on TV coverage of trials. It is unquestionably a good thing to provide detail and context on matters relating to the rule of law–the very foundation of democracy. I remember well walking the streets of DC during the O.J. trial and overhearing street vendors and panhandlers debate rules of evidence.

“Check the criminal code Dog, hearsay testimony is inadmissible; the state’s case is going to get capped on appeal.” This is a good thing, people. Spirited debate is a gift and democracy is a participatory thing made stronger when ALL of its constituents are engaged. Game-on Antoine!

But today’s journalism trivializes matters of murder to serve up the silly. Nine tattoos and a mustache? Please. When did relevance become inadmissible in journalism?

Yes America, there are people with magenta hair and tattoos at large. And those funky-looking dudes in Philadelphia gave them the same “uninaliable rights” that you and I have, and they are just as deserving and capable of rendering a reasonable verdict as anybody.

Headlining the biographical oddities of jurors while ignoring the salient questions raised in the Peterson case is nothing short of journalistic malpractice. How about an intelligent discussion of the validity of a homicide charge in the death of a fetus? How about the concept of “reasonable doubt” in the face of a prosecution case based purely on circumstantial evidence? These are huge issues and the Muse would welcome the views of the learned–but we got dyed hair, tattoos and mustaches.

To borrow a line from my gospel muses, “I will not drown in shallow water.” Nor should you. Demand better.

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