By now, you’ve certainly heard about the criminal case of an American student studying abroad in Italy – the alleged “mastermind” behind the death of her roommate. Chances are also pretty good that you’ve heard the verdict: 26 years in prison.
This morning I read an article which quoted the victim’s family’s lawyer as having said,
“With tonight’s verdict, justice has been done for the tragedy which struck the Kercher family. They are satisfied. These are severe sentences for young people, so it is a tragedy for all concerned” (italics mine).
If we were to cut the fat from this man’s statement, translate it into an algebraic statement, and then put in true values for the variables, it would come out (when simplified) looking something like this: justice = tragedy + tragedy. Read his statement again. This lawyer suggests that an event which constituted a tragedy, required another tragedy of commensurate degree to be committed in order for justice to occur. Does this sound like justice to you? To me, it sounds like simple revenge – but the kind of revenge you can stomach without shame, because it happened in a court of “law.” (Any one recall “an eye for an eye makes the whole world…”?)
Now, I don’t know much about the case and haven’t taken an interest in it until now – so my words should really be taken cum grano solis. After all, I’m basing my entire perception of wrong-doing on one man’s statement. But, what bothers me more than the fact a court may have allowed revenge to take place in its proceedings, rather than true justice, is that, to my knowledge, no one in the media has been concerned with this same idea. I was inundated yesterday – online, on television, on the radio, in paper – with media buzzards swarming around this story. The aspects they were concerned about were, to me, mundane and irrelevant: “How does the family feel?” (We can all imagine how they feel – now let’s stop prying into their personal lives.) “How does the victim’s family feel?” (We can all imagine how they feel, now let’s stop prying into their personal lives and let them grieve on their own). “Was it sex? Was it drugs? Was it violent?” (Of course the media would pick up on such elements).
Why wasn’t the media evaluating the case? The proceedings? The fairness of the sentences?
In his 1996 essay, “Why American’s Hate the Media,” James Fallows suggested that the media has lost its way. That its focusing on the wrong aspects of the stories it covers. He focuses more on politics, but I think the same idea applies here. He says,
“the pressure to keep things lively means that squabbling replaces dialogue. The discussion shows that are supposed to enhance public understanding may actually reduce it…”
That statement seems to be the crux of what’s wrong with the media. It speaks to a confusion over their vision (not perception, but vision of their purpose). After all, what’s the point of the media? Is it to increase ratings? If so, they can focus on the sensational, but their choice of topic and manner in which they cover it will not enlighten us. So, then, is their purpose to increase our understanding of issues and events? I certainly hope so. But I can’t say I’ve seen evidence of that in the American media today.