Why is the American public so fascinated with these ‘Reality TV’ stories and subsequent trials? It reminds me of a freeway accident. We will complain about traffic congestion only to find out that the cause of said congestion is a bunch of “looky loos” gaping at a car crash. And what do we do when we approach the crash site?
I guess that is basically what these type of cases represent: the car crash that we don’t even need to leave our collective couches to witness. Every news channel brings the blow by blow into our homes on a continuous loop.
As certain as day follows night, talk show hosts, attorneys, and even psychologists will be invited to weigh in with their opinions on the case(s) as well as to provide their analysis as to why the public is so deeply fascinated with them.
The Casey Anthony trial got me thinking about several other famous cases in the recent past that have dominated the news and talk show circuits. Each of these cases in there own way have transfixed millions daily as they wound their way to the inevitable end and breathless anticipation for the next great case.
Take a little stroll with me down memory lane as we revisit some of the most fascinating, absorbing ratings magnets of the last 20 or so years and their attraction factors. Attraction factors are the reasons why I believe the public became so enamored with the case and subsequent trials in the first place.
1) The case of Scott (and Laci) Peterson.
You all certainly remember Scott Peterson, don’t you? Scott was the handsome, young husband who went fishing on Christmas Eve leaving his very pregnant wife at home. At least that was his story. As it turns out Laci Peterson was last seen alive on December 24, 2002. Scott was convicted of first degree murder of Laci and second degree murder of their unborn son.
Attraction Factor(s): A young, good looking couple. Sex and betrayal: Scott had an affair with another woman (Amber Frey) during the period of time that his wife was “missing”. And of course the factor of an unborn baby.
2) The Rodney King Trial / LA Riots.
One evening back on March 1991, a young man by the name of Rodney King was driving on a Los Angeles freeway. Apparently Mr. King was speeding in his Hyundai and was subsequently pursued by a couple of CHP officers. A chase ensued and before long several police cars and a helicopter joined in.
Eventually the car was stopped and the occupants ordered to get out. Long story short, several L.A. cops were captured on film beating the hell out of Rodney King. This footage has been replayed so many times a CNN executive referred to it as “wallpaper”. On its’ surface it looked like an extreme case of excessive force.
Despite the videotape, and what many thought would be an “open and shut case”, a jury in Simi Valley concluded a year later that the evidence was not sufficient to convict the officers. That jury decision led to an explosive riot/uprising throughout Los Angeles as many citizens vented their disapproval of the verdict.
Attraction Factor(s): Race, racism and the murky history of the Los Angeles Police.
3) The Menendez brothers
Take a life of privilege and advantage and sometimes it’s still not quite enough. Joseph Lyle Menendez and Erik Galen Menendez are brothers who are known for their conviction in the highly publicized trial for the 1989 shotgun murders of their wealthy parents. Both brothers are expected to spend the remainder of their lives in prison.
The murder and subsequent trial of the Menendez brothers was a media sensation to say the least. Court TV broadcast the trial regularly back in 1993. The first trial ended in two deadlocked juries. The second trial was a bit less publicized. I guess you only get one bite of the apple no matter who you are.
Attraction Factor(s): Wealth and betrayal, of course. I mean, killing your own parents?
4) Oklahoma City Bombing Trial
When the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was destroyed on April 19, 1995 many media pundits rushed to judgment under the assumption that foreign terrorists were most likely to blame. Imagine the egg on their faces when it was determined that the culprit was a young, white, American named Timothy McVeigh. The bomb claimed 168 innocent lives and triggered the largest criminal investigation case in U.S. history.
In the irony of ironies McVeigh timed his attack to coincide with the second anniversary of the deadly fire that ended the siege at Waco.
Within 90 minutes of the explosion, McVeigh was stopped by an Oklahoma State Trooper due to his driving without a license plate(dumb).
Attraction Factor(s): Home-grown terrorism, treasonous behavior, U.S. citizens at odds with the federal government.
5) The Trial of Casey Anthony
The latest version of “soap opera” media-driven, made-for-TV trials involves the case of Casey and Caylee Anthony. When 2-year old Caylee Marie Anthony went missing by in June of 2008, her disappearance attracted media attention throughout the United States. Her mother, Casey Anthony, failed to report her daughter missing for over 30 days. Caylee's skeletal remains were eventually discovered on December 11, 2008, five months after her disappearance.
Casey Anthony was indicted on charges of first degree murder. She continued to maintain her innocence throughout her trial. Of course, Casey was found not guilty of first degree murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, and aggravated child abuse. She was, however, found guilty of four counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. This jury decision has upset many throughout the nation.
Attraction Factor(s): The murder of a small child.
6) The O. J. Simpson murder case
Has to be considered the absolute granddaddy of all recent, “reality tv” court cases. Where to begin? The so-called "Trial of the Century" had it all. A black hall of fame football legend and actor O.J. Simpson was tried on two counts of murder regarding the 1994 deaths of his white ex-wife and her friend, Ronald Goldman. The grisly crime scene, subsequent investigation, the warrant for O.J.’s arrest and the famous “Bronco chase” through the L.A. freeways. And this was all before the trial!
The trial took place from January 29 to October 3, 1995, and featured the “dream team” legal counsel of Robert Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz. By the end of the criminal trial, national surveys showed wide differences of opinion between most blacks and most whites in terms of Simpson's guilt.
Once again, the tainted reputation of the L.A. police was brought into light by Cochran and the defense team. Police misconduct was alleged and no doubt played a large role in the trials outcome. Simpson was found not guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Later, both the Brown and Goldman families sued Simpson for damages in a civil trial. On February 6, 1997, a jury unanimously found there was a preponderance of evidence to hold Simpson liable for damages in the wrongful death of Goldman and battery of Brown.
Attraction Factor(s): Race(black husband/white wife), sex, wealth, celebrity, fame, police misconduct.
Did I miss any major “reality TV” trials? Why do you think we continue to follow these soap-opera stories? What does that say about us?