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July 8, 2011

Media Shepherds

Roy Meachum

The neighborhood pub, Olde Towne Tavern, almost directly across North Market from my yellow door, offers cheap hamburgers on Tuesday.


While waiting for my rare – no cheese – sandwich, I was sitting on a bar stool when I first noticed the nearest television was tuned to CNN’s Headline News. On the screen was an attractive dark-haired anchorwoman whose face was writhed with rage. The program’s video clips showed Casey Anthony and captioned the oft-anointed murderess had been acquitted by the Florida jury. I wondered what the rage was about.


The next morning in The Washington Post and The New York Times, I read the electronic media – including CNN – and printed tabloids had engaged in stirring up a public fury. Ms. Anthony was convicted in many public minds long before she went to trial. Most of my news comes from the Internet, so I missed the uproar. In any event, after more than two years in jail and over a month-long court session when prosecutors had their full say, the mother of that lovely toddler was free. Some misdemeanors remained; for lying to the police her sentence of four years Thursday makes likely she will be freed July 17.


On the same day the former International Monetary Fund president Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s charge of raping a Manhattan hotel maid was falling apart. The case seemed air-tight in the light of the various other sexual attacks attributed to the man. Tuesday French novelist Tristane Banon said he acted like “a rutting gorilla” as she interviewed him for Le Figaro, a daily newspaper. She announced at the time of Strauss-Kahn’s airport arrest that she was going to sue him, but her mother, high-up in his party ranks, persuaded her not to.


Despite his sperm found in the hotel room, later questions discovered that his accuser frequently lied and caused a counter reaction that shook the allegations of rape. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., took it in the neck, especially in France where wild-spread xenophobia exists; the flames flamed higher at pictures of the “perp walk” traditional for the New York City police. By the way, current Mayor Michael Bloomberg decried sternly the practice, but confessed it was beyond his control.


Not incidentally, the arrested Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist Party was the odds-on favorite to win the next national election, which would make the International Monetary Fund’s managing director the president of all France. The reigning Nicolas Sarkozy was widely suspected of conspiracy to bring his archrival down. Paranoia is endemic with the French. And, as I observed it, with the Americans.


Football star O. J. Simpson was charged because of his celebrity and his skin color, it seemed to me; he allegedly killed his blonde ex-wife and her male friend, and maybe because she was blonde married to a black man the tabloids kicked up a fury. His actions didn’t help his defense. But OJ was found not guilty in a trial, much to the media and public consternation.


The first time I remember a popular seething was in Rome when I covered the Vatican. An Italian-American Marine lance corporal hijacked a TWA jet; he faced immediate posting to Vietnam. While the young man lingered in Regina Coeli jail, a movement of sympathy swelled culminating in a “poor bambino” surge. America did not come off well when Lance Corporal “Bambino” was extradited for court martial.


From that experience, I took it in this age of celebrity that most men and women fear most going to their graves anonymously; they feel the famous, especially in the entertainment industry, offer their chief hope for immortality, rather than churches, synagogues and mosques. Most people are mere sheep to be herded by the media.


By any Name, God help us!



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