Media sensationalism is something we are all collectively complicit in. From the journalists who search for the most dramatic headlines to the readers who voraciously lap up the juiciest stories, we all have a part to play in the melodramatic theatre that is the modern media.
Indeed, exaggerated headlines and yellow journalism are so much a part of our daily lives that we pay its repercussions scant attention. But given its often damaging and irreversible effects, it is high time, we examine the implications of such scandal mongering tactics.
There are of course many cases of irresponsible journalism but in my opinion, there is nothing more tragic than innocuous misogynistic media portrayals that lead directly or indirectly to gross miscarriages of justice.
The Meredith Kercher sagawas one that held Europe and the wider world in thrall. Kercher, a fresh faced twenty-one year old student was found with…
Over many centuries, women have been put on trial, accused of “witch-craft“, or in more recent times of being a “Femme Fatale” – having the ability to control men and to commit heinous crimes for no plausible reason. Debra Milke has spent 23 years on death row in Arizona. On the flimsiest evidence, people are still readily convinced that an instance of this elusive woman has been found. A woman who leads a blameless life, but then one day turns into a savage, calculating murderer for no good reason. The evidence is just some vague suspicion : the actual killer makes a suggestion, not repeated in court. A burglary with nothing taken, a gun is stolen.
Let’s be clear : “Femme Fatale” is simply the modern word for “Witch”. It serves to make discussion more plausible, but no less irrational. How many billions of women have lived on the planet? Not one “Femme Fatale” or “Witch” has ever been identified with certainty. It is extraordinary that the myth lives on. Harry Potter is fiction not fact. Every child knows this.
In a witch-hunt trial, the prosecution focus on tiny details, remote from the scene of the crime – a missing mark on a receipt, a telephone call placed at an odd hour, a mobile phone switched off, a mobile phone switched on. These tiny signs are interpreted as evidence of the accused’s guilt. If something does not fit, it is because the accused has cunningly manipulated or cleaned the crime scene, with infinite foresight.The accused is cunning and intelligent one moment, but makes stupid mistakes the next. A single phrase is picked out from thousands of pages of writing, taken out of context. If no mark can be found, an expert is brought in to find what is not there using some contaminated source. Detectives and Doctors are called by the prosecution to give any testimony that is needed.
No expense is spared. When evidence is disproven, a search for fresh evidence is conducted. Above all, the witch is required to prove her innocence beyond every doubt, an impossible task. She is thought to be a great liar, somehow she has an answer to everything, but every explanation is deemed to be pure invention. A hundred reasons for suspicion are laid against her, if a single one cannot be innocently explained, in that instant, she is doomed. The more she struggles, the more she explains, the more scorn is placed on her efforts, the more she incriminates herself in the mind of the mob. The burden of proof is reversed, the woman is guilty unless she can prove herself innocent. A succession of trials may be held. The general public become prejudiced, because they only have to believe in one bogus piece of evidence to become convinced of guilt, and often the innocent explanation is never heard – suppressed in the general condemnation “why would anyone want to defend this woman”.
The demeanour of the accused is confirmation, looking into the eyes allows a diagnosis to be made. If she cries, these are tears of self-pity, guilt, or an act. If she doesn’t cry, she is cold-hearted. These gentle women are often described as frightened rabbits, caught in the headlights of a rampaging lynch mob. No mercy is to be shown, the lack of a criminal record counts for nothing. The mob insists on the maximum penalty available – solitary confinement, life imprisonment with no parole, execution. Some even call for the woman to be executed then brought back to life, to be killed again and again, subjected to every imaginable torture.
In fact these cases can and should be easily resolved by simply checking that the woman is non-violent and gentle with no criminal record. That should be sufficient proof of innocence. It cannot be stressed too much – a woman of this type does not, cannot, never has and never will commit heinous murder for some implausible reason, such as “freedom from parental responsibility”, “revenge” or “jealousy”. If a woman of this type is alleged to have killed someone, it is either an accident, self-defense or simply not true, it is never murder.
The witch-hunters are quite sincere in their mistaken beliefs. They are consumed by the fear that the accused might escape punishment, even as they are aware of her charming appearance. I believe it is some kind of psychological imbalance – they know they must not be influenced by the pretty girl, but over-compensate, and ignore the obvious evidence in front of them. They genuinely do not want to believe, but they feel it is some civic or religious duty, and they really do believe. They are locked into a state of confirmation bias, oblivious to the lack of decisive evidence.
Any witness who might support the accused is attacked, threatened with death, perjury and slander charges, until nobody will testify for her out of fear. Anything can be twisted, because the end justifies the means, her guilt is never doubted.That is the tragedy. Once can forgive the family of the person who has died, grief clouds judgement. But people who administer justice should know better. In the internet age, the odds against the accused are even more staggering, with social media used to manipulate thousands of dedicated haters in an instant.
All the parties are losers – especially the accusing family, their faces twisted with mistaken hate, as they dedicate their lives to the futile hunt, refusing to even hear the accused. The prosecutor storms and rants, displaying any gruesome photographs available. He argues maybe this, perhaps that. The jury is cowed into the fear of error, openly weeping with horror, confusion, stress and exhaustion as they reach their verdict. Even the judge may weep openly in court, her face twisted with conflict, convinced of the witch’s guilt, but determined not to allow any avenue of escape.
You may not believe that the search for the Femme Fatale is still pursued using Witch-hunts in the Western world, but consider the following quotes:
“We knew she was guilty of murder without physical evidence.” Edgardo Giobbi, Investigator, November 2007.
“Raffaele Sollecito had probably given her that knife for reasons of self-defense, a knife which she could transport in her capacious purse.” Motivations report, Giancarlo Massei, March 2010.
“She was a diabolical, satanic, demonic she-devil. She was muddy on the outside and dirty on the inside. She has two souls, the clean one you see before you and the other.”Carlo Pacelli, September, 2011.
“The word “probable” (or “improbable”) occurs some 39 times in the course of the motivation.” Presiding Judge Dr. Hellman, Motivation report, December 2011.
“I really hate to be saying that she is guilty but sadly, she is as guilty as it gets.” Donald Trump, May 3, 2013.
“Alyce LaViolette, she had a motive to lie. I mean, um, maybe perhaps it was her reputation that she was interested in, or things like that.” Juan Martinez, closing argument, May 3, 2013.
“If you believe what the defendant is telling you, then all of these arguments then do begin to make sense.” Juan Martinez, closing rebuttal, May 4, 2013.
“I don’t have all the information, but I think she’s guilty.” Governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, May 7, 2013.
“God gives us big warning signs that something is very wrong with people. That witchcraft thing was it.” – Nancy Grace
On 8th May 2013, Jodi Arias was found guilty of premeditated first degree murder. The jury was not sequestered.The televised show trial broadcast nightly to millions of Americans was nothing less than pornography, thrilling the audience with the possible execution of an innocent Christian woman, the modern day version of the Christian martyrs slaughtered in the Colosseum. There was no attempt at fair, balanced coverage, the defense case was never fairly discussed in the live coverage. Cheerleaders for the prosecution were feted, the occasional supporter was mocked mercilessly, after showing just a few hand-picked seconds, while jurors followed the public mood on twitter in the jury room.