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A Trial of the Century

Opening Day Humiliation for Promoters

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 02, 1997.

What if you give a Trial of the Century and nobody cared? Evidently, that is the fate of Denver’s media, who have for a year been bemoaning the horror, the horror of hosting the Timothy McVeigh trial. In reality, of course, they were foaming at the mouth, hoping to get their furrowed brow faces on national news as they offered up their observations to Brokaw, Rather, and Jennings. But on the first day of the trial, virtually nobody showed up, much less the crowds hoping for admittance, protesters, or even rioters. It was a professional humiliation, given the amount to time the media had been hyping the event.

But the spinmeisters covered it. Rather than admit that outside the newsroom, the public has already convicted McVeigh and has little interest in the trial, the news teams stated baldly that security precautions had worked, thus keeping the crowds at bay. This was in direct contradiction of their lead story, which was that there were no crowds to keep at bay.

In an of itself, not a big deal, but there has been growing concern about how media manipulates events, as evidenced by the rather contrived and self-regarding protest over the Ramsey murder coverage held here in Boulder last week. This is not new, of course, newspapers have been claiming credit for fomenting wars and mandating public policy for years, often correctly. The problem here is, when financial results can be so quickly realized, how much power ought the media to have. In the old days, starting and fanning the flames of the Spanish American War was an investment to be realized over time. Now, with television, a riot can be contrived on the spot, as Los Angeles and Reginald Denny discovered to their misfortune a few years back.

Now the media has convinced itself that the McVeigh trial, or as we are supposed to refer to it: Terror on Trial - I’m sorry - Terror in the Heartland on Trial, god, I’m good at that - anyway, since the Media has such a financial investment in this trial, with all the coverage from around the world, what happens if it turns out to be a dud? That will wreak immediate havoc with budgets not justified by ratings or long term interest. Won’t there be pressure to contrive a story? There already is. With all due respect to families of the victims, you’re judicially irrelevant and should remain so. Justice is not about third party revenge, is it?

I begin to feel about the media much like I feel about the owners of professional baseball. The owners have a clause exempting them from the anti-trust act, although the reasons for it have long vanished, and baseball is such a cash cow. The media has a constitutional exemption from certain restrictions placed on other businesses, but the formulators of the Constitution could only imagine a one page paper set laboriously in heavy type. They are private businesses like any other, given the right to snoop and publish by laws long outdated. We have become so programmed to react like cats hit with a spade whenever anyone talks of restricting the press, we no longer look at it anymore, but just picture it as a permanent part of the landscape. Its virtues - which are considerable - will be lost with its vices if its purpose is not constantly refined by the people for whom its presence should benefit. Otherwise, it will - eventually - pull off a gaffe that cannot be forgiven, and the repressors will capitalize upon it.