Nancy Grace. Good God Murdoch - Buy the place and rid us of her.
Robert Fulford: The dangerous spread of the Nancy Grace virus | Full Comment | National Post
Until you look into the shifty eyes of Nancy Grace, until you hear the poisonous accusations rolling smoothly off her tongue, you cannot understand what cable TV has done to American criminal justice. On 24-hour U.S. television “news,” the law has become a morality play narrated by media stars who believe they know what viewers should think.
Grace symbolizes the change. She’s now established as the unofficial prosecutor-in-chief of the United States. This week, when an Orlando jury rejected her arguments and found Casey Anthony not guilty of murdering her two-year-old daughter, Grace gave her personal verdict: “Somewhere out there, the devil is dancing tonight.”
Asked if she felt guilty about her relentless attacks on Anthony during the trial, Grace said she wouldn’t change her style just because “some kooky jury” gave a wrong verdict.
She’s done all that any one person could to undermine the doctrine that everyone is innocent till proven guilty.
Years ago, when she was a prosecutor in Atlanta, she was already heading in that direction. Appeal courts reprimanded her because she exceeded her rights in closing arguments, demonstrated her disregard for due process, and “played fast and loose” with ethics.
Her move to television greatly expanded her platform. News coverage can be infectious. The New York Times may refuse to name victims in sex cases, but if tabloids habitually do so, the Times eventually decides that’s a good excuse and other media follow. Soon victims who were promised anonymity by the police hear themselves routinely identified on TV. Almost no one ever gets criticized for this practice.
Grace is not only the acknowledged star of HLN (the Time Warner channel, formerly called CNN Headline News), she’s also the example other broadcasters on the staff emulate. During the Anthony trial, Holly Hughes, an HLN contributor, attacked the defence strategy: “This was weak, it was whimpering, it was fizzling, it’s kind of like those slugs when they slither around and they leave marks on the sidewalk.” Holly Hughes is another former prosecutor.
You may remember the rape case brought in 2006 against Duke University lacrosse players. As usual, Grace backed the prosecution and led the nation in condemning these pampered, over-privileged elitist jerks for viciously abusing young women. Soon the boys, their families, their teammates and their university were all humiliated. Before Duke panicked and suspended the lacrosse season, Grace fed public outrage, pouring on her patented sarcasm: “I’m so glad they didn’t miss a lacrosse game over a little thing like gang rape!”
As it turned out, there was no gang, no rape and no case, just a corrupt prosecutor ready to sacrifice anything to be a hero in court. In the end, the DA was disbarred, and all three lacrosse players declared not guilty of anything. When this result had to be announced on Grace’s show, she took the day off. She doesn’t like to apologize. She doesn’t like even to admit she could have been wrong.
Grace and her imitators helped to set the tone for coverage of the rape case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Nearly everyone in American media proceeded, Grace-style, as if he was guilty beyond doubt, merely because a few cops and government lawyers were snowed by the complainant. The reporting was handled with such blithe incompetence that it would have called for resignations or a stream of malpractice suits, had the perpetrators been public officials or doctors rather than relatively untouchable producers, editors and writers. We have to assume that the journalists wanted Strauss-Kahn to be guilty; perhaps each of them dreamed of a Nancy Grace moment.
Grace herself seemed angry that she couldn’t orchestrate justice in the Anthony case. She found herself on the losing side but she did not, in professional terms, lose. As a TV star, she won. During the trial, her ratings doubled; and on Tuesday night, following the Anthony verdict, she had the biggest evening audience of her life, about 2.9 million viewers, which put her far ahead of the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News and her other competitors. At the moment when the verdict came down, HLN reached 5.2 million, compared to second place Fox News with 2.9 million.
James Poniewozik, the Time magazine media columnist, wrote that we can expect the other cable channels to grasp what this means for their future: “The reward goes to those who pick a side.” Nancy Grace, already a shaper of media practice, seems likely to grow even more powerful in the future.