Swickard: Once arrested never innocent in the media

© 2014 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.
The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. Malcolm X
     Several times a week there is something in the media that makes me queasy. Someone will have been arrested so the media gives all the details of the crime in such a way that for most people there is no other conclusion than the person is guilty. Every detail is on the front page for all to see, even those details that the police plant in the press to move the case forward.
      The presumption of innocence is one of the founding principles of our country. But over the years citizens have lost that presumption. In the Old West often the low-down dirty varmint was hung and then given a trial. Example: at Boot Hill in Tombstone, Arizona is this marker: 
Here lies George Johnson hanged by mistake 1882
He was right, we was wrong,
But we strung him up, and now he's gone.
      Several times a month I protest the way the media frames the story such that guilt can be the only conclusion. I protest to the media that they only carried the prosecution’s message. They are usually huffy about any criticism since everyone knows that when someone is arrested they are guilty.
      They answer the defendant will get his or her day in court. But that is not the issue. The jury pool is contaminated by the media framing the story from the prosecution’s point of view. The media often is intimidated by the police and if they do not play ball, so to speak, they are frozen out of the information loop.
      Further, as some of us remember there have been several seemingly iron-clad cases against citizens that subsequently turned out to be incorrect. What is remembered is that the person was handcuffed and perp-walked into the jail on nighttime television. It is rarely remembered that the person was really innocent. Read full column