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TV or Not TV

TV or Not TV: Television, Justice, and the Courts

Ronald L. Goldfarb
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    TV or Not TV
    Book Description:

    In the last quarter century, televised court proceedings have gone from an outlandish idea to a seemingly inevitable reality. Yet,debate continues to rage over the dangers and benefits to the justice system of cameras in the courtroom. Critics contend television transforms the temple of justice into crass theatre. Supporters maintain that silent cameras portray "the real thing," that without them judicial reality is inevitably filtered through the mind and pens of a finite pool of reporters. Television in a courtroom is clearly a two-edged sword, both invasive and informative. Bringing a trial to the widest possible audience creates pressures and temptations for all participants. While it reduces speculations and fears about what transpired, television sometimes forces the general public, which possesses information the jury may not have, into a conflicting assessment of specific cases and the justice system in general. TV or Not TV argues convincingly that society gains much more than it loses when trials are open to public scrutiny and discussion.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3850-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Richard C. Leone

    Courtroom drama, both fictional and based on real trials, became commonplace on television almost from the inception of the medium. This should not come as a surprise: trials have long fascinated audiences. In their own time, the trials of Aaron Burr for treason (twice) and Henry Thaw for the murder of Stanford White, the Scopes “monkey trial,” and the trial of the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby riveted the nation when they took place and continued to fascinate, especially when presented in dramatic form in the theater, on film, and on television. More recently, the national obsession with the televised...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)

    In the final two decades of the twentieth century, televised court proceedings have progressed from an outlandish and unthinkable idea to a feasible, if not inevitable, reality. In the past few years, the practice has become commonplace. Yet, many observers continue to voice serious reservations about this trend. Following several highly publicized trials—often criminal cases with which the media and the public became obsessed—much public soul-searching and professional deliberation has ensued about the dangers all media publicity, especially television, pose to the justice system.

    Some critics contend that television is inherently a sovereign medium that takes over and...

  6. Chapter 1 The Trial of the Century
    (pp. 1-19)

    Crime news lies at the heart of one of the more recurring and confounding dilemmas of the twentieth century. The constitutional rights of people charged with crimes to both a “public” and a “fair” trial may present an inherent conflict. If there is too much public attention, that very openness may affect the fairness of the trial. The corresponding press right to cover crime news by its own standard—different from that of courtroom judiciousness—may cause a competing constitutional conflict. As the media become more pervasive and more influential, the potential for conflict between the press’s right to present...

  7. Chapter 2 The Free Press, the Fair and Public Trial: A CONSTITUTIONAL CONUNDRUM
    (pp. 20-55)

    Within a few years of the adoption of the Constitution, the First Amendment was added to provide a bulwark against actions by the federal government abridging freedom of the press. In 1925, the Supreme Court ruled that freedom of the press was “among the fundamental personal rights and liberties protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the states.”¹ Few rights are more firmly established in American law. Though there is little to question about the principle, however, its application has caused vexing, recurring confrontations.

    At the time the printing press was invented, absolute monarchies...

  8. Chapter 3 Cameras in the Courts: THE EXPERIMENT
    (pp. 56-95)

    When television began covering public affairs at mid-century, it was met at the courthouse door by almost unanimous professional cynicism about its place in courts. The American Bar Association and powerful and prestigious judicial committees had passed edicts against it, and only a few states (Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma) permitted any coverage at all. Inevitably, a case eventually came to the U.S. Supreme Court questioning the very constitutionality of cameras in courts.

    That landmark litigation,Estes v. Texas,¹ argued and decided in 1965, arose out of a notorious swindling case in which a Tyler, Texas, judge changed the venue and...

  9. Chapter 4 A Thing Observed, a Thing Changed: WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF TELEVISION ON TRIALS?
    (pp. 96-123)

    There is an unstated presumption that the use of a television camera in a courtroom inevitably affects the trial participants. Lawyers primp, witnesses fret, judges pose, jurors are pressured—or so common wisdom has it. As a result of these supposed reactions by trial participants, the justice system is thought to be disturbed, if not perverted. However logical and sensible this presumption may seem at first glance, very little unequivocal evidence exists to prove it. Major policy decisions must be based on more than intuition, especially when—as in the context of cameras in courts—there are profound constitutional implications....

  10. All illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. Chapter 5 The Crucible: COURT TV
    (pp. 124-153)

    The very wordsCourt TVsound anomalous. Courts and television? One is quiet, decorous, serious; the other loud, garish, frivolous. How could they be spoken of together? How could so illogical a mix of institutions—one of law, the other of communications—have evolved into such a fascinating chapter in the sociology of law? In the decade after theChandlerdecision in 1981, most states conducted studies that led to the opening of courts to television under specific guidelines. By 1990, the cable industry had evolved and, drawing on this new opportunity, one cable network devoted itself to televising trials...

  12. Chapter 6 Conclusion: TV OR NOT TV
    (pp. 154-188)

    The recurring free press-fair trial debate did not involve television until late in the twentieth century. In the first half of the century, there was no television; later, in the early years of television, the new medium was forbidden in courts. Thus, the experiment with televised trials has been a short-lived one. During the time between the Supreme Court’s opinion in theChandlercase in 1981 and the O. J. Simpson criminal trial in 1995, the actual use of cameras in courts changed dramatically, as did public opinion on the subject. For a decade afterChandler, states experimented actively, widely,...

    (pp. 189-204)
    (pp. 205-208)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 209-230)
  16. Index
    (pp. 231-238)
  17. About the Author
    (pp. 239-240)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)