by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
June 13, 2005
PETER PAN PANNED
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- If Joan Rivers had said it or Jay Leno, it might have elicited a laugh - after all, they're comedians and Jay, for one, has made comedy fodder out of Michael Jackson and his ways for a generation. His nightly take on the news surrounding the court case alleging Michael Jackson's inappropriate behavior in allowing young boys at the Neverland ranch to share his bed is Jay's idea of humor.
But it wasn't either of those comedians who spoke yesterday in an interview at the end of the day's jury deliberation. It was lawyer Gloria Allred, an officer of the court, well known for the cases she's tried or analyzed. The interview turned to Jackson's back pain. Was it real or was it faked?
There was no telling. But that didn't stop Ms. Allred. She brought on an embarrassed silence when she blurted out sharply that if he's faking, he's faking; but, if the back pain is real, then he brought it on himself for spending so much time in bed with young boys.
Although Ms. Allred's comments prompt this article, it's not about her. Interestingly enough, however, when I googled her name to verify the spelling, I quickly found references to other articles. with a one-line blurb google fashion: Gloria Allred would sue the sun for rising, said one, and another asked if anyone thought Gloria Allred looked like the wicked queen of the West from "Snow White and the Seve4n Dwarfs." These comments were around the time she was representing Amber Frye, witness for the prosecution in the Scott Peterson case. What I'm concerned about as I write is the inclination for both analysts and reporters to argue a case for what is going on in the courtroom rather than just reporting it.
They fumble through their notes and answer the questions from the anchor desk back at Court TV or CNN. The anchor will follow up, asking for bird's-eye-view opinions of the witness's demeanor, about where he was looking or whether he made eye contact with the jury or with the defendant.
They might ask if he were believable, and the answer will either be spoken as if confidentially and often with rolling eyes. Nancy Grace, CNN anchor and a former prosecutor herself, will lend color to the proceedings with remarks that tell us it's like her grandfather used to say, "Where there's smoke, there's fire."
These are reporters but at the same time; some have law degrees and experience in the courts. My favorite is Savannah Guthrie, who knows her place and doesn't get dragged into saying more than she saw and heard. The press release issued when she joined Court TV tells us she received her Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center and received the highest score in the state on the Arizona bar exam.
Guthrie is not just another pretty face but she is indeed a very pretty face. All of the reporters are most attractive. The most prominent reporter/lawyer giving us everything she sees in the courtroom daily is Diane Diamond, but she's been known to use body language suggestive of an opinion, albeit more about Jackson and his unusual lifestyle than his guilt or innocence in this case. I find it prejudicial. I can only trust those in this non-sequestered jury obey the judge and don't look or listen.
Yesterday, a new face entered the press pool and opined more about the way the media handled the inside-the-courtroom story. He said in Great Britain the media is barred from reporting anything other than the exact words, the exact testimony, the exact rulings. Tthe law where he comes allows him to say what is seen and said and nothing more. Our court system is based on English common law, but our behavior does not show their same restraint.
While court observers scrambled around the Santa Maria, Calif., courthouse, which barred their presence unless they won a lottery ticket, another case came to a close in Florida. Thomas Cloyd and Christopher Hughes, pilots with America West Airlines, were found guilty of flying a plane while intoxicated, even though the plane never left the ground.
The outcome of the Florida case might have greater consequences for the health and well-being of the entire nation, but it didn't get nearly the press coverage Jackson's trial has. Why? Because we were there in the courtroom, day after boring day, as the witnesses told what they saw and receipts for alcoholic beverages were entered into evidence.
After the verdict was in and the jury was dismissed, the jurors were interviewed on camera. "What was the deciding factor in voting guilty?"
"Their arrogance," was the usual answer. I didn't question that. I saw it. Those two pilots were arrogant enough to think they were above the law. They angrily tried to pass security with a container of coffee, and that's not allowed. It was a simple little skirting of the law, but it drew enough attention to them that someone was able smell their breath. And that did them in, according to testimony.
I witnessed that trial and I drew my conclusions -my own conclusions, just as if I were a juror. Not so in the Michael Jackson trial, where the conclusions drawn and reported are those of the "reporters," not my peers, nor Jackson's.
One of these days I'd like to hear a commentary from someone like the late Jack Webb, paraphrasing his famous line on Dragnet:
"My name is Friday, Joe Friday. I'm a courtroom reporter and I'm here to give you the facts. Just the facts, Ma'am."