Listen Up! Is trial by media acceptable and even legitimate?~ Opinion


Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Do we condone trial by media?

Have we reached a stage in our evolution as a society where trial by media is acceptable and even legitimate? What is somewhat shocking to me is that while a decade or so ago I would find such a concept abhorrent, I am not so sure that I do today.

In recent months we have been exposed to a plethora of accusations related to sexual abuse. Hollywood moguls have toppled because of them. Movies have been recast or cancelled and theatre stars and politicians alike have suffered irreparable damage to their reputations. They have effectively been convicted by the media, without trial. And yet somehow, we knew or believed it was mostly true.

Most recently, we have this retired Judge who is seeking to become a United States Senator from Alabama. His name is Roy Moore. He was the Chief Justice of Alabama and was twice removed from office for taking positions that were contrary to Federal law.  He is a gun-toting, homophobic, fire and brimstone, extreme conservative politician, complete with a dash of racism. He has been described as a “pugilistic, aggrandizing grandstander”.  Not my kind of guy at all, but nevertheless, highly regarded by many Alabamians.

Then, this week, just a month before the special Senate election in which Roy Moore is a candidate, comes an allegation that he had romantic relationships with teenage girls including a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. The allegations were made by an investigative reporter from a Washington newspaper. They have not been proven in Court and likely never will be because decades have passed. All the same, the backlash has been interesting.

Some people used Jesus to defend Moore. One political wonder said, “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter”.  Another woman said, “if that happened, I believe the good Lord has forgiven him and he has the right to continue to prove himself.” Yet another said, “I will vote for him even if he did do it”.  All I can say is that for me, this takes rationalization to a whole new level! Indeed, it makes me rather sad.

To be fair, many other Republicans have said that Roy Moore should withdraw from the election, even if the allegations are not proven. One of these said, “No senate seat is more important than the notion of pedophilia.”

Here then is my quandary. From what I have read, I believe Roy Moore is a despicable individual, perfectly capable of the allegations against him and unworthy of any public office. His lead in the Senate race was in the double digits and now, by one report, it has narrowed to just a few points. I don’t have a problem with that. Frankly, it would be more problematic to me if, with these allegations out there, he won by a landslide. What would that say about the voters in Alabama?

And yet it must be said that the sexual allegations against Roy Moore are almost 40 years old. It is a fair question to ask why they are only coming to light now. As well, one cannot help but wonder, as allegations are made and then more people come out of the woodwork, if financial reward is not part of the equation. The same can be said of Kevin Spacey, accused of abusing young boys or Harvey Weinstein accused of systemic sexual assault. They have all been convicted by the Court of Public Opinion and they are all paying a price for it.

There is a part of me that says this is not right, that the rule of law is important to who we are as a democratic society and that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But if others are at fault here, so am I. It is hard to turn your back on accusations of sexual abuse, especially when they are the result of investigative reporting. In relation to these issues, I tend to believe what I have read and to judge the people involved accordingly.

So, I ask again, have we reached a stage where we accept and legitimize trial by media? And if we have, what does that say about who we are? I wonder.

Hugh Mackenzie

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  1. Is trial by media any different than Kangaroo Courts, public lynching or witch hunts? Perception more than ever is unquestionably accepted as reality. If it is print, on TV or on the radio, are we misguided to believe that a news outlet would have investigated fully all slander against anyone before releasing speculative charges concerning them? We have laws for a reason, accusations without the burden of providing proof are just accusations, no matter who makes them.

  2. Not everyone is involved, just those going to the court of public opinion for elected office, or fame and fortune in the case of Hollywood celebrities.
    That guy Moore, who dressed up like a character in a children’s movie and prattles on about people’s sexual orientation is crying for publicity. Well, he is getting some.
    Sexual abusers count on their victim’s silence, they don’t need any help from the media.

  3. First of all, I am no fan of Roy Moore. However, I think there has been a rush to judgement in this and several other sexual abuse cases. If even only one of Moore’s accussers is correct, he must pay the price. However, I offer the Duke lacross team and a Univ of Va fraternity and several other cases in which the defendants were immediately convicted by the media. Much later, the accusations were proven to be totaly false. These accusations must be taken seriously, but we must avoid the immediate rush to judgement.

  4. Thomas Dowswell on

    As A broadcaster I have been told to use many dirty tricks to skew the news . Like play some “Spots ” at half volume . or play a spot next to a bad news story to negate effect of spots . told to fail to turn the Antenna from Omni to directional and reduce power so as to cover a nomination meeting . Jam up phone lines for call ins and have a special one for staged callers . I have more !

  5. I suppose trial by media might have more appeal to me if the retraction after an error was as big and splashed all over page one as the original accusation was. Also, if one is going to accuse someone in public then, just to be fair, perhaps all the names and data about the accusers should also be made public at the same time.
    This is sadly not the case and a retraction on page 28 will not catch attention like an accusation on page 1!
    Like Hugh, I am a little worried about trial by media. In the back of my thoughts I wonder if an anonymous and unproven accusation really should get a lot of attention until it has found it’s way through a court.
    That is why we have courts and how our country has always been run. Maybe changes to the court system are needed if we feel we can’t wait for the current process to proceed. Certainly the media is faster than our current courts.

  6. Frances Botham on

    Trial by media continues to rage on whether we name it such or not. Sensationalism, gullible audiences, floating accusations, obscure facts, vindictive accusers, political pressure, discrimination, deceipt, dishonesty. The reasons are countless.
    Asking the question whether trial by media is acceptable is one thing, but to question whether it is legitimate is bizarre. That’s why we have law enforcement and courts to handle the issues.

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