By Dave Smith
Editor's note: FOX News has responded to PoliceOne to clarify that Greta Van Susteren did not cover 'the mothers who murder' issue. We apologize for the inaccuracy.
This Monday we found FOX News transfixed with yet another beautiful missing coed. We watch talking heads speculate ad nauseam about what they are watching, and we watch real-time as law enforcement searches for the missing woman. This has become a very routine technique for FOX News and many of the other outlets that our society uses to get its “news.” Most of what we heard was not actually news or even particularly factual, but mere speculation about what happened in Madison, Wis., the night this particular beauty disappeared. I am not sure what will happen, but the cynical cop side of me of fears the worst and aches for her loved ones.
I am, however, sure of what will happen on FOX News today as this story unfolds. We will watch as our brothers and sisters search to identify this victim and solve this crime. Their every movement, their every utterance, will be speculated on by talking head “experts” – typically lawyers, judges or medical examiners who know no more than we do about this particular crime. Geraldo Rivera will be brought in as a valid journalist, when he is truly a ranting ideologue who more often than not will disparage the police or prosecutors if he gets a chance.
Tonight, Greta Van Susteren will overdramatically discuss this tragedy and any others that she can find to speculate on. The woman whose career in cable news was born of her silly little “micro-verdicts” throughout the O.J. Simpson trial has truly become the television version of a vampire feeding on the blood, death and suffering of others. She offers absurd speculation and expansive comments about crimes recently occurred or remembered. She will often join Geraldo in some ridiculously broad conclusion based on few-to-no facts whatsoever, however validated by a lineup of commentators who answer speculative questions and form a reality based on assumptions being made on the spot – in other words, creating their own reality and pseudo-facts.
I always pity the families of the victims and the agencies involved in these self-selected “high profile” crimes. This is the paradox; the crimes selected are often very mundane in our world. No more and no less tragic than a plethora of crimes that occur frequently in our society. FOX and the lesser entities of cable news will suddenly find a victim that catches their fancy, and off they go. Very often, nothing is certain in these cases, but the repetitive pontificating is no less intense. A suspect, a person of interest, a “we don’t have a name for it anymore” – none of that matters as dribble spews forth, on and on. It used to be a common saying in police work, “everyone is a suspect,” but now law enforcement has to use euphemisms or deny leads just to continue investigations.
A beautiful child and classmate of my youngest daughter was recently murdered along with her mother and two siblings by her father (who unsuccessfully attempted to make the crime look like his wife was the offender) as the family drove the first leg of a summer vacation. This caught the imagination of FOX and CNN, and even though the surviving father was shot superficially in the leg, Greta and Nancy Grace and all the other harpies of death speculated about moms who kill, and said the father was not even a person of interest. My wife and I watched all this with increasing agitation, wondering how soon the dad would be arrested. He was arrested, of course, and is awaiting trial back here in Illinois.
What FOX and CNN and all the other 24/7 “news” outlets need are ombudsmen who internally monitor what is said on the air and how crimes are presented to the viewing public. Every time the networks are wrong, they should be called on it; in fact, a public mea culpa would be in order. They should understand that justice is not an instant process, rather an often long and tragically emotional process of victims and perpetrators, and often public speculation and attention interrupts the steps involved.
Choosing one crime out of many to overinvestigate and microscopically speculate upon doesn’t do anything to improve justice, it just increases ratings. In fact, it often leaves the public with a gross misunderstanding of the criminal justice system, the investigative process, and even the frequency and nature of crimes. If you believe cable news networks, pregnant women should fear their mates above all else, all prosecutors are corrupt, beautiful coeds are the predominant victims of violent crime, children are constantly being snatched by strangers, and so on and so forth.
You do your job in a world filled with criminals and victims and a system that demands you prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt. The adversarial nature of the judicial process is tough enough without defense attorneys’ great allies in the media constantly criticizing the police and prosecution. Such cases as the “Duke rape case” suddenly became an indictment of prosecutions everywhere when Greta uttered the absurdity, “Thank God this happened to rich college kids so they could defend themselves, as everyday this happens to poor kids who would certainly have gone to jail.”
Greta, get a grip. It was because they were “rich college kids” that made this case important for a desperate prosecutor pandering for re-election, and it was the attention this crime received from FOX and CNN that made it a cause for a broad group of factions who used it to garner public opinion for their particular agenda. The other victim in this farce was the criminal justice system, the same system Greta damaged in the Simpson trial when she grabbed her fame. At that time, I interviewed her for LETN and asked her if it wasn’t wrong for her to do her daily “micro-verdicts” on the day’s testimony. She replied she wouldn’t have a job if she didn’t, and I told her the criminal justice system didn’t exist to give her a job … I guess I was wrong.
I hope your agency isn’t the next one to come under the speculation of the Cable Fools, and I wish the Madison Police Department well in its investigation of this tragic case. I guess the best way to handle this is to assign your smoothest communicator to feed the networks with sound bites while the rest of you do your jobs … good luck.
Our policy at PoliceOne is to stay politically neutral, and we take that policy very seriously. We have members from our team from both the right and left. Our mission is to provide great information for effective law enforcement designed to keep officers safer on the street and better able to do their job — no politics attached.