The news media should reflect on its coverage of Casey Anthony after the Florida woman was found not guilty of murder in her daughter’s death, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.
But he added the verdict also helps show that intense media coverage doesn’t necessarily lead to juries that are eager to convict a defendant.
Toobin’s comments came after Anthony attorney J. Cheney Mason - after Anthony’s acquittal Tuesday - blasted what he called “incompetent talking heads” and a “media assassination” of Anthony.
Mason said that “colleagues from coast to coast and border to border have condemned this whole process of lawyers getting on television and talking about cases that they don’t know a damn thing about and don’t have the experience to back up their words or the law to do it.”
National media coverage of the case began in July 2008, the month that 2-year-old Caylee Anthony’s family reported her missing. The coverage was spurred in part by reports the family hadn’t reported the girl missing until a month after she was last seen; the child’s remains were found in a wooded area later that year.
Toobin said he doubted Mason’s team would take legal action against the talking heads Mason railed against, saying the matter “will be dealt with appropriately in the court of public opinions.” But Toobin said it was safe to say that some media coverage was “very much negative toward Casey Anthony.”
“The media’s performance will be something we should all discuss,” Toobin said.
Former prosecutor Nancy Grace, whose show on CNN sister network HLN has featured the case extensively, defended the media coverage. "I find it interesting that his first reaction was to attack the media like we had something to do with it," she said. "We didn't have anything to do with it; this was all tot mom."
She added, "There is no way that this is a verdict that speaks the truth." Also Tuesday, Grace said that “as the defense sits by and as their champagne toast after that not guilty verdict, somewhere out there, the devil is dancing tonight.”
Attorney Debra Opri, arguing that the media is the “13th juror,” said lawmakers may want to see “what steps … we have to take, without stepping on the First Amendment, to protect” defendants’ rights to a fair trial.
Toobin said government regulation isn’t necessary, and that the Anthony trial and other high-profile cases show that media scrutiny doesn’t necessarily lead juries to issue convictions.
“(Opri’s) argument … is that the media had too much influence. You know, Nancy Grace was on TV for three years saying (Anthony) was guilty, and the jury said otherwise,” Toobin said. “Michael Jackson – also acquitted (of child molestation in 2005). O.J. Simpson – also acquitted (of murder in 1995). William Kennedy Smith – also acquitted (of rape in 1991)."
Tom Mesereau, an attorney for Jackson in the entertainer's 2005 case, concurred.
"I think this defense team focused on the courtroom, not the media. The media likes to think that they're going to influence these verdicts, and look at the history," Mesereau told CNN's "In the Arena" on Tuesday night, citing the Jackson and Simpson cases, as well as the 2005 trial of actor Robert Blake, who was acquitted of murder.
Toobin said that if media coverage affected the trial, the influence might have been seen in the prosecution's decision to make this a death penalty case.
"(This) always seemed like a wrong decision to me, given the ... absence of a cause of death (and) a time of death," Toobin said. "To make this a death penalty case sounded to me like the prosecutors had been spending too much time listening to people on cable news being outraged about the case rather than evaluating the evidence in the cold light of reality, and I think that was where the media influence was, more than in how the jurors behaved."