The Press on Trial: Crimes and Trials as Media Events

The Press on Trial: Crimes and Trials as Media Events

The Press on Trial: Crimes and Trials as Media Events

The Press on Trial: Crimes and Trials as Media Events


Perhaps no drama catches the interest of the American public more than a spectacular trial. Even though the reporting of a crime may quickly diminish in news value, the trial lingers while drama builds. Although this has become seemingly more pronounced in recent years with the popularity of televised trials, public interest in criminal trials was just as high in 1735 when John Peter Zenger defended his right to free speech, or in 1893 when Lizzie Borden was tried for the murder of her father and stepmother. This book tells the stories of sixteen significant trials in American history and their media coverage, from the Zenger trial in 1735 to the O. J. Simpson trial in 1995. Each chapter relates the history of events leading up to the trial, the people involved, and how the crimes and subsequent trials were reported.


Unlike life with all its shades of grey, a trial is black or white, someone is guilty or innocent; there is crime, there is justice, there is punishment. Perhaps it is that simplicity most of us find so compelling, and perhaps that is the reason trials so often grip our attention. We gravitate to the natural drama of a trial, and some have significance that far exceeds our understanding. the trial of a carpenter's son, for example, still holds the world's attention after 2,000 years.

Perhaps the intoxicating mystery of a trial is that elusive concept called justice. Laws differ by country and by tradition, but justice is the common goal. From the Salem witch trials to the spectacular trials of the century that come along every five years or so, America has defined itself through its search for justice. It is what we blindly stumble after in life and what we hope to attain in court. It may be wishful thinking, of course, to believe that we can bottle and dispense in a courtroom what we can hardly identify in life, but God bless us, we try.

This book is about that search. It is also about how we in America judge what is fair and equitable and true. It is about people: judges, attorneys, juries, and more important, the accused, the media, and the public. It is about beliefs and customs and values. Finally, it is about sixteen trials, each of which has significance in the history of America.

It is a trial with no significance, one that never happened, that is partly responsible for the birth of this text. It is the by-product of a Jack Lemmon movie titled How to Murder Your Wife. Although the film costarred one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the screen, Virna Lisi, the real star of the movie and the moving force behind this academic tome is the "Globbida Globbida machine" most of us know simply as a cement mixer. It is allegedly the Globbida Globbida machine that eats Lemmon's wife, the voluptuous Ms. Lisi, after Lemmon allegedly throws her into the bowels of that evil machine.

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