Trial By Media: The Exploitation of True Crime

Even though it came out nearly a year ago, I finally got around to watching Trial By Media on Netflix. Katie consumes true crime shows like popcorn. I have a harder time with them. The genre is exploitative almost by definition. Even the most conscientious documentarian ends up leaning into lurid details and wild speculation. This is, after all, the age of eyeballs over ethics. Getting more views is of greater importance than maintaining journalistic integrity.

One thing that bothers me about crime documentary films and series is the obvious manipulation. The makers are more interested in telling a good story, even if it’s not accurate, then in presenting the facts. Things are twisted to lead you to a conclusion. They omit select facts. They use dramatic music. Scenes edit or misrepresent testimony. Most viewers aren’t going to take a few minutes to fact check something they’re watching for entertainment purposes.

Trial By Media

It’s the same thing the media does when covering criminal cases. That’s the focus of Trial By Media. The series is about the high-profile cases that changed the way crimes are covered. In nearly every case, the media leans into the most unsavory details. They report rumors as fact. They engage in rampant speculation. In return, they get big ratings.  Inevitably, their exploitation turns around and bites them on the ass.

The repercussions of the media’s manipulation of public opinion for their own gain are sometime horrific. False information harms innocent people, and conclusions reinforce negative stereotypes. Still, it’s enjoyable when there is some backlash or comeuppance. It’s what sets this series above many others.

I do wish they’d spend a little more time explaining the changes that happened as a result of these cases. I do understand that they’re trying to cram some complex and nuanced events into an hour, but if the point to is show the deleterious effects of trial by media, then they should really punch the aftermath.

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Berin Kinsman


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