One of the top national stories of the week was not national news at all.
Have you ever heard of Russ Smith, Fred Neulander, Nikoly Soltys, Richard Sharpe, Mark Winger, or James Pitts. Probably not. These were men who were convicted recently of murdering their wives in celebrated local cases that never received more than brief mention in the national news. They all killed their mates. A prosecution presented evidence of their guilt, a defense attorney argued that they were innocent, and a jury decided there was their guilt was beyond a reasonable doubt. They left grieving families, and often motherless children.
But none of this was significant news beyond the locale where the crimes were committed.
The true-life crime shows–entertainment fare—might have been interested, but not the national news shows. That’s because every year some 572,000 women are the victims of violence committed by an intimate (spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend), according the Bureau of Justice Statistics. One-third of the 90-100 women killed in America every week are murdered by husbands or boyfriends.
There was no good reason to treat the trial or conviction of Scott Peterson any differently. To the nation, Scott Peterson was a nobody who murdered his wife, was convicted by a jury of his peers, and will pay for it with his life—either by execution or the slow death of life in prison. It became national news because media decided to make it news.
Media gatekeepers not only decide which news to present; they decide what they will define as news. The O.J. Simpson Trial was such a media hit that decision makers decided to duplicate it without the benefit of a celebrity. At least we knew Simpson and even liked him, or at least admired his athletic prowess and broadcasting ability.
Scott Peterson could have easily been another Smith, Neulander, Soltys, Sharpe, Winger, or Pitts, but for a few media gatekeepers who decided his story had the drama and salacious appeal necessary to attract wider attention. Their reading of the prurient interest of the audience was right, of course. It had all of that and more. Their news judgment was wrong. It was never national news, and it still isn’t
Conservative media darling Fox News Channel was the worst offender, and the network bragged often in recent days about their blanket coverage. In this case, in their drive to overtake the news operations of the major networks, the decision makers at Fox News Channel more closely resembled the poor taste of their cousins at the Fox network.
Of course, at the end we were all interested in the verdict, but that doesn’t validate the over-coverage by media. It simply demonstrates media power to control the national discussion.
Let’s grant Scott Peterson the lonely agony he deserves. Move on to something else. This was never national news.