Last week brought with it the shocking end to the Trial of the Century (a century that, presumably, did not include the O.J. Simpson trial). In Florida, 25-year-old Casey Anthony was found not guilty for the murder of her daughter, little Caylee Anthony, whose body was found dumped in the woods in 2008. A surprising number of people I spoke to about it asked, “Who the hell is Casey Anthony?” These people obviously don’t own a TV or read a newspaper or use the Internet. Good for them. If they did have access to any sort of media, they would have been inundated by the 24/7 coverage of the Casey Anthony trial. Days after the jury’s decision, for example, CNN was still devoting round-the-clock coverage to the case. The network didn’t even cut away to the launch of the final space shuttle, in the same state as the courtroom—so engrossed were the network’s correspondents in analyzing quotes from an anonymous alternate juror.
Such manic, caution-to-the-wind devotion to a story that affects none of us directly says nothing positive about the state of our news media. Why was the mainstream media so engrossed by this tale? Well, the basics aren’t too difficult to suss out. It was a dramatic murder case involving some easy sympathy (the death of a young child) and a lingering mystery (what happened to Caylee?), and it featured a photogenic subject (the bar-hopping, bikini-contest-entering Casey Anthony). People who point out these obvious qualities, however, are missing the larger point. Networks and newspapers latched on to this story for the same reason there are a dozen shows on TV about cake decorating. The media is cheap and lazy. Why devote time, energy and money to hunting down other national and international stories when you can send a single camera crew down to Florida and devote your entire network to one story for weeks on end?
So, now that the trial is over with, can we return to our lives, or at least move on to the next salacious scandal? Probably not. TV has invested too much in this already. Expect to see at least two TV movie dramatizations of the case. (I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that Lifetime has already cast the thing.) Expect a broadcast network to fork over between $250,000 and $500,000 for some personal photos from Casey Anthony. (Networks don’t pay for interviews. They pay for “photo rights” and then get the interviews for free.) Expect Hugh Hefner to offer her $1 million to pose naked for Playboy. Expect her to write a book (or at least slap her name on a book someone else writes). Expect her to move to Hollywood and get an agent. Disgusting as that prospect sounds, it will happen. She’ll never be able to land a job waitressing at Chili’s, like she would have if her life had progressed normally. Instead, she’ll be forced to milk her infamy just like footballer O.J. Simpson, ice skater Tonya Harding, actor Robert Blake, Octomom Nadya Suleman and others did (and still do). Unfortunately, much as we might wish for it, the idiot box hasn’t seen the last of Casey Anthony. In fact, I think we may have found our next contestant on “The Bachelorette.”