Throughout American history, the media has been interested in trial coverage. This coverage has ranged from cases with important national policy implications (Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment, the Scopes Monkey Trial), to the fascinating or odd (George Zimmerman, The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapper), and especially to national celebrities (O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson). One webpage even details the most watched trials on television, including those of Ted Bundy and Lindsey Lohan. See http://mentalfloss.com/article/50232/11-most-watched-television-trials. Theoretically, the media is only supposed to cover the trial and is not supposed to affect the outcome; however, there is always the possibility of this occurring when a trial is saturated by so much media coverage. How can the media affect a jury and what can be done to alleviate the possibility of this occurring?
The media, arguably, has the power to impact or alter a jury’s verdict. The media may do this on its own by reaching jurors or prospective jurors through coverage by television, newspaper, magazine, radio, and the internet. The Poynter Institute found that only 17% of Americans get no news daily, meaning that 83% of Americans get some sort of daily news. See http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/171941/pew-17-of-americans-get-no-news-daily/. Moreover, 46% of people use four to six news resources. See http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/171941/pew-17-of-americans-get-no-news-daily/. Thus, the odds are great that 83% of Americans will see some sort of news or opinion coverage about an important trial in their daily media. If a juror sees this information, it might shape his view of the case before the evidence is presented, resulting in juror bias. Additionally, there is the possibility that the a juror may see community attitudes reflected in the media story and feel forced to vote a certain way due to community pressure.
Moreover, comments by the parties’ lawyers before or during a trial can also bring media attention to a case. Similarly to above, this attention by the media may bias a juror who has not yet seen the information on his own. ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3.6 instructs lawyers not to “make an extrajudicial statement that . . . will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.”See http://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/rule_3_6_trial_publicity.html. This rule was created for good reason - to keep a lawyer from using the media to his advantage. For example, one lawyer brought attention to his case by calling the prosecutor “inexperienced,” “unqualified,” and “bloodthirsty for jail.” See http://nypost.com/2006/08/08/drunken-stink-lawyer-sues-nassau-da-over-call-for-dwi-jail-time/. These types of inflammatory comments attract media attention, which then invites jurors to make their own conclusions regardless of the evidence.
How can this problem be solved? There is no easy answer, as the media has a First Amendment right to freedom of speech; the media can report on a case extensively. Yet, courts and lawyers can lessen the media impact by releasing as little information as possible before and during the trial. Additionally, the court can bar television cameras from entering the courtroom, as the U.S. Supreme Court currently does. Finally, the court can take more extensive measures to shield jurors from the media, such as keeping them away from the public and confirming every day that the jury has not consulted any media sources. However, beyond these methods, it is difficult to keep the media away from courts and juries.