Chapter

The Trial in Television America

in The Trial in American Life

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2007 | ISBN: 9780226243252
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226243283 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226243283.003.0008
The Trial in Television America

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Disdainful intellectual elites call television a “boob tube” and “chewing gum for the brain,” while media specialists counter by claiming that television is “the foremost medium for cross-demographic communication” and has brought heightened literacy to the culture. Are viewers “a passive and helpless mass incapable of discrimination,” or are they canny eyewitnesses making “their own socially pertinent meanings out of the semiotic resources provided by television”? Recent criticism on the influence of television removes one level of controversy by rejecting a frequent bromide: the claim of objectivity. If outside opinion can influence a trial, all media coverage becomes suspect at some level. This chapter examines the coverage of well-known courtroom trials as a control group to illustrate the nature of transmission in the high-profile trial of today. The trial of Louise Woodward, a nineteen-year-old British au pair, in the Middlesex Superior Court of Massachusetts in 1997 can be used to clarify how sensationalism, anxiety, and social value come together in postmodern perceptions.

Keywords: television; media coverage; objectivity; Louise Woodward; sensationalism; anxiety; social value

Chapter.  13218 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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