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Rehashing the Peterson tragedy for cash

Commentary by John McManus
Posted January 28, 2004
Fox News crew encamped in Modesto.

So much money is now involved in the murder trial of Scott Peterson, that Bay Area convention and visitors' bureaus were begging that it be relocated near their hotels and restaurants.

Everyone wants to cash in on tragedy.

That it has come to this makes me ashamed to be a journalist.

Were it not for us, this trial would be proceeding quietly in Modesto. And all the public cost of re-locating witnesses, investigators and attorneys would have been avoided.

I'll concede the Laci Peterson saga has great emotional resonance. Every woman whose husband has cheated or abused her may relish witnessing the state seeking revenge.

John McManus

But as a journalist, I'm ashamed because playing to that vicarious desire to get even is about making money, about riding a story that sells, not about giving voice to the voiceless.

I'm ashamed because news corporations that claim they can't afford to cover Sacramento or city hall or pay for investigative reporting or make the vast pathology of violence against women a news priority, will encamp in San Mateo with millions of dollars worth of satellite and microwave trucks.

I'm ashamed because the precious resource of the public's attention will be squandered on old news -- a rehash of evidence presented in the preliminary hearing just months ago.

I'm ashamed because the marketers who now run our news media will squeeze off the front page and first segments of newscasts what we need to know in a season of elections, financial crises and international wars.

I'm ashamed because even among the journalists covering the Peterson story, most don't believe in it.

As journalism becomes a business seeking more to gratify than inform its audience, it becomes unessential. Another side-show barker in a daily more crowded neighborhood of peep shows.

The Constitution didn't guarantee freedom of the press for this.


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