A devastating murder within a family. A shocked public drawn into a sensational trial. A new media platform sizzling with salacious details. A verdict that many believe is unjust is angrily decried.
The Casey Anthony trial on social media in July, 2011? Yes. But also:
- The Lizzie Borden trial, summer, 1893. Medium: Newspapers. Newspapers devoted pages each day to reproduce testimony word for word, and published wood-cut renderings of the proceedings. Many pre-printed editions with soaring headlines saying GUILTY and NOT GUILTY so they could fire them out as soon as the verdict was reached. Borden was found not guilty, despite lack of another suspect. So convinced was the public that she committed the crime that a nursery rhyme is still familiar about her giving her mother "40 whacks."
- The Lindbergh kidnapping trial, winter, 1935. Medium: Newsreel. Some 200 journalists swarmed the trial and 100 telegraph lines were connected to the courthouse, but it was newsreel that electrified the public. A local magistrate allowed movie cameras in the courtroom and five newsreel studios sent continual updates into movie theaters all over the world. The newsreel coverage whipped the public into a frenzy and 10,000 gathered outside the courthouse calling for the suspect's death. Bruno Richard Hauptmann was executed for a crime historians agree he did not commit. Cameras were banned from courtrooms as a result.
- The O.J. Simpson Trial, 1995. Medium: Cable TV news. According to Wikipedia, The L.A. Times covered the case on its front page for more than 300 days. The Big Three networks' nightly news broadcasts gave more air time to the case than to the Bosnian War and the Oklahoma City bombing combined. But it is cable TV news, and specifically CNN, which dedicates itself almost exclusively to the case. "If we had God booked and O.J. was available, we'd move God," said CNN's Larry King. A CNN poll estimated that coverage of the trial may have set back race relations in the U.S. by 30 years.