The influence and pressures of the media

November 7, 2019

It was a dark, cool, and loud New York City in the year 1989. Central Park is well known for its trees and for mid Manhattan. But it was a rose with thorns. It was dangerous, especially at night. 

New York’s crime rate was way more dangerous than it is now. Trisha Meili, a 28 year old woman, was going on her nightly jog at 9 PM. She was then brutally and violently attacked and raped. New York was shocked and furious, and the teens who were wrongfully convicted for this were terrified and exhausted. 

The police and prosecution were rushed into investigating and convicting these teenagers: Kevin Richardson (14), Raymond Santana (14), Antron McCray (15), Yusef Salaam (15), and Korey Wise (16). The teenagers were at Central Park on that fated night with a group of 30 or so teenagers that harassed bikers, joggers, the homeless, and pedestrians.

 After the body was found, the detectives were on a hunt for anyone in that group that could’ve done it. The interrogations consisted of beatings, verbal abuse, hours without food or water, and no adult supervision. 

The only thing they had was the promise that if they confessed to the murder, then they would get to go to the comfort and safety of their homes.

When the public was informed of the suspects, chaos ensued. The trials continued and there were two sides that were being taken: the side that hated the 5 boys and wanted the death penalty because they believed that these adolescents had done the gruesome crime, and the group that believed that these teenagers were innocent. 

All news networks scurried to the Central Park precinct to collect information and interview as much as they could to print out a story before anyone else. People were waiting for the information and they were furious.  

There is a famous incident where a flyer was handed out that stated “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” signed by our own president today, Donald J. Trump. By handing those out he persuaded the public to see his views and to take action. Some of the public were outraged and protested for their convictions and deaths, mind you they were innocent. 

The public have a short attention span and look at the big bold titles on the internet and papers. “…people wait for prompt answers and quick punishments…Considering the media’s attention on prosecution of corruption cases, it is necessary to constantly raise awareness of corruption and its hazards, by that educating the society and setting the scene for the next corruption scandal” says Prosecuting Lavly Perling. 

It is evident that the media can influence the public’s opinion during cases, which can cause a chain effect on the bias of law enforcement, and possibly the outcome of the conviction. 

The media plays a big role in American’s lives. It educates, it informs, and it even brings communities together, or apart . News outlets can decide what stories they want to put out. They have a certain time to get the news out so of course they can’t tell the whole story. 

According to PressBooks,These institutions determined which issues and stories were newsworthy, thus influencing the public’s perception of what was important.” This makes sense because whenever someone tells you a story, it’s a secondary source, so it won’t give you as much information as the people who went through the event. There are a plethora of fake news sites that can be mistaken for the real news. 

However, the public decides how they see the situation, and that’s the bias that will ensue. 

“Confirmation Bias is when people will accept the information that they believe aligns with their own biases,” says a lawyer that would like to stay anonymous. “When you don’t give all the facts and everyone’s watching, they are left feeding into their information and biases.” The information that you get is the information that you will keep thinking about when you are forming an opinion on the case or situation in general. 

So with the Central Park Five case, people were given information to manipulate them and/or inform them. But even then, people created their own biases, and it’s hard to imagine a different outcome than what you originally thought, especially one that you believed in so passionately. 

In a video  interview Trump says, “You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt. If you look at Linda Fairstein, and if you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case. So we’ll leave it at that.”  

His opinion was so strong, and he stood beside it for so long that he refuses to believe anything else that changed (as in the exoneration and innocence of the now men). 

News spreads fast from outlet to outlet, from person to person, and all the information needs to get out so that everyone can have different perspectives on what happened and possibly see any coercion that happens. 

People have a short attention span when it comes to news. Cases and events that are important at that hour day are just that, the events of the day. People eventually forget about what happens and move on with their day, mostly because it doesn’t relate to them. People just look at the headlines and don’t click on the links or even read the whole story because they assume what happens. 

This is why the media is important when playing the role of educating and informing the public on issues that Prosecuting General Lavly Perling said in an article about media pressure on prosecution. 

“I believe that the legal system should not speak much about corruption cases through the mass media, but every spoken bit of information must be true. All parties to proceedings must be protected and properly treated. In the era of the quick-response social media and freedom of speech, fair prosecution and unbiased justice must be guaranteed.”

Of course there are cases where “freedom of speech, fair prosecution and unbiased justice” can be possible, but is it possible for everyone? Many cases are turned unfair because of race. 

People have been tried for their race for as long as America can remember. 

Another one of the reasons that the Central Park 5 was controversial was because it was claimed to be because of race. It was a black on white crime which makes the punishment harsher than it would a white on white crime. The district attorney, Linda Fairstein, was white and she insists that the investigation that she carried out was fair and that they did a good job at the investigation.

Racism still lives in America and affects the criminal justice system in many ways. People of color have been more likely to be incarcerated. For example, the war on drugs during the 1980s and until recently. Communities of color were raided in efforts to catch people in possession of drugs so that more of them can be put in jail. The more people are in jail, the more money institutions get. 

In a definition of systemic racism it says, “Systemic here means that the core racist realities are manifested in each of society’s major parts […] each major part of U.S. society–the economy, politics, education, religion, the family–reflects the fundamental reality of systemic racism.” So just by people’s race, bias is already in the picture.

Another factor in the influence of the media is fair prosecution and finding the right people to be part of a jury. If a jury member is influenced by the media then they will not have a fresh perspective on  the case. If they just have information fed by the media that could or could not be true (but even if it is, there is still more to tell and not all the information is there), they already have a bias built within them. 

Finding a jury with a “clean slate” and barely any knowledge on the issue is difficult considering how fast news travels around and the amount of information that can be in those news. 

Individuals already have biases because of how they are raised and the beliefs that they were taught, so it’s not really possible to get a “clean slate”. People might already have an idea of whose guilty or not and so it can influence their decision in cases. 

Biases can also come from where people live. Manhattan has a large crime rate and some people relate to it more because they feel that crimes committed such as muggings, stabbings, murder, shootings, rape, etc, deserve to be punished because they feel sympathetic towards the victim/s and so they find people guilty. 

Some people in the Bronx, however, feel that crime happens everyday so it’s not as serious as a high profile case that is somewhat unheard of. 

In a recently conducted interview with a police officer from the Bronx, he states, “A petty crime in Manhattan can get a conviction easier than the Bronx, because the jury in Manhattan have a different background…If it were a group of teenagers they would get off easier in the Bronx or Brooklyn because the jury sees these kids as just kids being kids.”

So it depends on the background of the person and their beliefs too. There is such a thing as a fair trial, and it happens all the time. But with people’s biases it is hard to tell if the people being tried will get the justice they deserve. 

Society and the government decides what is right and what is morally wrong, hence the creation of what are crimes according to America and some of the rest of the world. 

 As society grows, some crimes against races or just in general get judged as not a big deal. For example, shoplifting or burglary were not acceptable – in ancient times they were punishable by jail, death or loss of limbs,but now it’s just jail or a warning. Since society plays a role in how crimes should be looked at, that opinion can transfer to law enforcement. They can do this by pressuring them to figure out who did or could have done whatever crime that has been committed. People expect fast answers because they have a short attention span to what the situation is, therefore the rush of finding the culprit. 

With the Central Park 5 as an example, a lot of mistakes and coercion were made. But at the same time who is to blame for these occurrences? The police? The media? The victim? The boys themselves? 

There are many factors to think about when analyzing who is to blame. For example, recently, a boy in the Bronx was stabbed. The backstory to this was that a boy, Gabel Cedeno, is gay and a classmate of his, Mathew McCree, bullied him for his sexuality for years. It was physiological and physical abuse.

As stated by CBS news, Cedeno says, “I began getting hit in the back of the head with broken pencils, pen caps, and bunched up paper…Mathew punched me on the cheek 2 or 3 times.”

It is alleged that McCree was actually a very bad student and just came to school to bully other kids. He picked fights, bullied people, did not get good grades and harassed Cedeno to the point where he was showing up to the front of his house and allegedly peeing on the doormat. 

There was a lot of speculation about who to believe, who to blame, and how it could have been prevented in the first place. Some say that the school system is to blame because it was not safe enough and did not see the signs of bullying in the first place. 

Many blame Cedeno for stabbing McCree and make up the accusation that it was because McCree is black. Some don’t blame Cedeno because with harassment like that, that is constant and psychological and physical, so at some point they have to have a breaking point. Some blame the parents for not being involved in these children’s lives and not instilling discipline in them. So who do you blame? The school system? Cedeno? McCree? The parents?

There are many aspects to analyzing a case and making your own opinion on who you think is guilty and what you think really happened. The media plays a large role in forming opinions and giving out information about events that happen in our everyday lives. 

An anonymous source says that “You have to be able to think for yourself instead of feeding into what the media tells you.”

So the point is that people are easily swayed by the media. Then with this, the police are also influenced by what people’s opinions and so it also messes with their bias, and people could be convicted that are innocent. This idea goes very deeply into the constructs of government, society and how the government controls what citizens see. So is the media to blame for everything we think about?  

This is not really the case. The media and news can put out whatever it wants to because they’re allowed. It all comes down to how much information you decide to utilize and believe. There are many ways that the media can control how we see other situations and it goes deeper than just the justice system. 

Some issues that arise from the pressures of the media are body image, the appearance of wealth and a lavish lifestyle, parties, concerts, drinking, smoking, etc. These are all forms of peer pressure and the influence of social media and could also be the news. This could alter their views on themselves and how they see others. 

Our perception of others can alter how we see ourselves as well. If we feel that other people have a better life than us then we’ll want that as well. We also want the approval of others to make sure that what we’re doing is acceptable to society. People rely on others opinions and that’s why as a society, we change the way our lifestyles are little by little. 

There are an immeasurable number of news outlets and influencers that shine light on what events that happen and share their opinion. But who can we really trust with information if everyone has a different bias or opinion? 

The reality is that we can not trust a vast majority of the information that we receive. Everything has a bias most of the time and since people are easily swayed by the media to change themselves and their opinions.

Not all news and media are trustworthy and you don’t get all the information right away. People have their own biases and with high profile cases, and when opinions collide, it may cause outbursts of hate and controversy. 

The Central Park 5 case made big headlines. Korey Wise, the eldest, served 12 years in prison, The others spent 5-7 years in juvie. They were exonerated after Matias Reyes, a serial rapist, confessed to the rapes and murders he committed, including the Central Park jogger case. DNA proved that the men were innocent, a stance that they’ve been trying to prove for a decade. 

In an interview in the New York Times with Yusef Salaam, he states “And I knew how small [our story had] become. I say that because when we were found innocent, there was no tsunami of media that followed in the way that tsunami came out within the first few weeks when they thought we were guilty. The criminal justice system says that you’re innocent until proven guilty. But if you’re black or brown, you are guilty and have to prove yourself innocent. And I think that is the difference, that two Americas that is often talked about. There are so many components that let you down.”

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