Before watching the Cooper trial, I never paid much attention to trials. I always assumed that strong evidence must exist in these cases, otherwise we would see a lot more acquittals. I casually read the local news, never taking a close look at the specifics of the cases and without having the ability to view the actual trial, how would one learn more about the details of a case? We’re typically limited in our understanding of a case based on what the media chooses to print about the case.
Watching the Cooper and Young trials (courtesy of WRAL) really opened my eyes. I see a need for unbiased reporting that is not being delivered in these cases. Typically the only time reporters cover the other side of the story, that doesn’t originate from law enforcement is through editorials and opinion articles and most of the time we don’t have an opportunity to read these until many years after the trial, when information is finally revealed through the courts that shows the person to be innocent. Then it becomes a headline again.
Now that trials are available for all to view, shouldn’t the media put resources toward unbiased investigation when it’s clear that there are many problems with the case? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could report objectively about such things as law enforcement ignoring evidence at the scene such as tire tracks and footprints, cigarette butts and wires? Neglecting to properly handle larva specimens? Neglecting to properly secure the computers and ignoring witnesses? Clear evidence that other potential suspects were ignored? Clear evidence of police “updating” their notes, clear evidence of police misleading the medical examiner about when the victim was last seen? Wouldn’t coverage of all of these things actually increase viewership? I believe it would. Yet, most of the public will never know these details of the case.
I recently read an article about how the media does crime reporting from the Stanford Law Review. It provides a good understanding of how the media gets their information and how they share it with viewers. It describes how it is tabloid style reporting and people never have the opportunity to hear the other side of the story. I would urge everyone to take the time to watch one of these local trials. It will really open your eyes to what is going on in our judicial system. It’s extremely unfair and people need to understand it if it’s ever going to improve.
From the article linked above:
The Vices of Crime Reporting – There have been many critiques of American crime reporting as superficial, sensationalist, and catering to the worst instincts of its readers. In 1998, long-time New York Daily News crime reporter David J. Krajicek critiqued the practice of crime reporting as then practiced by newspapers as “drive-by journalism – a ton of anecdote and graphic detail about individual cases drawn from the police blotter but not an ounce of leavening context to help frame and explain crime.” According to Krajicek, too much reporting on crime in the United States was nothing more than blazing, inflammatory headlines, graphic pictures of violence, and interviews with neighbors of the accused who – even if they had never actually met the suspect – offered pop-psychological evaluations based on the trash the defendant left on the curb.
As financially troubled newspapers cut costs to stave off extinction – eliminating reporters, editors, and staff members – this type of crime reporting is not only a possible option; it is increasingly the only financially feasible option. As crime reporting becomes more and more prevalent in the daily press, newspapers are turned into tabloids. But so severe are the financial constraints facing newspapers that the ability of newspapers to engage even in crime reporting has also been compromised. Papers have increasingly become passive recipients and distributors of “facts” rather than active gatherers of information. Increasingly unable to conduct their own independent fact-finding investigations, newspapers rely more and more on subjective sources such as law enforcement agencies, which provide packaged “stories” readily convertible to newsprint, or on news services such as the Associated Press, which produces a generic product suitable for inoffensive publication. The local crime reporter does not even need to wallow in dirty police stations to procure his stories; the stories now come to him as an attachment to an email sent from the local district attorney’s office. Crime reporting was never very probing or analytical in the first place, but the forms of crime reporting currently being practiced simply do not permit a perspective that is not superficial or prosecution-biased.
Nearly every police department, district attorney’s office, or attorney general’s office regularly produces press releases that praise the professionalism and thoroughness of the investigation, assert the certainty of the defendant’s guilt, and proclaim the need for harsh punishment. These releases are produced by experts in media relations, and are consumed and republished, more or less verbatim, as stories by newspapers. The ability of local law enforcement to generate prepackaged stories in this form is a relatively recent development, But it is one that has proven of great benefit to the newspaper executives. The repackaging of law enforcement press releases relieves the newspaper of enormous financial costs that would be borne if the newspaper itself actively investigated the facts and wrote the story. “Investigative reporting is expensive….rehashing press releases is cheap”.
I guess it all makes sense that most people believe the person to be guilty from the beginning and throughout, since the only information about the case is based on law enforcement press releases. They control the information. What happens when the police department is dishonest? Is there any way to discern that from the news articles? No. The only way to see this is by watching the trial. Then it becomes evident. But even when the public is able to see these things, the media (whether they see it or not) continues to report their press release style of reporting, never investigating any of the misconduct by officials that is now obvious.
A good example of this is an article published by MSNBC on 7/17/2008 a few days after Nancy’s body was found. By that time it was known that Brad did not purchase bleach and several witnesses had contacted police reporting they believed they saw Nancy Cooper. Yet, this is what is stated in the article:
No one other than Brad Cooper is known to have come forward to say they saw Nancy after she left a Friday night neighborhood party that she attended alone, although a friend spoke to her on the phone at 10:30 p.m. that same evening.
In fact, police have yet to confirm that she actually left her home that morning at 7:00 a.m. as her husband stated. Where are the witnesses, independent of her husband, who saw her leave, or enter another car, or simply walk down the street that Saturday morning?
Now unconfirmed reports are circulating that Brad may have purchased bleach as early as 4:00 a.m. the day Nancy was reported missing, and the victim’s father and twin sister have filed for custody of Nancy and Brad’s two daughters, ages 4 and 2, seeking to take them back to Canada with them.
We now know from the trial that both of these were false and police knew that well before the article was printed. In fact, many people did contact police to report that they believed they saw a woman who may have been Nancy while she was still missing! But police never released that fact to the media, so the public wasn’t aware of this until much later.
And Chief Bazemore knew that Brad did not purchase bleach that morning, but when asked if he did at a press conference she said “no comment” and let that rumor persist and so it continued to be included in news reports.
If you have a corrupt and dishonest police department feeding information to the media, the true facts will never be reported. They could have reported to the media early on –
- Several people from the community have contacted police because they believed they saw a woman jogger who may have been Nancy Cooper. The media could have interviewed them.
- Although there was a rumor that Brad Cooper purchased bleach, it has been confirmed through store videos that he did not purchase bleach. The media could have shown a photo of the receipts.
- Tire tracks and footprints visible at the scene and very near Nancy’s body did not match those of Brad Cooper. The media could have questioned CCBI about how they would pursue this evidence.
- Although a friend of Nancy’s reported that the Cooper’s use ALL detergent, that has been shown to be false. The media could have interviewed this friend.
- The Cooper’s 4 year old daughter told a neighbor she saw her mother that morning. The media could have interviewed the neighbor to share more information with the public.
Update: At the link you will find a local report about the case where many of the early facts were not published.
None of these facts were reported! Do you see how that would have influenced the public opinion about this case? It is very disturbing that so many critical facts are kept from us and it influences everything about the case. The jurors go into this believing the defendant must be guilty. They haven’t heard anything to indicate otherwise. An honest police department would have provided the information listed above to the media but instead Cary Police let the idea persist from the beginning that Brad must be guilty. Please try to always keep an open mind about criminal cases and understand that you aren’t really receiving factual and complete news reports about the case. If you take the time to watch the entire Cooper trial, you will understand how much of it was never reported, except for here on this blog.