Skip to main content

Culture Television

<em>Trial by Media</em>’s sobering  verdict on society

(Supper Club)

Television

Trial by Media’s sobering verdict on society

Netflix’s new documentary series Trial by Media uses six high-profile criminal cases to illustrate how tabloid television and purple prose have influenced American journalism and, by extension, our justice system, for the worse.

Each episode’s subject, from a murder that grew out of an episode of The Jenny Jones Show to Rod Blagojevich appearing on Celebrity Apprentice, holds up an unflattering mirror to our culture. Even in the most serious matters, it charges, we are a deeply unserious, easily manipulated people.

Thus, lobbyists and political movements fashion cause célèbres out of isolated, local crimes for their own ends. The media’s rush to frame a story often results in wrong details. Pundits simplify complex problems, dividing us into tribes, feeding a rapacious desire for conflict and grievance.

Yet what the series, which contains some profanity, fails to grapple with seriously is the free speech first principle that allows for trashy talk shows and yellow journalism.

The series’ most beneficial element perhaps is it cures the desire to ask, “Why were the old days better than these?” It can be a little depressing to see the same arguments, the same national strife, playing out over decades. But it’s also reassuring to realize there’s nothing new under the sun.