Like many others, I have followed the story of two year old Caylee Anthony, who was reported missing last July. I have read the various twists and turns of this case, and felt the same frustration, sorrow, and anger that others have no doubt felt.
Certainly, in a case like Caylee’s, the need to find the child and learn the truth of her absence is of paramount importance. I wish every missing child could have the benefit of national media exposure that Caylee has had. We might find more children alive, or learn certain truths sooner. There can be a huge benefit to widespread media coverage or, as we’ve seen in Caylee Anthony’s case, an ugly drawback.
When shows like Nancy Grace exploit a tragic story for the sake of ratings, and fill the stage with speculative analysts and various conspiracy theories, they do so in order to intrigue and incite the audience. Their interest in finding “justice” for children like Caylee Anthony (or Trenton Duckett, or Elizabeth Smart), extends only as far as the number of living rooms they reach. The more intrigue, the larger the Arbitron ratings are likely to be. For provocateurs like Grace, a case as twisted and complex as Caylee Anthony’s provides a golden landslide of ratings, and an audience that’s ready to be provoked and impassioned.
Caylee Anthony’s big, beautiful eyes and sweet smile could rouse even the most news-hardened heart. To suspect that Caylee had been murdered was heart-wrenching enough, but the speculations put forth by Grace and others — that Caylee’s grandparents and Uncle were purposely misleading investigators and subverting justice — fanned the flames of public outrage.
Angry mobs of vigilante-style protesters swarmed George and Cindy Anthony’s house, ready to take their pound of flesh from Caylee’s grandparents. Screaming, cussing, and ready to fight, their goal appeared to be less about finding justice for Caylee than about terrorizing the Anthony’s into accepting their version of events: that Casey Anthony murdered Caylee, and that the Anthony family was complicit in covering up the truth and impeding the investigation.
Under the tainted umbrella of news commentary came a host of incendiary accusations, including unsubstantiated reports of incest which cast a dark, suspicious shadow on both Casey’s father and brother. However, it was Cindy Anthony who bore the brunt of public disdain after appearing on several news programs to plead Caylee’s case and defend her daughter against accusations of murder.
I’m not going to analyze the stated beliefs of the Cindy Anthony or her family. They have been published and broadcast, and it’s clear that investigators, as well as the vast majority of the public, disagrees with the family’s belief in Casey Anthony’s innocence.
It’s the public’s right to form an opinion, and I have no issue with the opinion that Casey Anthony likely murdered her daughter. She is in jail on that charge, a body that is presumably Caylee’s has been found, and a trial will be held. What I take issue with is that some members of the public felt it was necessary to terrorize Caylee’s extended family for not sharing their opinion of Casey Anthony’s guilt.
The families of murder victims are not specially privileged, nor does grief form a halo that leaves them above reproach. However, in five short months Casey Anthony’s parents and brother have not only had to face the disappearance and possible death of their beloved granddaughter and niece, but they’ve also had to struggle with an overwhelming number of stories, false leads, and dashed hopes. They’ve had to weigh their own personally known facts, including the daughter and sister they have known since birth, against a version of Casey that is altogether foreign to them. Casey, despite many other flaws, had no history of physical violence or child abuse.
Tipsters were calling into hotlines with Caylee sightings in North Carolina, California, and Florida. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of imagination to understand why the family maintained hope against all odds and believed she may have been kidnapped.
A portion of the public, however, decided that the Anthony family needed to suspend their hopes and help convict their daughter in the press. They decided it was their right to goad Casey’s family into despising her as much as they did. To that end, they surrounded the Anthony home, demanding justice from those in the least position to give it — a family left reeling by tragedy. A family for whom Caylee and Casey were not just pictures on a screen, but people they had nurtured, loved, and cared for since their births.
It was a disgrace to the cause of justice to watch protesters harass a family that was already distraught and plagued with anxiety and fears. That protesters seemed more prone to name-calling and threatening stances when the media was present speaks to something even more insidious — such as using a victimized child and her pained family in order to create their own Jerry Springer moments of fame.
I don’t blame Lee Anthony for dismantling the “memorial” left on the Anthony lawn by protesters after the discovery of what may be Caylee’s body. After being terrorized, it’s not unlikely that the Anthony’s saw less sympathy and love in the flowers, notes, and teddy bears than a mean-spirited and accusatory “we told you so, and we hope you suffer” directed at the family. And unfortunately they will suffer. Long after the protesters and public have moved on, and Caylee’s image fades from the collective conscience of the public.