Celebrity Trials in the Media analyzes famous trials of the last few decades, or at least trials that were made famous by the media frenzy surrounding them. One case covered is the 2004 Kobe Bryant sexual assault trial, which ended after 14 months with no trial at all—the trial was dismissed because the woman involved decided she didn’t want to go forward. The little unknown town of Eagle, Colorado, was trampled upon by more than 400 media outlets who camped out looking for stories, even on days where there was no story to report. But one reporter—who was charged with reporting something—made even the news that the judge didn’t rule on anything on a particular day seem like news.
The documentary suggests that fans and the public push media outlets to go bananas around a particular trial, although if the accused were just the “regular joes,” then there would be no real interest.
During the same time as the Bryant trial in Colorado, the documentary details the Michael Jackson child molestation trial in California. In both trials, the photographers were charged with getting a photo of something, even if it meant just 15 minutes of videos of the celebrity going in and out of the court building. One reporter suggests that Jackson walked a certain way when the cameras weren’t on him, but when he caught the cameras trained on him, he would seem to need assistance walking.
How many ways can you say that the defendant wore pajamas to court, or a nice brown suit? It was suggested that maybe Bryant helped his female attorney out of the SUV every day, because he had been told to do so.
It’s a common curiosity; the public wants to know all they can about someone else’s business, and what better way than to while away the hours consumed by bad news that doesn’t remotely affect you? But some reporters offered that maybe it’s not right to report on sexual abuse cases, because of the subject matter, and they candidly share the challenges and ethical dilemmas that arise when the camera lights go on and the deadline to deliver a compelling news story, nearly 24 hours/7 days a week, arrives.
Producers and networks wrangle over whether to say undergarments or panties; debate back and forth on how to describe oral sex, while at the same time admitting that the news has to be salacious to compete with the cable court shows. Filmmaker Brian Malone steps into this nexus, camera in hand, to capture a fascinating behind-the-curtain view of how the news machine kicks into gear when celebrities go wrong. He makes references to the O.J. Simpson trial, President Bill Clinton’s drilling about the Monica Lewinsky event, as well as the Tanya Harding trial, among others.
In addition to capturing the circus-like atmosphere, Malone was able to tape some fascinating glimpses into the process of celebrity trial news coverage. But Americans’ fascination with soap opera–esque tragedy is not the only factor. Malone points to the role that for President Ronald Reagan played by deregulating the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) which threw open the door to media consolidation. And news programs, which had been insulated from commercial demands previous to this, became part of the bottom line and subject to the ratings game for advertising dollars.
Celebrity Trials in the Media is available November 6 for the first time on DVD and VOD platforms from Cinema Libre Studio. Visit www.cinemalibrestudio.com/celebritytrials for more information.