With Zimmerman Trial, TV Lawyers Limbo Under the Bar

With Zimmerman Trial, TV Lawyers Limbo

Led by HLN's Nancy Grace, TV pundits have exhibited little shame - and less restraint

Shakespeare’s misunderstood line “let’s kill all the lawyers” can be viewed somewhat differently in this summer of the George Zimmerman trial, as attorneys crowd the airwaves, making their bids to become the next Nancy Grace.

There might be a more unseemly, nauseating spectacle on TV than HLN — where it’s not uncommon to tune in and find a half-dozen so-called legal experts yelling at each other — but it’s hard to think of where.

All the cable news networks have seized on the trial of Zimmerman, accused of murdering Florida teen Trayvon Martin, with its obvious racial and political overtones. As the Huffington Post observed with rare understatement, during an especially busy stretch in the news — including the tragic death of firefighters in Arizona, turmoil in Egypt and Nelson Mandela’s failing health — “the cable news networks have proven extremely committed to the George Zimmerman trial over the past week, often to the exclusion of nearly every other major story.”

Thursday’s closing argument raised the already simmering coverage toward a boil, and evoked the customary empty-headed questions from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who kept asking a panel of lawyers to guess at what is “going to resonate with these women,” referring to the all-female jury.

Right. Because talking-head attorneys have been so accurate in predicting how juries are going to decide in the past.

Still, nothing has been more noxious than the wall-to-wall attention from HLN, the network formerly known as Headline News, whose toxic avenger, Grace, and Jane Velez-Mitchell often seem to be impersonating someone trying to project to the back of a high-school gymnasium without a microphone. HLN is so determined to stay connected to the case, it leaves photos and “GEORGE ZIMMERMAN ON TRIAL” inset in the screen even during commercial breaks.

Grace has become a poster child for this sort of overheated coverage, turning every criminal case into a trial of the century.

“Bombshell tonight! In the last hour, the courtroom explodes!” Grace thundered as her program began Thursday, which would be news, if she didn’t pretty much begin her show that way every night.

Grace’s relative success has reverberated through the media, while dangling an intoxicating lure in front of every would-be TV host with a legal degree. Yet in the crush to allocate blame for this sorry state of affairs, let’s not give a pass to the lawyers themselves, dutifully lining up to pontificate on TV — having passed the bar, apparently, just so they could lower the bar on public discourse.

In the courtroom, lawyers are historically advised not to ask a question if they can’t anticipate the answer. On TV, ignorance is never viewed as a reason to stop running one’s mouth, what with so many hours to fill.

As always with TV punditry, there’s seldom a penalty for being wrong, only one for being boring. Be provocative, be argumentative, but by all means, have an opinion about absolutely everything.

Before anyone steps up to defend these boorish barristers — after all, that’s what the networks want — here’s a thought: Whatever happened to saying no? No one is obligated to appear on television. If a booker calls up and asks you to participate in a tabloid-tinged roundtable, try taking a rain check.

Because the truth is these programs ultimately have very little to do with the law, and everything to do with showbiz and gladiatorial-style verbal combat. Watch HLN with the sound down, and you could easily confuse it with ESPN, down to the instant replays and endless recaps of the day’s big moments. Throw in the argue-about-anything mentality of talkradio, and you have a prescription for unrelenting inanity.

Seriously, would you want to hire a lawyer you saw engaged in a shouting match on HLN?

The supply of willing attorneys, however, looks pretty near inexhaustible. That’s because in our society, the mere act of being seen on television conveys credibility and authority. And many of these legal eagles have no problem wildly speculating not only about the case’s outcome, but the potential fallout depending on the verdict.

Thursday afternoon on HLN — not long before Velez-Mitchell broke up a scrum by yelling, “Frank, shush!” — an attorney named Darren Kavinoky maintained a part of the prosecutor’s closing argument “reeks of desperation.”

Oh it reeks, all right. But if you want to locate the source of that aroma, you might want to start by looking in the mirror. And with apologies to Shakespeare, in this case the fault really is in our stars — just the made-for-TV kind, and those lining up to join them.

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  1. I was absolutely disgusted how the Prosecution/Persecution along with the Judge used every unethical trick they could to rail road George Zimmerman. Thankfully, the jury saw through their centrifuge, and found him not guilty.

    • Ron Lewis says:

      Great malaprop, Steven. LOL
      centrifuge [sen-truh-fyooj] noun
      1. an apparatus that rotates at high speed and by centrifugal force separates substances of different densities, as milk and cream.

      I see through your subterfuge – you’re saying that the judge and prosecutors were spinning lies, trying to separate us from our sanity, right?

  2. Rumor has it that Jane V. Mitchell & Nancy Grace are on suicide watch.

  3. Ron Lewis says:

    Soooo, why do you watch her show??? Didn’t you know this was how her show worked before you tuned it??? Geesh, what’s next – posts by drug addicts complaining about how their dealer sells low quality product?

  4. JamesMc says:

    HLN, and Nancy Grace in particular, have been especially obnoxious in the coverage of this trial. Last night I caught part of her show and as soon as one of the TV lawyers said something that disagreed with her view she would cut them off. HLN engages in emotionally wrought hysterics with very little factual basis. But, to be fair to HLN, the prosecutors in this case have behaved the exact same way.

  5. John says:

    Can’t watch Nancy Disgrace anymore after the “Tot Mom” fiasco..

  6. lamigra says:

    These sea lawyers will beat this to death until something better comes along.

  7. DJH says:

    That’s sad – I guess I didn’t realize people actually watched this grace broad but, that shows you how desperate for entertainment people are. Yet another sign of just how horrible hollywood, tv’s and movies are when people spend their evenings watching this bag.

  8. Rick Smith says:

    I thought Shakespeare said, The only good lawyer is a dead lawyer.
    Or am I thinking about somone else?

  9. mehitable says:

    I don’t think Shakespeare’s line is misunderstood at all.

  10. Harrison Bergeron says:

    Has Heisenberg started smoking his product or does he just want to end his life immediately. Nancy Grace on your face would take down a grizzly bear.

  11. Nazty Biz McNazty says:

    Well stated Mr Brian Lowry. The American media, and I do mean “media” as a whole not just the so-called news, is a seething cauldron of hypocritical prolixios sensory vomit and insanity. What a joke, what a terrible joke indeed.

  12. HLN = Hysterical Ladies Network I don’t understand how attorney talking heads can “emotionally decide” a case before all the facts are delivered.

  13. Bob says:

    one positive I found with The Nancy Grace Program after watching it once or twice – I blocked CNN on my receiver… Quite

  14. Ron Lewis says:

    OMG, you want the same people who tune into Nancy Grace and Jerry Springer judging you en masse? Give me voir dire anyday.

  15. Ron Lewis says:

    Amen. I only watch Jeopardy, Seinfeld, the occasional sporting event, and some old movies.

  16. cindy-in-tx says:

    I have never once willingly watched Nancy Grace. I’ve been in the same room with it for about five minutes once, because my husband was watching. The best answer to this stuff is to just turn off the tv. Unfortunately, I’ve seen Nancy Grace and Dan Abrams argue a few times on Good Morning America, but I have to leave earlier now to get to work so I haven’t even had to be subjected to that.

  17. Robert Weirr says:

    Yeah well thing is that this drivel is what the American public wants, and the networks are happy to deliver it to them. Nancy Grace, the Kardashians, whatever. It’s all low-brow and unfortunately that’s what has become of our culture. Perhaps Variety would like to hold up a mirror and see what is looking back at them?

    • mehitable says:

      Robert Weirr – I don’t think the American people “want” any of that stuff. I have literally NEVER heard anyone I know or have met EVER show the remotest interest in any of these people especially the obnoxious Kardashians or that harridan, Nancy Grace. I don’t think most people DO have any interest in them – I think they’re just promoted as topics by the people who own and run our media in an attempt to create distractions. I think they are created topics and issues, not a response to any public demand or interest.

    • Ron Lewis says:

      IMHO, Hollywood has figured out that people will watch whatever they broadcast. Again and again, movie receipts prove that family-oriented films make the most money, but Hollywood keeps producing mostly R-rated sex and violence. It can’t be about money. You could argue that it’s driven by their “creative” needs to express themselves, but all the sequels and updated rehashes of tired old plots and characters lack creativity. The only constant seems to be the political agenda sown into everything.

      • Ron Lewis says:

        hmm, didn’t mean to suggest that you, personally, will watch anything Hollywood broadcasts. I assumed most readers would understand that.

  18. Excellent article! The instant credibility these people gain has always puzzled me.

  19. Taj says:

    You said everything that needed to be said. Well done!

  20. xtool says:

    This is funny. An Organization (Variety) that promotes the overexposure of attention craving “celebrities” is advocating that would be celebrities (lawyers) should not jump into the limelight. the Lawyers should practice restraint while we are subject to endless “articles” on the Kardashians. Sad.

  21. Ron Lewis says:

    Aaah, another person with reading comprehension challenges. The author did not state that Shakespeare spoke the line; he said the line belonged to Shakespeare, which as the the author, it does – just as your embarrassing words belong to you.

    • Melanie Smith says:

      I don’t see where we have a choice anymore – we can’t keep this going. It was a kangaroo trial and this is the third one by my account in the last year alone, this one worse than the other. He might not get anywhere but I would certainly try. It used to be illegal to televise these trials.

    • Ron Lewis says:

      sorry folks. I keep replying to a comment but Variety inserts my post as a new comment. This was a reply to Aristides.

  22. Ron Lewis says:

    If GZ is acquitted despite this corrupt and biased prosecution, he’ll probably disagree with your assessment of lawyers. I already think it’s an overly broad generalization rife with exceptions.

  23. Arisitides says:

    Shakespeare’s did not say “kill all the lawyers”. One of his characters did. That character was a member of an unruly and dangerous mob. The mob led to a brief bloody rebellion in the midst of a civil war. You draw the conclusion.

  24. kestrel27 says:

    Well this is what happens when you have dipstick, so called reporters with a Liberal agenda, trying desperately to make a story fit one of their favorite templates of White Racism. They don’t dig for facts, they don’t ask hard questions of anyone that they feel might be on their side, in fact they aren’t really journalists at all, just cheerleaders and lapdogs for left wing ideology. Thus the need to portray Zimmerman as a “White” Hispanic who went out with racial malice and forethought to kill the little Black angel known as Trayvon all with accompanying pictures of Trayvon as a ten year old, innocent as the wind driven snow. Everyone in this case, including the judge, is doing everything they can to railroad Zimmerman by changing the rules midway through the game. Zimmerman is innocent and should be set free, but you can bet with today’s PC Liberals running everything, he’ll be convicted of something, anything, just so those sanctimonious pinhead Liberals can smugly say Zimmerman killed Trayvon because of his race. You see, racism is still alive and well in America!

  25. Nick says:

    Amen! Every night I start to watch the pst trial shows including Dr. Drew only to turn to something else a short time later. The anger, the inability to have an informative discourse, the warping of evidence to fit the attorney’s political and social points of view, and the Hosts’ unwillingness to stop the over talking make these shows a waste of time. They could be informative but they must think the chaos is good for ratings – not for me.

  26. Spurtler says:

    cNN has become rubberneck tv. I continue my search for serious news coverage but the fourth estate seems to have sold out to advertising revenue. Maybe Al Jazeera will be ok for a couple of months before it loses its street cred. Goodbye CNN. You were a reliable friend for so many years. Now you’ve become so trashy.

  27. Poupon Marks says:

    This is a very objective, values based article. Garbage is garbage, no matter what kink of glitter and tinsel you put on it. The author and magazine should be applauded for calling a toid and toid.

  28. PerryMason says:

    All talk, no walk………like Barry. Ho hum.

  29. Ed Barbar says:

    I’ve been consumed by the Zimmerman Trial, watching nearly all the testimony. What I’ve learned is there are really good people in this country, but they are silent. Like Donelly, a friend of George Zimmerman, who was a medic in Vietnam. In Vietnam, he knew in the overlapping screams in the battlefield who was in need of help. And he knew from the screams who it was. Like Mr. O’Mara, Zimmerman’s lawyer, a man who defended against DUIs, and took divorce cases, helping “Good people in difficult times,” before he was involved with Zimmerman, and who has constantly appealed to the best in the nature of everyone. Like the States Witnesses, Singleton and Sereno. Serono lost his job because he wouldn’t recommend a 2nd degree murder charge, as did the chief of police.

    Meanwhile, despite the cries for help at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, almost a minute of them, no one had the courage to help. One woman even stopped her husband from helping. This is America?

    The state’s closing arguments by Bernie de la Rionda primarily focused on Zimmerman’s freely given testimony, and his other statements trying to make the Retreat at Twin Lakes safe. Some might say Zimmerman is a kind of hero, trying to make his community safe. But you won’t hear that perspective by the MSM. And after this, what innocent man would rightfully think there is justice, and give freely like Zimmerman did at every step of the way to Law Enforcement. Even the witnesses where smarter than that, with half seeking legal counsel to protect themselves, from what can only be retribution.

    Perhaps this is a distraction from the real news of the day. The failures in the Middle East. The stagnant economy. The many strange actions of our justice department, the IRS, the Agriculture department, and the State Department. But I don’t see it that way. I think this is the news: a loss of the soul of America.

  30. alte says:

    This news story reminded me a short article I read. It appeared on the 1996 SAT test:

    “Now . . . this” is a phrase commonly used on television newscasts to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to hear or see, or possibly to anything one is ever likely to hear or see. The phrase acknowledges that the world as mapped by television news has no order or meaning and is not to be taken seriously. No earthquake is so devastating, no political blunder so costly, that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, “Now . . . this.” Interrupted by commercials, presented by newscasters with celebrity status, and advertised like any other product, television newscasts transmit news without context, without consequences, without values, and therefore without essential seriousness; in short, news as pure entertainment. The resulting trivialization of information leaves television viewers well entertain but not well informed or well prepared to respond to events.

    The species of information created by television is, in fact, “disinformation.” Disinformation does not mean false information, but misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented, or superficial information – that creates the illusion of knowing something, but that actually leads one away from any true understanding. In the United States, television news does not deliberately aim to deprive viewers of a coherent understanding of their world. But when news is packaged as entertainment, no such understanding is possible. The problem is not that television viewers lack authentic information, but that they are losing their sense of what a complete body of information should include.

    People are by now so thoroughly adjusted to the world of television news – a world of fragments, where events stand alone, stripped of any connection to the past, future, or other events – that all principles of coherence have vanished. And so has the notion of holding leaders accountable for contradictions in their policies. What possible interest could there be in comparing what the President says now and what the President said in the past? Such a comparison would merely rehash old news and could hardly be interesting or entertaining.

    For all his perspicacity, George Orwell did not predict this situation; it is not “Orwellian.” The government does not control the newscasts. Lies have not been defined as truth, nor truth as lies. All that has happened is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and has been entertained into indifference. The current situation fits the predictions of Aldous Huxley, rather than those of Orwell: Huxley realized that the government need not conceal anything from a public that has become insensible to contradiction, that has lost any perspective from which to scrutinize government critically, and that has been rendered passive by technological diversions.

  31. Mark of the Wild West... says:

    iI’s like the Zimmermann is then new O.J. the freak show of the moment… The Romans had their Coliseum and we got a highly controlled mass media to provide around the clock distractions…

  32. Ron Lewis says:

    *corroborate

  33. The Bruce says:

    Sure they would. Afterall, MSNBC still exists, and their ratings/viewership numbers have always been in the toilet.

  34. reflect says:

    Well in any case the WEB will make these yoyo’s obsolete. And for good reason.

  35. Paul Revere says:

    Seems to me that television does FAR more harm than it does good. Which is why I cancelled all “services” years ago and never regretted it.

    I highly recommend it to anyone interested in raising their quality of life.

    • Ron Lewis says:

      TV is definitely no place to get one’s news. Yes, it’s all biased, superficial, and repetitive, but my reason predates all of the BS – it just takes too long.

      Every word spoken in a TV news program can be read in 1/10th the time. Give me a transcript of the 30-minute news show, and I’ll know everything said in 3 minutes. Rarely does the video portion add any value, and it’s so manipulative. Scenes are inserted that have nothing to do with the facts of the story, they’re just intended to evoke an emotional response undeserved by the reality.

      And there’s the disgusting aspect. The way the pundits make themselves the story. They’re just egotistical talking heads reading from a teleprompter, for chrissakes. Yet, they’re marketed as brilliant experts, as if they do the research and write the words. Nothing but modern-day Ted Baxters.

      Give me written words any day although, I have to add, you just about need a law degree to distinguish the facts from the propaganda. The tactic that is most despicable is when a hyperbiased article full of subjective conclusions – literally propaganda – is published on some obscure blog, and other, more seemingly credible, websites will report on that article, not the story itself. By merely inserting four words – “it was reported today” (or something similar) – the new article is then able to repeat all of the blatant lies, but characterized as facts, because it is true that those lies were reported that day. It’s despicable, but people are too stupid to pick up on distortion.

  36. Steve Crawford says:

    Arguably one of the best overviews I’ve seen. How VERY spot on. Nancy Grace. What a high paid joke. HLN… Right… All of the cable channels have rushed down this road. All pathetic.

  37. JackL says:

    What a refreshing article. The world needs more writers like this.

  38. Not too far from what I was thinking, as well. This thing has been a show trial, in fact, a travesty of a show trial. The prosecution hasn’t a leg to stand on, so they keep trying to whip up stuff out of thin air, like the “child abuse” thing. And to agree with the author of the piece, the networks are nauseating about this…because it would never have come to this if they hadn’t butted in, in the first place.

  39. DixT says:

    Great comment! And TRUTHFUL, in all respects.

  40. Gary Whitman says:

    the only reason one of Grace’s viewers would not watch her is if the trailer needed new skirting before winter.

  41. Stuart says:

    Nancy Grace and all her willing dupes are a joke .Ratings do not equate to competence. All these loyal soap opera HLN followers,would never hire any of these HLN “lawyers” if they were charged in a capital murder case. So sad to see this type of video /rating network rape of our judicial system.

  42. osu992@yahoo.com says:

    It’s meta-Zimmerman, not Zimmerman.

  43. GJB says:

    Nancy Grace is the stage four cancer of “news”.

  44. Karen Walker says:

    The only reason this case has racial and political overtones is because of people like Nancy Grace, all of her comrades reporting, Obama and his administration, Holder and the Justice Department. If there is rioting in the streets they should all be held accountable for it. The judge has done everything in her power to force a conviction against Mr. Zimmerman. Holder has organized anti-Zimmerman protests financed by American taxpayers. Now what?

    • Ed Barbar says:

      I’ve had the same thought. What is the return on the cost? How many lives have been disrupted by the media’s intent to make this racial? What will be the cost to race relations?

      The MSM is getting pennies on the dollar for the damage they are causing. Perhaps I shouldn’t make such a big deal out of it. Let’s get back to the real problems. Not that the country is eating itself alive, but how this country has lost its credibility in the world over the last 5 years.

  45. Melanie Smith says:

    Nope, no guarantee – but I would certainly try, Look at it this way – they’ve taken everything away from him whether or not he goes to jail – in or out of jail the lynch mob will come after him and his family. I’m willing to bet several laws have been broken here and he has the legal grounds to make life uncomfortable for a lot of the people who did this to him. He’s got nothing to loose.

  46. Wu says:

    Who in their right mind uses IE anymore, and how much are they paying you to stump for them?

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