Monday morning offered a clear reminder of the truth about cable news. MSNBC
and Fox News ostensibly polar opposites were airing identical coverage of the Florida trial of Casey Anthony.
The two networks are best known for their evening shows, in which talking heads yell at their viewers MSNBC from the left, Fox from the right. Neither, however, lets ideology get in the way of a spectacle.
The Anthony trial is this years version of missing white woman syndrome.
That is the name given to the tendency of broadcast media to give more coverage to anything involving a white, middle-class woman particularly an attractive one than to a man or a non-white woman in a similar situation. Think Natalie Holloway, the young woman who disappeared in Aruba in 2005, or Chandra Levy, the woman whose 2001 murder speculation tied to a congressman.
These cases do not really matter to anyone not personally involved. They are simply sensational. The Anthony trial in particular has zero educational value, but seems to be one thing about which Fox and MSNBC can agree.
Ten years ago the networks got into a similar frenzy over shark attacks. There was no surge in shark attacks that year, just a couple of dramatic episodes during a slow news period. In one, an 8-year-old boy had his arm bitten off. His uncle then dragged the shark out of the water and retrieved the severed limb.
Other years had more shark attacks but also had other events that drew attention, such as presidential elections. So the hot months of 2001 became, as a Time magazine cover story called it, the summer of the shark.
That ended abruptly when real news intervened on Sept. 11.
Even by cable standards, the Anthony trial is tawdry. Charged with murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Anthony is at the center of a bizarre media circus and an even stranger trial.
That the child is dead and Anthonys family is weird are about the only certainties. Her lawyers say the death was an accident, but offer an unconvincing theory along with the assertion the defendant was sexually abused by her father and brother.
The brother broke into tears while being questioned about why he had not visited his sister in the hospital when she gave birth. Anthonys mother also testified, which all the commentators agreed was perjury.
The prosecution seemingly cannot prove the child was murdered. The most damning evidence against Anthony apparently consists of photos of her partying taken when her daughter was missing, before the body was found. That and a tattoo.
It is a freak show and little about it is fair, balanced or forward leaning. But absent sharks, perhaps it has to suffice.