Any person accused of a crime in the U.S. can only be convicted by sufficient evidence of wrongdoing by his accuser. Our constitution provides for that in very clear wording we commonly refer to as “presumption of innocence until proven guilty”.
The court of public opinion has no rules at all. No evidence is required. Seldom is any substantiated evidence even presented. Rumors, lies, slander, and the shouting of anonymous vulgarities are allowed. Fortunately murder, physical assault, and dueling are still illegal. Truth is allowed, but without any supporting evidence. It gets mixed right in with all the lies and deceit.
In addition, the media circus, constantly fanning the flames, magnifies the harm done to all. They should and must take most the blame for the destruction caused by the contentious arguments they so willingly report. The images and words they choose to forward are the most dramatic, shrill and violent. It’s profitable for them to relay the worst possible material, for the longest possible time.
Imagine if news programs promoted calm, relating the various sides of any issue, without showing the angriest, most vocal advocates, but instead those speaking with restraint. Even in our home, when my passion on a subject gets too loud, my wife asks I lower my voice and speak calmly. If my wife ran the media, I can assure you, the volume of the rhetoric would be lower.
Unlike courts of law, public opinion doesn’t resolve anything. Both the accuser and accused are vilified. The public becomes mired in a state of anger and resentment. Everyone loses. Many remain distracted from their daily duties by the time and the emotional toll spent on even one issue. If all the anger and vile rhetoric brought about a real, satisfactory conclusion, it might be worth the angst it causes. Instead the lack of proper resolution lingers, one more reason to hate the “other side”.
In this arena, ruled by conjecture, there may seem to be an upside – when a light is shined upon misdeeds that may have been prevalent, but hidden in our society. Sex crimes against adults and children, from verbal or physical abuse to rape, are being uncovered, as time goes on. The Catholic Church remains reeling from revelations concerning priests and their superiors. Famous people, loved by young and old alike, like Bill Crosby, are being reported and convicted of such crimes. The #MeToo movement began an avalanche of stories from women, feeling that they could be listened to with respect now, sharing the emotional pain they’ve carried for years, especially concerning the crimes wrought by men in power. A multitude of crimes previously hidden by shame, not believed, or never even spoken of before, have come to light.
Even though the court of public opinion may help bring about necessary conversations, it sometimes only serves to further alienate many, leading to further divisiveness. Division causes us to remain in the perpetual state of opposition, impeding our ability to achieve goals we need to accomplish as a society. Two sides don’t give an inch, with the news media feeding the angry fire within those embroiled.
The court of public opinion does more harm than good. Our societies wrongs in need of remedy can be brought to light and discussed without needing a radical “taking of sides”. We have the right to be angry about crime and injustice, but let’s investigate thoroughly using the proper process to find the full truth. Unfortunately, we, the public, are seldom privy to the full facts. And so the disagreement and division wear on.