Feeding the Fire at the Anthonys'
Sometimes I couldn’t tell whether I was watching a news broadcast or an episode of Big Brother.
It’s never a good sign when you turn on a TV and see Geraldo Rivera broadcasting live from your city. But there he was, the mustachioed celebrity journalist, standing in front of an RV parked outside the home of Cindy and George Anthony, exclaiming he had an exclusive.
Geraldo was about to take us, the viewers, inside that RV behind him. It was the command and control center of bounty hunter Leonard Padilla, who had helped get the Anthonys’ daughter, Casey Anthony, out of jail on bond the first time. The look-see turned out to be as much of a letdown as Geraldo’s “live television event” in 1986 when he opened Al Capone’s vault, revealing a couple of empty gin bottles. This time, two bored dudes inside the RV sat at a table with a laptop and taser gun on it. Does the man never learn?
Like Geraldo’s exclusive, the local media’s coverage of the Casey Anthony saga turned a news story into an overhyped, low-rent drama. Daily TV news broadcasts in front of the Anthonys’ east Orange County home reminded me of a reality series full of confrontations, bleeped-out dialogue and wacko behavior. Sometimes I couldn’t tell whether I was watching a news broadcast or an episode of Big Brother.
With Casey not talking about the whereabouts of her 3-year-old daughter, Caylee, and the police stymied by her silence and the lack of a body, the story went from the disturbing to the bizarre. Disturbing because the actions of Casey and her parents defied reason; bizarre because the media was as out-of-control as the sign-waving demonstrators screaming “baby killer.”
Anyone holding a sign with an out-rageous message to the Anthonys was a candidate for a close-up or an interview. Whoever screamed “murderer” the loudest or, better yet, provoked a confrontation with George or Cindy, was certain to get air time on the evening broadcasts. The cameras are on. Action!
I made a trip to the Anthony home one afternoon because I hadn’t been to a circus in a long, long time. Geraldo wasn’t there, and Casey was back in jail on charges unrelated to her daughter’s disappearance. The cowboy bounty hunter Padilla and his RV were gone, too, but not the TV news vans.
It was interesting to watch the pack mentality of the news crews; as soon as one trained a camera and mic on a demonstrator the others were quick to horn in on the interview. “Caylee’s our baby, too,” one woman with a sign said. “We need closure.” I think she meant exposure, which the media was willing to provide.
This just in: Protesters vent their rage at the Anthony home—again. We’ll have live coverage at 4, 5, 6, and 11.
I usually roll my eyes and shake my head when I hear people accuse the media of sensationalizing a news story. The media doesn’t start the fires, although it has fanned the flames on occasion. But the local media’s vigil outside the Anthony home helped to sustain and heighten raw passions that long ago ceased being worthy of coverage.
While I watched news crews cover one protester displaying an incredibly gruesome sign, one cameraman spun around and shook his head. “We’re feeding this,” he said, looking in my direction.
Like fuel to a fire.