IF WE DIDN'T know the difference between trial by jury and trial by television, the verdict in the Casey Anthony case cleared it up.
Those people calling in to HLN's Nancy Grace yesterday after Anthony - the Orlando, Fla., woman Grace refers to as "Tot Mom" - was found not guilty of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee?
Viewers, not jurors.
Jurors vote. Viewers vent.
Something to think about next time you get called for duty?
The Anthony jury, whose members yesterday were refusing to meet with reporters, aren't required to explain why they chose not to convict Anthony of anything beyond lying to law enforcement.
Those who disagree, and especially those who've turned this case into the Super Bowl of trash TV, can gab on forever - or until, God forbid, the crowning of America's next "tot mom" - and it won't mean a thing.
Not to Casey Anthony and not to Caylee, whose sad death has been used to excuse the excesses of those eager to cash in on the emotions most of us feel when confronted by video of a beautiful child who's died.
I don't entirely mean HLN, whose coverage might have been expected to climax at 2:16 p.m. yesterday with the on-air explosion of Grace's head.
ABC, for instance, has milked this case relentlessly, with even the women of "The View" getting into the act. It's been invested for a while, having incurred "licensing fees" for video and photos related to the case that included a $200,000 payment to Anthony herself - before she was charged.
It's not that I'd expect networks to ignore Anthony's story, especially given how much of prime-time "news" now consists of rehashing otherwise local murder mysteries.
I do think, though, that it's time that the people who talk about "justice for Caylee" stopped treating their viewers like jurors they're trying to sway.
And, yes, I'm looking at you, HLN.
I get it that Grace, a former prosecutor who before yesterday's verdict was so keyed up she was shouting at her own colleagues on-air, is never going to be an impartial observer. But what's up with hosts Mike Galanos and Jane Velez-Mitchell, whose belief in Anthony's guilt seems similarly unshakable?
"I can't give any other explanation other than human beings are not rational," Velez-Mitchell said after yesterday's verdict, speculating that jurors had spent so much time facing Anthony, they couldn't convict her.
"This jury did not know the story that we did," Galanos said.
Jurors, of course, weren't supposed to know the story that HLN was telling, with its final-arguments scorecards, its "wows" during recaps of testimony by Casey's mother, Cindy, its attempts at reading the defendant's lips. This is precisely the reason juries in high-profile cases are often sequestered.
"You cannot convict someone until they've had their day in court," Anthony's lawyer, Jose Baez, told reporters yesterday after the verdict.
It's a quaint notion, rooted in the Sixth Amendment, and it applies even in cases in which the victim is a defenseless child, the defendant a less-than-ideal mother and a preponderance of cable-news anchors have already made up their minds.
As justice systems go, it's hardly perfect, and not being God - or Nancy Grace - I can't tell you if it got it right with Casey Anthony.
But given the choice between a jury and TV's talking heads, I'll take the jury every time. *
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