Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why I Shouldn't Watch Nancy Grace

Tonight, Nancy featured the sad case of Erica Rutledge, a single 24 year-old mother whose 6 year-old daughter died in an apartment fire. (4 year-old son survived.) The mother has been charged with involuntary manslaughter. Nancy began the discussion by telling us, with her regular tone of horror, judgment, and disgust, that the "mother" (you can practically feel the air quotes around that word) was out at a club while her poor, innocent child died. The tone clearly conveys that Nancy thinks the woman is pure evil for having the nerve to be at a club ever. Nancy thinks, "She has children! She is not allowed to have any thoughts but those that pertain to those beautiful little angels. Only a truly horrible mother would spend any time at all away from her precious children!" Might have been an appropriate moment for a caller to ask Nancy where her two beautiful children are each night while she's spewing her crap on t.v. But I digress.

My first assumption from the way Nancy spoke of the horrible "mother" was that she must have left the kids home alone. But in that case, I would actually agree with Nancy that the mother is pretty bad to go to a club, and that can't happen. So there must be more to the story. Sure enough, there was a man at the apartment. But Nancy says he didn't even know he was supposed to be in charge and didn't know the kids were there! Well, ok, that's still not great parenting on Mom's part. If that's true. Of course, Nancy takes the man's story at face value and automatically discredits any claims by Mom that she really did leave someone in charge of her kid.

Here, Nancy and I finally fully diverge. Phew! It feels wrong to be too closely aligned to her in opinion. Thank God it never lasts long as she always omits key details. Key details like, Mom didn't leave home until 12:30, so at the time of the fire, she'd been gone for one hour. One single hour. She didn't skip out on bed time or meal time. The fact that this all happened after 12:30 also explains why the man left at the home was sleeping. Ok, so maybe this woman isn't such a terrible mom.

Another pretty key detail that Nancy omitted is this: the daughter wasn't supposed to be home that night. When Mom left the apartment, daughter was supposed to be settled in at a sleep-over. No reason to ask the babysitter man to take care of the daughter because Mom would be home before her daughter came home in the morning. Hardly negligent or irresponsible parenting. For some reason, the sleep-over hosts brought the daughter home sometime after 12:30. So Mom didn't know the kid was home. Seems that this also explains the man's statement that he didn't know he was supposed to take care of the girl. Hmm, now that we think about it, his statement was confined to not realizing he was responsible for the girl.

Nancy had a fire investigator on to discuss the possible causes of the fire. They think it started in Mom's room. Could have been mechanical. Could have been matches. Could have been a lit cigarette. Nancy instantly discredited the first two possibilities. Mom clearly left a lit cigarette in her room. Couldn't have just been random chance, couldn't have been the little boy who was sleeping in that room playing with matches, and the fire investigator couldn't possibly be wrong about what room the fire started in.

So let's recap: According to Nancy Grace, Mom is evil, irresponsible, and should go away for life because her daughter died in an apartment fire while Mom was out at a club. A fire that Mom undoubtedly started by leaving a lit cigarette in her room. Her little lackey, Sue Moss, who clearly aspires to be the next Nancy, even emulating the contemptuous huffs, the snarky comments, and the sneer, was right there agreeing with Nancy on everything.

Now let's de-Nancy Grace this story and find the reality. A single mom went out for an hour or two. Is she really not allowed to go out once in a while? We have no knowledge that she does this every night or that she ever leaves her kids alone to go clubbing. She left her 4 year-old at home with a friend and her 6 year-old at a sleep-over. How on earth does anyone get criminal behavior out of this scenario?? That's not even negligent parenting! Even if the guy wasn't the best babysitter in the world, so what? She didn't leave her kids home alone and the fact is that the guy got the boy out of the apartment. He says he didn't know the girl was home or he would have gone for her, too. So the babysitter fit the main criteria we have for babysitters: take care of the kids if some emergency happens.

Now, maybe she did leave a lit cigarette (hardly a proven point and requires a lot of faith in fire science, which I do not have), but the crux of Nancy's complaint with this woman is that she's such a negligent, irresponsible person for leaving her kids to go out. The real question I have is what is up with the sleep-over hosts who brought that girl home so late at night? Did they make sure the adult at the home knew the girl was back? Did they try to call the girl's mom? If they just brought the girl home and let her slip inside the apartment, don't they at least share some morally responsibility for the girl's death? Several times in my childhood, my parents had to take one of my friends home from my house at a weird hour. They never did so without making contact with the friend's parents. My parents would have walked that girl to her door, knocked on it, and made sure the babysitter woke up and saw the girl was back home. Isn't that what any adult entrusted with the care of another woman's child should do?

The bottom line here is that this all only happened a few days ago. Nancy doesn't know all the details. There is no final report from the fire investigator. No witnesses have yet testified in court. We don't really know any of the witness statements in full. No one seems to know any information from the sleep-over hosts. Basically, we don't know jack squat right now. The investigation and trial process usually helps flesh these things out pretty well. The picture at the end of a trial is usually pretty different from the picture a few days in.

And here's what's so wrong with Nancy Grace. She doesn't know much at all about how this situation will appear once all of the witnesses testify and all the evidence comes in, but that doesn't slow her down at all in passing judgment. She has already got this mother convicted in her mind. She got there by ignoring details, assuming others, and accepting at face value any piece of possible evidence that points to her conclusion. She dismisses with much derision anyone who dares to speak a word in defense of a suspect. There's no room for sympathizing in any way with the person who has been branded the suspect. (At one point, she made a very nasty comment about Mom crying in the courtroom. Nancy told her to stop crying about being in the jailhouse orange. Gee, Nancy, she couldn't possibly have been crying for her dead daughter, now could she?) She speaks with contempt of the presumption of innocence, due process, and defense attorneys. All this from a former prosecutor who is supposed to be respectful of our system of justice.

And people eat it up. Every single caller starts with, "You're the greatest Nancy," "Love your show, Nancy," or "Yours is the only show worth watching, Nancy." And my favorite, "Thank you for all you do for victims, Nancy." Makes me sick. No wonder we have more people in prison than any other country. This nation is just full of idiots who always want to blame, judge, and condemn others. No thoughtful analysis of evidence, thank you. No careful consideration of the individual's actual moral culpability. No honest recognition that sometimes people just die and there really isn't anyone to blame. At least not from Nancy Grace and her dittoheads. (Yes, I'm borrowing from Rush here, but it really fits, because no one who calls in to Nancy's show ever expresses any dissent.)

So this is why I shouldn't watch Nancy Grace. It isn't entertaining or edifying. It just pisses me off. And it adds to my ever-increasing dismay about our general public's attitudes towards crime and those unfortunate enough to be suspected of committing crimes. But I'm kind of addicted to getting pissed off and I do think it's important to keep tabs on the bad, sensationalist media types so we can try to counter them. Still, I can't keep doing this to myself. My blood pressure doesn't need to be so high and I can't take it upon myself to debunk each and every one of her shows. So I'm not gonna watch her again. Not for a long time. At least, not until tomorrow night!

(The last two sentences are quoted from one of my favorite movies. Maybe a bit obscure as a quote, but it's always been one of my favorite moments. Points to the first person who can identify it!)


A Voice of Sanity said...

Based on various comments I have heard her make, my opinion is that she doesn't understand the US legal system, doesn't know US law, and can't analyse evidence. Quite the little trifecta, no?

S said...

I guess we should just be thankful she's not trying to prosecute people in an actual courtroom anymore.

Andrea said...

It's from Rear Window.

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