Editorial: Trail by public preception

Editorial Board

Despite the fact that the United States legal system maintains an essential presumption of innocence until proof of guilt, the American public has a disturbing tendency to hold veritable public trials, which tarnish the reputation of the accused prior to any decision as to their guilt being legally confirmed.

A major contributor to the court of public opinion is the 24-hour news cycle, which perpetuates the most popular or controversial news stories. Therefore, our most notable citizens—as they are the most closely watched—often feel the full force that the power of public perception carries.

This trend is most frequently noticeable when celebrities face legal issues. While some celebrity crimes, such as those committed by NFL players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, were clearly evidenced—and that evidence was made accessible to any person who cared to look for it and therefore, some public judgement is to be expected.

However, in those particular cases, the courts made their individual decisions—both were —and still the two men have faced hardships of public perception because there was a sentiment that the punishments were not severe enough. If we have faith in the legal system—although, Americans are currently voicing their displeasure with the legal system across the country—then we must live with their decisions.

It should be noted that the enhanced public scrutiny places enhanced pressure on prosecutors when trying celebrities, which is in no way a service to the legal system for either the prosecutor or the defendant.

Immense public scrutiny is now being aimed at comedian Bill Cosby as allegations of sexual abuse have been made by 25 women as of Nov. 26, according to Slate. The allegations span decades and Cosby has chosen not to comment on the matter when asked by multiple news sources.

A number of the 25 women have appeared on national television news shows to tell their stories or have written to and had their stories published in newspapers. While it is within their rights to tell their stories and—if they are indeed victims—then they should be sympathized with. Although, the statute of limitations has come and gone and no legal action can be pursued for many of the alleged crimes.

However, the mass media has a responsibility to keep these issues as far between the two parties as possible. While that proposition is made more difficult by the fact that Cosby is not commenting on the matter, his presumption of innocence—at least in the public eye—has been tarnished and the stories of the victims have been accepted as truth.

According to a poll from People’s Pundit Daily, nearly half of Americans think that Cosby is guilty of the alleged crimes, but disagree with media handling of the situation. Additionally, a Rasmussen Reports survey finds that 42 percent of Americans still hold at least a favorable opinion of Cosby.

Cosby has had multiple TV and live performance contracts suspended or terminated, including the suspension of a Civic Center of Des Moines performance scheduled for next year.

While Cosby may very well have no need for additional income, the controversy has clearly affected his career and his way of life. If he is guilty of the crimes, then such inconveniences should be the least of his worries. However, no matter how ugly the alleged crimes may be, Cosby—and no other American—should face the judgement of their peers before the judgement of the court.