Sunday, March 2, 2008

The court of popular opinion

Just a few more chapters to go and I'm done reading 'Phineas Redux' by Anthony Trollope. The main character, Phineas Finn, was accused of killing a man and was tried and convicted by the court of popular opinion long before his case went to trial for real. I won't spoil the story for anyone interested in reading it, for my topic of choice today is the court of popular opinion. I don't know what Trollope thought about the tabloids of his day, but given the way they treated Phineas Finn before he was even brought to trial, the tabloids were even worse than they are now.
I've been trying to take Finn's situation and adapt it to the here and now, and it's gotten me thinking. One politician allegedly kills a fellow politician after seen arguing with him. The tabloid in question had an axe to grind with Finn before the murder happened, and the editor was more than pleased to spread his own verdict around, while gossip ran wild in the streets and clubs. I'm surprised they were able to find an impartial jury. Even now, with sequestered juries and closed courtrooms, the tabloids still run wild, as does gossip. Today, the editors are expected to keep their axes in the closet, ungrinded. That's when talk radio and the shock-jocks come in and get their messages out.
Also, reading this book reminded me of what usually motivates the verdict handed down by popular opinion. Motives are rarely pure, especially when driven by interested parties. Lobbyists come to mind. They motivate people to think a certain way. In this case, high-placed nobles and politicians got the ball rolling to motivate the court of popular opinion. If Duke So-and-so says it's true, it must certainly be true. We have that problem even now, and it's probably not going to go away for a while yet.
I won't say how the book ends, for I have not reached the end myself, but it is a story worth looking into.

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