Media Circus

Under the Big Top: Today and One Year from Today

The DC press corp is gearing up for the start of a trial; one that had an innocent victim and what appears to be a less than savory cast of characters.  A murder that captivated many and confounded investigators, families and lives were ruined in its wake.  

A young Washingtonian slain, perhaps in a sexual attack, and while a host of clues may have been evident, DC Police appeared clueless.  Many years later the mystery endures as a trial commences. 

Outside the Moultrie Courthouse, satellite trucks will line Indiana Avenue and familiar faces will do their live shots; Pat Collins, Paul Wagner, Roby Chavez, Steve Tschida, and William Hennessy on the pastels: that old gang of ours.

This describes precisely what we’ll see one year from today as the Wone civil trial gets underway, but it also sets the scene for this morning at Judiciary Square with the start of the Chandra Levy murder trial.

With the pending defense media gag order, a motion that could seriously impact the case coverage, please compare and contrast.  Also ahead, a new face on the scene.  

The vanishing of Chandra Levy in May 2001, sparked the last bona fide media frenzy until the day that supposedly changed everything, September 11.  She disappeared again that day in the media until her remains were found in May 2002.   And for the most part, compared to a year earlier, the story again went dormant.  In July of 2008, the Washington Post began a 20,000 word 13-part investigative series on her murder.  That was a lot of real estate and it ran in the print edition.

Criticized in media circles, both inside the Post and out, the series may have jump-started the investigation and led to murder charges being filed in February 2009:

“Chandra Levy’s father told the paper, “The Post series really helped the police, because it brought new things out.” The Los Angeles Times says, “The Levys said that they were told that a possible breakthrough in the case came, at least in part, due to the increased attention spurred by a Washington Post series last year about the slaying and the Police Department’s handling of it.” 

Never sell the MSM short for affecting change.

Nine years after Levy’s murder, voir dire starts today and opening statements should come soon.  The majors networks could be all over it but may then disappear until the closes.  There could be plenty of cable hysteria between now and the trial’s December wrap, but no cameras in Superior Court makes the fare far less attractive for producers. 

A six week trial is a big TV commitment, even for the locals.  A veteran TV reporter at the Wone trial said he couldn’t remember the last time his and the competitions’ stations staked out such a lengthy proceeding, every day for five weeks straight.  The Barry trial?

The Post will cover the Levy trial extensively, City Paper and the Examiner too, and now there’s a new outfit slinking around the courthouse, a DC area crime and courts blog and their venture begins in earnest today., the Politico’s local baby brother and the online destination for Robert Allbritton’s DC ABC affiliate WJLA and cable’s NewsChannel8 operations, just launched TBDJustice with Sarah Larimer on the police blotter. 

Gavel-to-gavel coverage, docs, pics, the works we hope.  We heard they had a model. 

Welcome to the Big Top Sarah, and remember, use the C Street entrance to beat the crowds and no tweeting from the courtroom.  And see what you can do about getting us on the TBD local blogroll.

18 comments for “Media Circus

  1. Rich
    10/18/2010 at 11:03 AM

    Kinda Scary, Editors, don’t you think?

    As the civil trial progresses, they will jump on the story and compete with WMRW.


  2. Bill 2
    10/18/2010 at 6:34 PM

    Let’s hope that TBDJustice pays attention to the Wone case and gives it the careful consideration the case has gotten from the editors of WMRW. With more people reading about the case, the better chance there will be that someone may suddenly remember something that could lead to murder charges for the killer(s).

    I don’t see the TBDJustice blog causing anyone to lose interest in this forum. Additional attention focused on the Swann Street trio can only forward the movement toward justice for the murder of Robert Wone. In addition, it will give further publicity to Judge Leibovitz’s finding that there was no intruder and that one or more of the Swann Street trio is withholding information about the death of Robert Wone.

    • Bea
      10/18/2010 at 8:44 PM

      Agree, Bill2. The more coverage on this case, the better. Perhaps someone who knows something will be coaxed away from further drinking of the Kool-Aid and make the disclosure they’ve battled a very long time now. Or something else shakes loose – like where the video and still cameras ‘went’ that night – and why. I know the Eds here well enough to know their ultimate victory would be to bring justice on Robert Wone’s behalf, not whether their blog is ‘competitive’ with another.

      • Craig
        10/18/2010 at 9:54 PM

        No competitors, just colleagues.

        • Clio
          10/18/2010 at 11:43 PM

          Is Sarah L. an experienced crime reporter, or is she a fellow citizen-pundit?

          BTW, do all these local “journalists” of whatever gender and sexuality do their own hair and make-up? Do newsroom budget cuts have no shame!

          • Craig
            10/19/2010 at 10:28 AM

            Clio: Sarah is for real and credentialed. She’s all over the Levy voir dire, something we were spared this summer, and is leaning on twitter far more than we did. The Wone trial really didn’t lend itself to 140 character bursts. I hope she gets to witness the caliber of talent we saw in room 310. Keith Alexander says the public defenders for Guandique are top drawer and AUSA Amanda Haines is clearly up for the task, too.

            And I think make-up and stylists are the first ones thrown overboard in the tough times, and that’s especially troubling given the transition to Hi-Def.

        • Rich
          10/19/2010 at 7:28 AM

          Craig, glad you see it as collegial.

          I was afraid they may throw money at it with bells, buzzers whistles and administrative support to execute the grunt work youse guys are too busy to do.

          You worked too hard to date to have another entity come to the table sand bury you.

          Maybe another media outlet of this kind is just what the case needs to advance.

          Congratulations for setting the standard.


          • CDinDC (Boycott BP)
            10/19/2010 at 1:51 PM

            I can’t imagine WMRW getting buried. I think the Levy and Wone cases stand on their own. When the Wone case has something to report, it will be reported just like always. And most likely, the reporting entity will steer their readers to WMRW. WMRW is the flagship. Every other media outlet has tipped their hat to WMRW and the editors, and will probably continue to do so. WMRW is news itself.

            • Craig
              10/19/2010 at 2:53 PM

              CD: The WMRW Media Hall of Fame is chock full of members we’re indebted to: Mike Scarcella, Harry Jaffe, David Lat, Ashby Jones, Paul Duggan, and Roby Chavez just to name a few. They either helped make us smart on the case, the process or were instrumental in getting the word out.

              • CDinDC (Boycott BP)
                10/19/2010 at 4:38 PM

                I’d call it a symbiotic relationship.

                (Unlike the trouple.)

  3. susan
    10/18/2010 at 10:37 PM

    A sad bit of trivia: Radio Free Asia, near 21st and M is just about two blocks from the Newport on 21st St. where Chandra Levy lived. They are so close by.

    I hope this new crime blog gives a tip of the hat to WMRW. Just out of courtesy. And I hope Bill2 and Bea (glad to “hear” Bea’s voice)are right about maybe bringing about more attention to this case.

  4. denton
    10/19/2010 at 11:54 AM

    Suggested reading, among others:

    The Law of Journalism & Mass Communication, 2nd Edition,
    by Robert Trager, Joseph Russomanno, and Susan Dente Ross
    Second Edition, 07/21/2009
    ISBN: 978-0-87289-923-0

    Chapter 10. The Media and the Courts


    Half a century ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark suggested that it was the responsibility of the courts to remedy the inherent conflict between a free and robust press and fair trials. Media coverage of crime often includes details about the crime scene, apparent evidence, arrests and charges. Some of the information presented in the news may be incorrect or may not be admissible in court. Although the media have a First Amendment right to publish information related to trials, the publicity may cause a problem for the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. One possible effect of media exposure is that some audience members will form fixed ideas about the guilt of the defendant before a trial begins. And some of these audience members may become jurors.

    et al.

    I think it’s worth to shift our attention to understand the correlation between the law and the media under “Media Circus” subject headline here.

    I work for a lawyer who currently has an ongoing case with Judge Hedge. I learn that the Judge is very fair.

  5. Michael
    10/19/2010 at 12:03 PM

    In the age of google, I’m not sure anyone can guarantee an impartial jury.

    • denton
      10/19/2010 at 12:47 PM

      I know I will be excused from serving a Jury Duty if I am called to be selected on this trial, and I can rest for another 2 years to receive another summons.

    • Bea
      10/19/2010 at 4:41 PM

      Denton, these issues are really new. A good bit of voir dire is directed to finding out if potential jurors have preconceived notions about the guilt/innocence of any defendant (including reading online information). In high profile matters, juries are sequestered and are not given access to media (television, web, radio, etc.). It is always a balancing act – it’s not surprising when a potential juror has ‘heard of’ a case; that alone doesn’t disqualify him/her so long as he/she feels confident he/she remains impartial and able to make a judgment based on the facts presented at trial. Of course, anyone who has posted here would be prevented from sitting on the jury of the Wone trial – but would not be prevented from sitting on another trial (unless there is significant involvement).

      • Bea
        10/19/2010 at 4:41 PM

        Whoops – NOT really new.

        • denton
          10/20/2010 at 1:21 PM

          Not new at all, Bea. Now, I am curious when did the “sequestered” thing get started? On what case, and in what year? I absolutely have no knowledge of it.

          Thanks for the reminder to potential juror(s) (or not) reader who is/are learning from you.

  6. Kate
    10/19/2010 at 3:00 PM

    Dearest Craig – I do love the photo accompanying the Media Circus post. Just waiting for Don Draper to walk into the frame! May I ask the date on the photo and what event prompted that particular media circus?

    And many thanks for the links to the new site. One little observation about that site – it’s rather difficult to find the FAQ’s. It took me quite a while to find them, buried on the Community Network page. If only they had followed the fine example of another site I know where such information is easily discovered on the home page … if only.


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