Accuracy in Media

The New York Times has run a story on how CNN is trying to battle Fox News in the cable television news ratings wars. The paper says that one new attempt to boost CNN’s overall ratings is for Larry King, the network’s most popular host, to more frequently mention the host, Aaron Brown, who comes after him. CNN figures that King’s popularity will rub off on Brown, and that Brown’s ratings will increase. But a more effective way to boost ratings is to get hosts more in tune with the beliefs and attitudes of the public. As Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post has noted, Nancy Grace is now hosting an 8:00 pm EST time program on CNN Headline News and the ratings for that time slot have risen by 126 percent over last year.

Writing for Mediaweek, Megan Larson provided more details about this dramatic turnaround, noting that Grace is now beating MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann in that time period.

Nancy Grace’s bio notes that she gave up career plans to become an English professor after the random murder of her fianc?. She enrolled in law school and became a prosecutor and a victims’-rights advocate. She is determined to see justice done. In a commentary on the murder trial of actor Robert Blake, Grace said about the victim, his wife Bonnie Bakley, “She was shot in the head, at nearly point-blank range and died, struggling to breathe, face-up on a public street. Who pulled the trigger? Up to a jury. It’s up to us however, to evaluate the shameless blame-the-victim defense being offered up in the Blake courtroom as an excuse for lawyering. Bakley is being crucified today in our court. Who’s to say that next time it won’t be me…or you?”

When Blake was acquitted of killing his wife, despite evidence showing gun residue on his hands, Grace declared on her CNN Headline News show, “Not since the O.J. Simpson double murder trial has American been so stunned by a ‘not guilty’ verdict. But where is the anger?”

Nancy Grace is successful because she hasn’t lost her passion for justice. Yet many in the media seem to want to avoid showing sympathy for crime victims. We noted recently that Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times had criticized an HBO film, “Rape in a Small Town: The Florence Holway Story,” because it didn’t devote enough time and attention to the point of view and background of the rapist, John LaForest. The film examines how Holway fought for tougher penalties for rapists after she was raped and LaForest got a light sentence through a plea deal.

Jeffrey and Charlene Chapman, the filmmakers of “A Rape in a Small Town: The Florence Holway Story,” have written to us saying that they, too, were disturbed by Heffernan’s review.  They note that Heffernan stated that “?the filmmakers inexplicably refrain from interviewing Mr. LaForest …”  The Chapmans countered: “She never called us and asked us to explain why we chose not to interview Mr. LaForest so we were never quite sure how she could state that we ‘inexplicably’ refrained from an interview with the rapist. We chose, from the very beginning of our work with Florence Holway?to never interview the rapist.  We did not want him to have a platform at the expense of Mrs. Holway.  We chose to make a film about the strength and dignity of an elderly woman who fought ‘an inept justice system’ [as Holway put it]  and won.”

The Chapmans have the same sort of passion and devotion to the truth that Nancy Grace exhibits on the air. This is the kind of journalism that the public wants and deserves.

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