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I have put off posting about the Jodi Arias case until a verdict came in. And yesterday, finally, more than four months after this absolute circus of a trial began, a jury of twelve (infinitely patient) people handed Ms. Arias a first-degree murder conviction for killing her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in June 2008. (Why on earth this case took so long to go to trial is something I have never heard explained in the media — was it because Arias changed her story so many times?)

Okay. I have lots of thoughts about this trial and what it says about how the public perceives (take your pick) women/sex/violence/the criminal justice system/the death penalty. But for now, I’ll focus on immediate media coverage of the verdict.

Let’s begin with HLN, since the cable news-lite network has made the Arias trial its raison d’etre, carrying out near 24-hour coverage of the spectacle since it began in January, even going so far as to create a three-dimensional model of the crime scene and assembling a mock jury every night to weigh in on the day’s evidence.

Not surprisingly, I was greeted by this on the HLN homepage today, front and center, or what used to be deemed in ancient newspaper days as “above the fold:”

verdict

Because the Arias case has all along been a tabloid trial–that is, covered breathlessly by what we might think of as the trashy/sensationalistic/if-it-bleeds-it-leads news media–it’s no surprise that the classy Daily News also delivered the verdict above the fold in its second slot. (I can only imagine it would have been first had the bombshell Cleveland kidnapping rescue not happened his week.) The News also had a scoop: that Arias, ever the narcissistic wannabe-media-darling, is now declaring in trademark dramatic fashion that she would rather be put to death than spend the rest of her life in prison. (My question: who gave her the lipgloss for her first post-verdict interview? And don’t they, like, carry a convicted first-degree murderer directly off to jail at that point? As in, do not pass go, do not sit down for a soft-focus television interview?)

halfway verdict

Next let’s head over to the New York Times, which has studiously ignored the trial up until now. The Grey Lady conceded some coverage today, but only alluded to it in the most generic of terms, and waaaaay far down the page at that, in its “U.S.” section. (I had to add a red circle around it ’cause it’s pretty tiny.)

small verdict

Moving on! The liberal intellectuals over at NPR, to my surprise, did carry an Arias headline, albeit without a photo, right on their homepage, but not without a fight from its highbrow readers, some of whom were just plain disgusted that public media would stoop so low. Here’s an excerpt from the article’s comment section:

who cares verdict

More thoughts on the trial later.

Listen to the story here.

Click to listen to the story.

Another day, another noteworthy NPR piece, this time from national correspondent Ina Jaffe, about one mother’s fight against California’s ludicrous “Three Strikes Law” after she unwittingly helped put her son in prison for life.

Shane Reams, now 44, was sentenced to 25 years to life in 1996 after he was found guilty of being involved in the sale of a $20 rock of cocaine. (See, I told you it was ludicrous.) This was his third and final “strike” because he had two prior convictions for burglary– not because the police nabbed him, but because his mother, Sue, had urged him to turn himself in when she found out he was a thief.

But Sue had no idea what she was getting her son into. She says she was concerned with getting Shane help, not putting him in prison.

She told him: “Maybe you’ll get a drug program. You need a drug program.”

Yes, he probably did. And he got it– that is, if you count seventeen years in state prison “treatment.” Shane admits that it was only when he saw a glimmer of hope for his release that he concentrated on getting clean.

(You don’t say! The prospect of a life sentence doesn’t necessarily motivate people to get clean on their own?)

In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown wisely approved a new sentencing guideline that gives convicted criminals the chance to participate in alternative rehabilitative services in lieu of prison time. And in the 2012 elections, voters passed Proposition 36, which, according to the NYT, “authorizes the courts to re-sentence thousands of people who were sent away for low-level third offenses and who present no danger to the public.”

From that NYT piece (which, I should add, is actually an op-ed by Brent Staples):

Three strikes created a cruel, Kafkaesque criminal justice system that lost all sense of proportion, doling out life sentences disproportionately to black defendants. Under the statute, the third offense that could result in a life sentence could be any number of low-level felony convictions, like stealing a jack from the back of a tow truck, shoplifting a pair of work gloves from a department store, pilfering small change from a parked car or passing a bad check. In addition to being unfairly punitive, the law drove up prison costs.

Yes, yes, and yes.

RELATED: “California was required to ‘come up a plan’ two years ago and it clearly has failed to do so, “ (article/quote from The Atlantic)

A couple of weeks ago I read, with great interest, what seemed like a very comprehensive piece by NPR’s Chana Joffe-Walt that was critical of the way people are using (or abusing, as the case may be) disability benefits in this country. It was both shocking and enraging to me on first glance, mainly because it highlighted how doctors are so quick to deem someone eligible for disability benefits and Medicare, even when they’re affected by something seemingly minor, like a bad back. It also profiled a number of people who seemed pretty complacent about staying on disability indefinitely, people we might associate with Reagan’s “welfare queens.” And to top it all off, Joffe-Walt condemns the federal government for playing the chump in giving states the incentive to push disadvantaged people into the disability pool and off their welfare rolls.

But it’s hard for readers like me, who know very little about the issue, not to be taken in by what in hindsight seems like an unfair generalization:

Disability has become a de facto welfare program for people without a lot of education or job skills. But it wasn’t supposed to serve this purpose; it’s not a retraining program designed to get people back onto their feet. Once people go onto disability, they almost never go back to work.

pm-gr-disability_applications_ue-616

The NPR graphic that got me all fired up.

I posted a link to the piece on Facebook, which my mother, the bleeding-heart liberal, saw. She immediately fired off a response, a link to a Baseline Scenario piece by James Kwak.

Kwak concludes that “the [NPR] story as a whole suffers from… facile extrapolation from the individual story to national policy.” Ouch! Moreover, he insists,

[Joffe-Walt] overlooks the big story. Federal welfare reform set lifetime benefit limits, meaning that, after a few years, you get completely cut off. After some welfare recipients got jobs, this was the factor that ensured that welfare rolls would go down. Many people who couldn’t work and got welfare now can’t work and get disability. That’s a good thing—especially if the alternative is pushing them onto the streets.

Just something to think about. Many thanks to my mom for helping me think a bit more critically about this issue (and, of course, for all the other great stuff she does for me).

Further sort-of-related reading: Today’s excellent Daily Beast piece by Stuart Stevens, “Poverty Plagues Obama’s America, Press Based in Booming Cities Shrugs.” I’ll just give you a taste:

[Obama] wakes up in the morning eager to focus on jobs the same way George W. Bush woke up eager to focus on health care.