Anchor’s Away: DUI Case Reveals Media Coverage Bias

What’s the best way to avoid having your criminal case tried in the media?  Apparently, being a member of the media can help.
Jane McGarry, a longtime and much-beloved anchor for 30 years on Dallas NBC affiliate KXAS-TV, was booked into a Dallas County jail at 3:00 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning based on suspicion of driving her Porsche while intoxicated. Like anyone else, McGarry is presumed innocent and entitled to a trial to determine her guilt or innocence. 

And that’s exactly what her employer has done. KXAS refused to comment on McGarry’s arrest other than to say the station was “investigating the matter.”  On Monday night, long after other news outlets were reporting the story, KXAS soberly announced that it was “confirming” McGarry’s arrest. KXAS decided not to publish McGarry’s mug shot, nor did they air unflattering file footage, or post fancy graphics, or rely any of the other sensational techniques that unfortunately permeate many local news broadcasts. The tone of the station’s report was not the usual indignant disapproval of drunk driving, but much more somber, like someone great had died.

The sleepy reporting on the McGarry situation could have been excused except for the fact that it was buried behind a long, sensational report on the assault charges filed in the Deion Sanders divorce case, which included unflattering file footage, fancy graphics, etc. Yes, like McGarry, Sanders also is a celebrity, but his kids (and arguably his wife) aren’t and he no longer plays pro football. The interest in Sanders’ divorce, like McGarry’s driving exploits, is purely prurient. KXAS’ reporting of their stories is a striking example of the disparate ways some media outlets decide to deliver the news.

Here’s hoping for a media future where DUI defendants and divorcing couples are given the same consideration in the eyes of the media, regardless of whether celebrities or reporters are involved.   


Posted: 5/10/2012 9:54:53 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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