(When I called Channel 9 to speak about this story, I was dismissed as just another nut case who is ignorant about the Greater Truths that appear on the evening news. As readers who have dealt with broadcast media before, many news directors consider themselves to be impervious to any error, and Channel 9 certainly fits that description of utter arrogance.)
Other news outlets have been somewhat better in their coverage, but there is a much larger issue at hand, something I understand because I once was a reporter for the former Chattanooga News-Free Press more than 30 years ago. For the most part, local media tends to be reactive in how it covers events. People associated with these media outlets will tell you that they deal with things as they happen, and it is rare that they connect the dots or even look to see if events have a common thread elsewhere.
Another serious problem comes in the institutional nature of the modern media, which really is a creation of the Progressive Era of a century ago. The 1922 Canons of Journalism sought to create a dichotomy between a newspaper's editorial pages (where opinion was permitted) and the news pages, where reporters were supposed to be "objective" in their dispatches. (At that time, broadcast media was in its infancy and the main source of reporting "news" came from the print media.)
At the same time, there developed the "public interest" view of the media, in which it was said that journalists are supposed to be the "watchdogs of government." In other words, the press was supposed to make sure that government was not abusive toward citizens, and if it acted abusively, journalists would report on it and try to expose the malefactors.
However, things don't always work as one plans, and over time, journalists pretty much became allied with government. Part of that problem was unavoidable, as reporters would cover "beats," and most of them would deal with some governmental body. Not surprisingly, the "Capture Theory" of regulation also would apply to reporters, as they became allied with the very people they were supposed to be making sure would not abuse their power.
Furthermore, there developed the "revolving door" between journalists and government in which many reporters and writers would move into governmental positions, or people in government would move into journalism. (George Stephanopoulos and Chris Matthews are Exhibit A here. Stephanopoulos worked in the Clinton White House as the mouthpiece of the administration, while Matthews was a high-level staffer for the late Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil. On the local level, Tom Griscom of the TFP worked for former Sen. Howard Baker and served as Communications Director in the Reagan White House, the same position that Stephanopoulos later held.) In other words, the relationship between the press and the government became chummy, so in the end, the press would promote government, not scrutinize it.
This is even more true on the local level. Read the articles in the Times-Free Press or the Chattanoogan, and you will see that a lot of them deal with governmental bodies. One of the most important sources of news, of course, is the police beat, along with the courts, as they provide lots of stories of interest.
Reporters pretty much are NEVER to question the police, as the "Thin Blue Line" will retaliate, freezing out anyone who veers from the party line about the men in blue. Furthermore, every reporter wants to be able to deal with the Big Story, the one that will bring attention to the event and, of course, to the reporter as well.
All of this is understandable at one level. Furthermore, there are categories that lend themselves to massive coverage. The Duke Case, in which wealthy, white lacrosse players were alleged to have raped and beaten a poor, black woman just trying to make enough to feed her family. In assessing the media coverage after the truth came out (that the entire thing was a fabrication), Rachel Smolkin of American Journalism Review wrote a major criticism of the media, and quoted former New York Times Ombudsman Daniel Okrent:
"It was too delicious a story," says Daniel Okrent, a former New York Times public editor, who is critical of the Times' coverage and that of many other news organizations. "It conformed too well to too many preconceived notions of too many in the press: white over black, rich over poor, athletes over non-athletes, men over women, educated over non-educated. Wow. That's a package of sins that really fit the preconceptions of a lot of us."There are other categories and, unfortunately, the Tonya Craft case in which a kindergarten teacher is accused of child molestation is just too delicious not to kindle an explosion in the newsrooms. Thus, when the charges first were aired, there was the same sickening response by local media: run over the cliff with the story.
Thus, I can understand at one level why the early coverage was so one-sided. But one must remember something that is very, very important, and something that the media rarely will admit: prosecutors in this country, both on state and federal levels, often lie, break the law, and pursue false charges because they rarely are held accountable by the government and the press.
When was the last time any reader of this post saw a local story on television, the TFP or the Chattanoogan that was critical of a local prosecutor? When has any local news outlet scrutinized the witnesses that prosecutors put on the stand?
No, for the most part, prosecutors and the police are regarded as speaking ex cathedra when they are in a courtroom, even though it is well-known that police officers often lie on the stand. When has a local media outlet ever tried to make the police or prosecutors really accountable to anything?
Why is this? I believe that because these people are the sources for some of the juiciest stories that journalists can receive, what we are seeing is something akin to what we economists call "gains from trade." Furthermore, the very aspect of the charges of KINDERGARTEN TEACHER MOLESTS CHILDREN is so horrible that few journalists are willing to question the charges, at least publicly, for they are expected to be "objective," and treat all pronouncements from prosecutors and their witnesses as being true.
What about editorial writers? Are they not supposed to be scrutinizing government agents, and are they not permitted to write outright opinion? That is true, but, as one can see in looking at the editorials on both the Times and Free Press side of the TFP, the Tonya Craft trial and the subsequent irregularities and outright abuse of the law apparently is off-limits.
On the FP side, they are law-and-order conservatives, and never (or at least rarely) question the police and certainly not prosecutors, who are PROTECTING US FROM CRIMINALS. The Times side is run by hardcore partisan Democrats, Harry Austin and Wes Hasden, and a look at their "hard-hitting" editorials finds the usual leftist fare: We need more taxes, volcanic ash is really bad stuff, and all Republicans are evil.
What you will NEVER find on either editorial page is scrutiny of the outright travesty that has been unfolding in Catoosa County. No, Austin and Hasden "believe in government" and unless Republicans in government are doing bad things (like cutting tax rates), then you won't see them uttering a peep. Because of the law-and-order mentality on the right, the FP page will be silent as well.
The institutional makeup of modern media pretty much guarantees that when stories like this come out, there will be a huge rush to judgment. We saw it in the Duke case, as well as in ALL of the fake child molestation cases that dominated the 1980s and 1990s in this country. In fact, before the numerous charges and convictions in the Wenatchee, Washington, molestation hoax fell apart, the local paper, the Wenatchee World, wrote of the "sex ring" as though it were established fact when, in reality, it was established fantasy and utter government abuse.
Like in Wenatchee, we have seen many local media outlets do the dirty work for prosecutors Chris Arnt and Len Gregor. Yes, some reporters, like Melydia Clewell from Channel 3, have tried to scrutinize the charges (and Gregor called out Clewell in open court, subjecting her to an inquisition that Judge Brian House did not try to stop), but for the most part, we now see the attempt to be "objective," which only aids the prosecution.
So, once again we see the same sickening pattern by the local media: Rush to judgment, vilify the accused, and then when the truth begins to appear, pretend to be objective. If you wonder why we see continual injustices by government, look no farther than Channel 9. They are partners-in-crime with some of the worst criminals you ever will see: Arnt and Gregor.
[UPDATE]: As you will see in the comments section, there were news media in the area at the time the charges were levied, ringing doorbells and asking people if they knew an accused "child molester" lived in the neighborhood. Rush to judgment? Oh, not the media! Never! They are much too sophisticated for that!