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Popehat (Blog): Caylee Anthony’s Useful Idiots


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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — to most people and institutions, the purpose of a criminal justice system is not to test the government’s accusations, but to deliver a preordained result that matches our expectations and prejudices.

The acquittal of Casey Anthony has produced a torrent of outrage supporting that proposition. The Mommy Mob’s reaction illustrates how high-profile cases can drive people to become the useful idiots of the security state and the unwitting shills of the media.

First, take law enforcement and government. Frequent readers know that one of our favorite topics — captured under the tag Think of the Children! — is the way that politicians and nanny-staters manipulate our anxieties about our children to impose increasing restrictions upon our freedom. You’ll see new examples every day. Note, for instance, politicians arguing that the existence of a tiny minority of child pornographers justifies tracking the internet use of hundreds of millions of innocent Americans. It’s for the chiiiiildrun, they tell us, reasonably confident that our brain will turn off when they say so.

Casey Anthony’s acquittal has produced a surge of exactly the sort of mindset that the government craves. That mindset is captured perfectly by one of the most vocal anti-Casey Anthony think-of-the-children folks on Twitter, who (like many of her ilk) is outraged that some people think that the howls for “Caylee’s Law” are misguided. She says this:

Second, there’s the media. The media has made big bucks off of Caylee Anthony’s disappearance and death. Nancy Grace and her shouty ilk have discovered a way to monetize the easy outrage of the chronic daytime-TV-watchers and trial-followers, turning frothing hatred of the “tot mom” into advertizing dollars. Though Casey Anthony’s acquittal looks, at first blush, like a defeat for those who so smugly proclaimed her guilt on cable, the opposite is true. It’s a bonanza. A conviction would have turned off the money-faucet quickly. But an acquittal — that they can milk for months or years, continuing the lucrative circus that was the trial.
And this is sad because it's so true:
Imagine, for a moment, if all of that outrage could he harnessed and directed not against the acquittal of one accused defendant, but against the ruinous war on drugs or police misconduct or any number of other causes that don’t amount to being government’s fluffer. But the mob, by its nature, is conservative. And useful idiots are, by their nature, only useful to the bad guys.
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Without judging the merits of Cayley's Law, I'm always concerned whether those types of laws - the ones passed in the aftermath of some high profile crime and named after the victim - have been thought through enough. Do they get passed on a wave of emotion without enough consideration of all the potential unintended consequences? Legislators' hearts are in the right places, but there must be enormous pressure on them to vote yes. After all, how could they vote against Cayley or Amber or Melissa or that other child who was just recently the victim of some high profile horrific crime?

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