Thursday, July 7, 2011

A tale of two Anthonys

I never heard of Casey Anthony until last week when she was being discussed on Bob Frantz's morning radio show on WTAM, here in Cleveland, Ohio. Why, he asked his listeners, was there such an interest in her saga while Anthony Sowell's trial, now in progress, is being ignored by the national media?

For those as clueless as I was until a few days ago, Casey Anthony is a 25-year-old Florida woman acquitted this week on charges that she murdered her daughter who was inhibiting her freewheeling, party-hearty lifestyle. She's probably guilty, but there was, as they say, "reasonable doubt," at least in the minds of the jurors.

The other Anthony, Mr. Sowell, is the alleged serial killer whose home on Cleveland's east side was the scene of numerous grotesque slayings. One of his victims - luckier than most in that she managed to get away after a visit to smoke some crack with her host - reports that she saw a dead body, its head cut off, lying on the floor of his bedroom. During the initial search of the house, a head was discovered in a coffee can in the basement and there were bodies buried in the backyard. That initial search was a long time in coming. The police apparently ignored reports through the years about the foul stench emanating from the house, as well as turned a blind eye to eyewitness accounts of the carnage that took place there. Finally, just as 2009 was about to gasp its last, the police paid a visit and discovered that Mr. Sowell was a sort of real life Dr. Hannibal Lector, lacking the good doctor's charm, perhaps, but sharing his appetite for blood, death, and sadism.

The Sowell story was big news for awhile, locally and nationwide, earning the top spot on Time's list of the top 10 crime stories for 2009. Now that his trial is in progress, it remains a local story, but the networks, both broadcast and cable, are apparently not taking much notice, whereas Casey Anthony's trial was a cause celebre, and its aftermath warranted a special hour long edition of Nightline. As of this writing, the ABC news program has spent two consecutive nights on the story, and there was also a prime-time special for those who either don’t stay up late, or can’t wait until 11:35 for their Casey Anthony fix.

Many of the callers to Frantz's radio show blame racism for the media's relative lack of interest in the Sowell trial. Casey Anthony and the daughter she allegedly murdered are white. She is also young and attractive, enough so that she was offered the lead in a porn film after her acquittal. Sowell and his victims are black, and the women he allegedly murdered were from the wrong side of the tracks - crackheads, hookers, and the like. There's a tendency to think they got what they deserved, shameful as it is to think such a thing. Caylee Anthony, the daughter who died under highly suspicious circumstances, was an innocent victim.

I think location, not racism, is to blame for the lack of interest in the Sowell case. The Casey Anthony trial took place in sunny Florida. Sowell is in gloomy Cleveland, the economically depressed rust belt city, and no one wants to hear about Cleveland any more than they’d want to visit it. Whoever decided to ban the national media from providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sowell trial certainly wasn’t thinking about what’s best for the city. Think of the boost that the local economy would have gotten if Court TV and the like descended on the town? Ah, but coverage of a murder trial, especially one as tasteless as this one, might be bad for Cleveland's image. That might make sense if Cleveland had an image worth protecting, but is that true of the city once called and perhaps still known as "The Mistake on the Lake"?

I’m surprised there’s any interest in either story. Haven’t we seen it all before? Didn’t the O.J. trial satisfy everyone’s lust for tales of jealous rage and sensational murder? Didn’t the Amy Fisher and Monica Lewinsky business feed their appetite for a salacious sex scandal? The media always has a freak show in progress to keep the populace distracted from more important matters, such as those wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya that are adding to America’s crushing debt, but serve no other discernable purpose. The two Anthonys are just the latest “stars” of this long running show. The names change and so do the faces, but once the Anthonys leave the stage, other freaks will emerge to take their place.

© 2011 Brian W. Fairbanks