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Making a Murderer and the Power of the Media

A few days ago, I binge watched the new Netflix series Making a Murderer. The gripping series tells the story of Steven Avery, who was released from prison after serving 18 years for a false conviction of rape, and two years later was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. The twist: at the time of this murder conviction, he was just days away from receiving up to $36 million from the Wisconsin county that originally wrongfully convicted him, and many of the police and lawyers involved in the original case were likely about to be charged for burying evidence. Fast forward to a week later and he’s on his way back to jail and they’re all off the hook for essentially framing an innocent man for rape. Fishy, to say the least.

I could write a series of blog posts about this amazing yet horrifying show (seriously, go watch it), but what this show and others like it have proven time and time again is the incredibly immense power of the media – for better or for worse. For better, in the sense that this docu-series may lead to the case being re-opened and justice finally being served. On the flip side, the series relied heavily on using local media broadcasts from the time to drive the narrative, which was interesting and important because they all clearly painted Steven as undoubtedly guilty of murder, and were likely seen by the supposedly unbiased jury prior to the start of trial. The series does a great job of exploring the fact that although we are all constitutionally entitled to a fair trial, does the media really allow that when it sensationally covers a major case? Not likely.

Making a Murderer is a by-product of the current true crime trend dictating entertainment today, propelled by the success of other series like Serial and The Jinx. As someone who works in public relations, it’s incredibly intriguing to me the way the media has played such a powerful role in the justice system. The fact that news reporters and producers are uncovering the truth better than attorneys and prosecutors is an indication of the immense power of the media on public perception. It’s likely that we haven’t seen the last of the trend, being that there are inevitably more shocking true crime stories out there just waiting to be told. Overall, each of these stories share a common thread, one that us PR peeps can always agree on: the power of the media knows no bounds.