The power of the media to mess with minds and lives is on full ugly display in “Captivated,” a documentary that tracks both a likely miscarriage of justice and the birth of what would become “reality TV.”
Many of those who were around will remember the trial of Pamela Smart in the early ’90s, although the barrage of copycat coverage that has followed over the past two decades may make things fuzzy. It was the first televised trial in America, a young, pretty school employee in New Hampshire accused of sending teenage boys to murder her husband.
Right from the beginning, the coverage guaranteed an unfair trial — the judge wouldn’t move the case to another court because he wanted to be played by Clint Eastwood in a movie that was sure to follow. But the greatest injustice came when the media pretty much laid out an entire story about what happened — much of it inaccurate and blatantly salacious — before the case even came to trial.
Which set the template, of course, for so many cases to come. Smart — who is still in prison — was labeled an Ice Queen and Black Widow months before any jurors were seated. The jurors were not sequestered and found themselves surrounded by cameras, dubious witnesses became national celebrities, newspapers had readers vote as to whether Smart was guilty or not. Pictures of the defendant posing in a bikini (years earlier) became proof positive that she was a sex-crazed seductress.
It was over before it started, despite there being no physical evidence, a sketchy-at-best motive and obviously rehearsed testimony driven by plea bargains.
But the film isn’t just about Smart — it’s about the way the media concocts and sells a story for profit and how we as a society end up believing the convenient concoction, with real lives destroyed on the altar of infotainment. Chances are Smart is paying for our sins as consumers and purveyors.
9 p.m. Monday