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Casey Anthony's attorney takes a swipe at the pundits

Casey Anthony may have been acquitted Tuesday on all the murder charges related to the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, but there was one institution that got stuck with a guilty verdict.

The media.

"I hope this is a lesson to those of you having indulged in media assassination for three years," thundered defense attorney J. Cheney Mason in a statement to reporters, blasting some lawyers for "getting on television and talking about cases they don't know a damn thing about."

Later, CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin would suggest Mason was sniping at tabloid-heavy HLN and its signature personality Nancy Grace, a pundit whose antipathy toward Anthony was so intense she often referred to her only as "tot mom" in broadcasts.

The coverage paid off; the Orlando Sentinel reported that HLN ratings have risen 85 percent from June 2010 because of Grace's Anthony coverage. CNN said 1 million people watched its live stream video of the verdict online at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.

Diane Dimond, a longtime TV and print journalist who has reported on the Anthony case for the Daily Beast website and has appeared on Grace's HLN show, had a surprising reaction to Mason's critique. She agreed with him — somewhat.

"Cheney Mason was taking a slap at both his own colleagues and the media and I think he's got a point," said Dimond, who was scheduled to appear on Grace's show Tuesday. "But Nancy (Grace) is an attorney, not a journalist, and network executives should label these shows and people on them more properly."

Grace seemed to double down on her comments about Anthony Tuesday, telling viewers that "the Tot Mom's lies seemed to have worked."

Media critics have complained about these oversteps and about saturation coverage delivered, in part, because Casey Anthony is attractive and looks middle class, like her daughter. To an audience weaned on Dateline NBC and reality TV, they were a movie of the week crime story brought to life.

But if, Dimond said, people think media coverage might swing verdicts against defendants, the Anthony trial may prove the reverse; along with O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake. "I sat through jury selection," she said. "I was stunned by how many people in Florida said 'I just watch the news to see the weather.' "

Instead, the real lesson may be that intense coverage gives defendants enough celebrity profile that it is tougher for juries to convict them of serious crimes, she said.

With few close to the case talking to the media right now, another question surfaces: How much could jurors, Casey Anthony's relatives or the acquitted woman herself earn by selling their stories to the media, book publishers and film or TV producers?

Larry Garrison represented Anthony's parents as a spokesman for several months in 2008 until they accused him of accepting $6,500 from NBC to license photos without telling them (a charge he has denied). Still, he hopes to make a movie about the family.

As a producer who often unites the subjects of tabloid news stories with news outlets, Garrison said a tabloid or interested TV outlet might pay $500,000 to $1 million for exclusive access to Casey Anthony's story.

Brokers like Garrison can become a method to help news outlets avoid charges of paying for stories. Outlets like ABC News have already admitted paying upwards of $200,000 for video and pictures connected to the case — money widely construed as payment for exclusive interview access.

Glenn Selig, a Tampa-based TV reporter-turned public relations professional, also briefly advised Casey Anthony's attorneys years ago and helped former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich develop his media opportunities.

He said the jurors in the Anthony trial might have the most valuable story, particularly if they negotiate together like the rescued Chilean miners.

But because many in the public disagree with the verdict, Casey Anthony might have a tougher time.

"The biggest money comes from the entertainment world; book and film deals," Selig said. "I don't know how much the public will support (a movie or book from Casey Anthony) if they think she is guilty."

Eric Deggans can be reached at deggans@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8521. See his blog The Feed at tampabay.com/blogs/media.

Casey Anthony's attorney takes a swipe at the pundits 07/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 8:05am]

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