Nancy Grace and CNN have settled with the family of a 21-year-old mother of a missing toddler who killed herself after an aggressive Grace interview. Grace herself, of course, can keep inflicting her warped brand of victim-advocacy on the public.
The family of Melinda Duckett had sued the channel and host for inflicting emotional distress. Duckett's suicide took place shortly after Grace repeatedly suggested Duckett was responsible for the disappearance of her two-year-old son. (The video of that interview appears to have been scrubbed from the Internet). Grace aired the interview after Duckett was found dead, with a little yellow box updating viewers to that fact.
The settlement consists of $200,000 in a trust, which will be transferred to Duckett's son if he is found alive before his thirteenth birthday in 2017. Otherwise, it will be transferred to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Here's Grace defending herself at the time, on Good Morning America.
And of course, her epically awful haranguing of Elizabeth Smart, who had gone on the show to talk about the sex offender registry and had declined to give details of her own abuse.
As Dahlia Lithwick sensibly remarked at the time,
Nancy Grace didn't kill Melinda Duckett, but she is aiding and abetting the death of public confidence in the law. Grace dresses like a lawyer and talks like one, but the only thing she seems to feel for the court system is contempt. The only time the cops, prosecutors, and courts get it right, in her view, is when they finally nail someone (like Scott Peterson) she declared guilty months earlier. Otherwise they are a time-suck and a nuisance. The law is a means to Nancy's ends.
Not only does Grace prosecute crime via spectacle, she cloaks herself in the language of victims' rights — it was okay for her to make a decision about what happened to Trenton Duckett before the police had, because she was just trying to find the baby. It was okay for her to violate the terms of her interview with Elizabeth Smart, because didn't Smart just want to help victims? In an Iowa Law Review essay, Aya Gruber notes that public spectacle was key to the essentially conservative tough-on-crime movement that began in the 1980s:
The publicizing, not only of the heinous nature of crime (to instill fear) but also the tragedy of the victim (to instill hatred), was the boost required by tough-on-crime proponents. The media focus on crimes against women and children allowed society to see criminals as true irredeemable villains worthy of nothing but pain and death. Such monsters deserve neither process, constitutional protection, nor mercy. This belief easily translated to the yet-unknown criminal who, no doubt, must also be internally evil.
Nearby, at the crossroads of the victims' rights movement, spectacle, and sometimes-nominal feminism sits a woman who is arguably Grace's spiritual cousin, briefly profiled in The Atlantic this month. Distorting the concept of victim protection from its original intent, Allred says Tiger Woods mistress Joslyn James was a victim, because she
"didn't participate in breaking her own heart. She's a victim because he broke her heart. He is the one that lied to her." If James was seeking some measure of fame, Allred said, she wasn't the only one. "What, Tiger Woods isn't seeking fame? Because he's golfing?"
Actually, all of them are seeking fame. Which in itself doesn't need to be a problem, except when it perverts actual justice.