Before the trial of Dallas police officer Amber Guyger on charges of murdering Botham Jean in his own apartment, the defense team argued that “media hysteria” threatened to deny her right to a fair trial. But when court proceedings unfolded, something very different than prejudicial, inflammatory news coverage emerged.
The Dallas news media shone in its finest hour.
The press was the eyes and ears of Dallas and the world in the racially tinged case. Public interest journalism at its modern best was on display for all to consume in real-time.
Live web and social media streams by highly experienced journalists emanated from the courthouse throughout the proceedings. Dallas television stations interrupted scheduled programming to bring viewers live video from the courtroom. The Dallas Morning News produced a twice-daily podcast reported by its veteran courthouse reporter for users of smart phones and digital platforms. Unforgettable photographs from inside the courtroom by an award-winning photojournalist for The News were continuously posted through social media and online.
The case drew national and international interest. Global coverage relied to a large degree on the work of local journalists at the courthouse and in Dallas newsrooms.
Those journalists took a worldwide audience inside the courtroom.
When the jury returned its verdict finding Guyger guilty of murder, viewers across cyberspace saw the dramatic gesture of relief and thanksgiving from Jean’s mother.
When Brandt Jean, the victim’s brother, forgave officer Guyger from the witness stand and asked to hug her in court, Dallas journalists quickly disseminated the images to the millions who became transfixed with the trial.
Countless Dallas citizens could not turn away from news coverage of the trial.
Before the trial, some public officials fretted about possible civil unrest depending on the verdict. And when the 10-year sentence was handed down by the jury, a number of persons protested in the streets that the term was lenient. Yet, by and large, calm prevailed across Dallas. To this observer, it was due in no small part to the fine work of the Dallas news media.
In their finest hour, Dallas journalists showed how justice was served in the courtroom.
Dallas partner Paul C. Watler is widely recognized for First Amendment, media law, and “Bet-the-Company” commercial cases. Paul’s court victories range from opening up Love Field in Dallas for long-haul airline service to winning two of the most frequently cited Texas Supreme Court opinions on media libel law. The views expressed are his own.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
Join Paul Watler as he moderates a Dallas Bar Association panel featuring journalists who covered the Amber Guyger murder trial:
NOVEMBER 20, 2019 (12 PM – 1 PM)
Guyger Trial: Told by Journalists Who Reported It
– Jennifer Emily and Tom Fox, Dallas Morning News
– Rebecca Lopez and Tanya Eiserer, WFAA
– Paul Watler, Jackson Walker, Moderator