A New York Times documentary “unpacks the newsroom hype surrounding a watershed court case on Shaken Baby Syndrome,” reports the Poynter Institute. In “The Nanny Murder Trial,” on the Louise Woodward case in 1997, notes that much of the media coverage at the time unfairly criticized Deborah Eappen, the mother of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen, for leaving her child with a child care provider. While the media was focusing on the dangers of daycare, inconclusive science was being argued in court. In a story accompanying the video, a key prosecution witness says that the syndrome is used too frequently in criminal cases and that he would change his testimony in the trial if he could.
When Woodward stood trial on charges of murdering the child, Shaken Baby Syndrome had not yet been introduced into the public's vocabulary. That quickly changed as national and international media offered gavel-to-gavel coverage of Woodward's prosecution, which Poynter says “was by turns confusing and fraught with questionable science.” The Times reviewed the case in the season opener of Retro Report, a film series dedicated to re-examining coverage of major news stories. “The whole vision and mission of the project is to bring context and perspective by going back and re-reporting and reanalyzing older stories, or stories that we think of as not relevant anymore,” said producer Kyra Darnton. Years after Woodward was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, prosecution witness Dr. Patrick Barnes says he regrets that his involvement in the trial may have led to misdiagnoses of child abuse. Given the chance to testify again, he would say that Eappen's injuries are inconclusive, he told Retro Report.