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Ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of rape by a member of the cleaning staff at a hotel in New York. Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged, and placed in monitored “home” detention. The news media reported, speculated, and engaged in a 24/7 orgy of drama-building, calling for Strauss-Kahn to resign his high-level position with the International Monetary Fund. He did. They put his wife in their spotlight and dug into the history of the Strauss-Kahn marriage. They did their usual job of invalidating the precept that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. And in the minds of most people, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was guilty of rape.

Then Strauss-Kahn was released from monitored detention. Prosecutors said the “integrity” of his accuser had been called into question (though not by the news media). Later prosecutors announced the accuser had a record of fraud and false-accusation, and was a suspected prostitute. A friend has said she expressed the view “there’s money in this” just 48 hours after making her accusations. And until the charges against Strauss-Kahn are dropped we shouldn’t know any of that.

As prosecutors look for a way to drop this case without looking like incompetent fools, the news media has switched gears and turned on them and the accuser – without so much as an apology to Dominique Strauss-Kahn. And they will speculate and engage in endless drama-building about them.

How many times have we seen this played-out? How many times has someone been accused of a crime, be it rape, child molestation, murder, or anything else, only to later see the case against them evaporate, as cases often do? But by then the media’s drama-building has done its damage, and the innocent-until-proven-guilty individual has had their life wrecked. And this doesn’t only apply to “celebrity cases” like those of Straus-Kahn, or even Lindsay Lohan. Local media do the same thing on a local scale.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn may be no angel, but it looks like he’s not guilty, either. We’ll never know because the news media have so infected this case with their constant need to speculate it can never have a reasonable resolution. The media defend their life-wrecking ways with the cry “the public has a right to know” – but do we have a right to know at the expense of the legal rights of the individual?

Some kind of accommodation of these conflicting rights must be found before the U.S. legal system becomes an adjunct of the media, a mere supplier of stories rather than a tool for resolution of criminal cases. Perhaps journalists should have the same access they have now, to follow a story from start to finish, but no right to publish until after the legal system has done its job. What purpose can minute-by-minute video and print serve other than to titillate and prejudice? Unless we want to give everyone in the country a button that lets us give a thumbs up or down on people’s guilt or innocence, and just do away with the legal process altogether.

If we had such a button then Casey Anthony, charged with the murder of her daughter on wholly circumstantial evidence, would have already been executed and buried before her trial ends, as we all hit the “thumbs down” button at the hysterical bidding of drama-builders like Nancy Grace. Perhaps she’s guilty. Perhaps she’s not. Until a jury decides it really isn’t news. Until then it’s just ratings.