Charles McCarry, in his currently out-of-print 1991 thriller Second Sight describes the Washington ritual of trial by media.
In Late Twentieth Century Washington,.. a certain politicized segment of the news media exercised many of the functions belonging to the secret police in totalitarian countries. They maintained hidden networks of informers, carried out clandestine investigations, conducted interrogations on the basis of accusations made by anonymous witnesses and agents provocateurs, and staged dramatic show trials in which the guilt of the accused was assumed and no effective defense allowed. They had far greater powers of investigation than the government. The authority of the state to persecute the individual was defined and limited by the Constitution, whereas the media were restrained by nothing more than the rules of theater. Because their targets were usually thought by the best people to deserve the punishment they might otherwise have eluded, the media had no worry about the quality of its evidence; journalists were not concerned with truth in any case, only with “accuracy.” That consisted of verifying the existence of their sources and confirming that they had actually spoken the words quoted, or something close to those words; nothing beyond that was required. If one person denounced another, even if anonymously, that was reason enough to publish the charge. There was no requirement to question the evidence or the accuser’s motives, or even to identify the accuser; in fact the accuser usually spoke on the understanding that his anonymity would be preserved under all circumstances. Verdicts of “innocent” based on these rules of evidence were almost unknown. The sentence was degradation, shame, exile, and, usually a lifetime of impoverishment resulting from the attempt to pay lawyers’ fees incurred in the vain hope of self-defense. Conviction in the media was sometimes followed by conviction in the courts, but the punishment handed down by judges, a mere prison sentence or fine or condemnation to a stated number of hours of good works among the underclass, was regarded as the lesser penalty.”