THIS POST HAS BEEN CORRECTED & UPDATED:
I spent the morning watching the non-stop coverage of the arrest of John Mark Karr, 41, in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case. All the usual
experts suspects have been trotted out to spout their opinions on this guy's motives and psychological make-up. On Fox News around noon, I heard them actually peculating speculating that the
suspect's confession was bogus and that Islamic terrorists were
involved. SWEAR TO GOD! Why this story led last night's edition of CBC-TV's The National -- Radio-Canada's Telejournal has far more serious priorities -- beats me. (A commenter below correctly points out that the AIDS conference and the drowning of a little Q uebec boy were ahead of the JonBenet story on the National. My bad. What I should have written was, why this story "preceded'' others.) There's a freaking war on! In fact, there are lots of them!
Anyway, here's part of today's pulpware effort on the subject of the media coverage of the case.
Tried and convicted by the media, and aided and abetted by an incompetent police force, the Ramseys were guilty! guilty! guilty!
That despite the fact that, aside from Patsy's wish to see her daughter high-kick in her own beauty pageant footsteps, there was nothing in this family's history indicating anything untoward.
But Patsy's mania for her daughter's winning Miss This or That ribbons was enough to do the trick.
For the better part of a decade, it was impossible to escape the unrelenting coverage.
JonBenet's luridly painted little face, Grand Ole Opry-style big hair and voluminous dresses became indelible and iconic images of the 1990s.
The videos of her prancing and dancing her way across stages were played and replayed by CNN, Court TV and the then weeks-old Fox News and MSNBC.
It was the Ramseys' great misfortune that both Fox and MSNBC had been born in the wake of the last "true crime" media feeding frenzy, the mother of all cable coverage marathons, the O.J. Simpson case, and they were determined to cash in on JonBenet's murder.
What's more, primetime was still filled with trashy tabs and more than a dozen network newsmagazines.
Of course, it must not be lost on anybody that JonBenet was white, and pretty, and her parents rich.
As we have seen with other cases — for example, the 2002 Elizabeth Smart abduction, which occurred at the same time as the African American Alexis Patterson, 7, was snatched from her tenement in Milwaukee — blondes get more play.
The JonBenet case also fuelled, and was fuelled by, the then-nascent World Wide Web. Entire sites are dedicated to the murder, to advancing various theories, to examining the evidence, and, most grisly of all, to presenting the autopsy photos.
And so, it became a multi-media perfect storm of pointing fingers.
The column has itself provoked a media feeding frenzy. Ironic, no? I have so far turned down five TV interviews and three radio gigs on the matter but I will be doing 10 CBC Radio One drive home shows across Canada between 3 and 6. Listen for me in Ottawa, Calgary, Halifax, Yellowknife, Toronto, St. John's, Victoria, Winnipeg and Edmonton.
And yeah, I have a bad cold.
UPDATE: Editor & Publisher has a couple of good analyses on this.
Is the press going overboard in its coverage of the latest twist in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case -- and suggesting, too early, that the suspect suddenly in custody, John Karr, is guilty?
The front page headline in New York's Daily News today, for example, read: "SOLVED." The lead in the main arrest story in Denver's Rocky Mountain News reads: "The decade-long search for JonBenet Ramsey's killer came to a startling end in Thailand on Wednesday."
The same paper, in a headline over an editorial, declared, "Arrest is warning against rush to judgment." It meant the wide belief that one of the girl's parents may have killed her, but the same might be said about the early media coverage of the Karr arrest.
Investigators in Thailand told the Associated Press today that Karr has made several dubious statements to them, including claims that he picked JonBenet up from school the day she was killed and that he drugged her. Actually, she was on Christmas vacation at the time, and there was no evidence of drugs in her body during the autopsy.
Much of the media has downplayed assertions by Karr's ex-wife that he was with her in Alabama at the time of the murder.
Boston University journalism professor Fred Bayles, a longtime national writer for The Associated Press and USA Today -- among other subjects, he covered the O.J. Simpson murder probe -- told E&P today: "The latest chapter in the JonBenet case offers a journalistic cautionary for both the past and the future.
In fairness, as I noted earlier, some media have already begun to question Karr's confession. That's fine. Trouble is, they'll be milking this one for a long time -- and, instead of closing the books on JonBenet's murder, this arrest may have merely opened another lurid media chapter.
UPPERDATE: Media coverage covers media coverage!