An Unhealthy Attachment

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For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Unless you've been living under a rock lately, with no access to the frothing tempest of cable news, you're aware that TV's talking heads are in a lather over the arrest of a guy who claims he had something to do with the death of JonBenét Ramsey.

When the Boulder County District Attorney urged the media last week to not speculate on the case until all the facts are in, she was whistling in the wind. Speculation is the lifeblood of the so-called news on TV. Without it, there'd be a lot of dead air.

Anybody with any opinion on the subject is being asked to ponder whether the pasty-faced John Karr is actually a killer or just another confused soul with an unhealthy attachment to children.

It doesn't seem to matter how outlandish your position is: Last night, on Paula Zahn's show on CNN, Wendy Murphy, who, unbelievably, is a former prosecutor, said there is "a boatload of evidence" that the little girl's parents killed her. Murphy didn't actually offer any evidence, other than the fact that the Ramseys hired a lawyer.

Then Murphy thought better of it and said the sole killer was JonBen&eacutet's father, who, according to Murphy, garroted her "accidentally" while having sex with her.

CNN's legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin rightly called Murphy's comments "obscene," and Paula Zahn said that if the D.A. had really had evidence on either of the Ramseys they probably would have been charged with a crime.

Columnist Cindy Rodríguez wrote in yesterday's Denver Post that the barrage of coverage of the case "only guarantees that there will be a lot less time devoted to important issues the public should be aware of."

"Instead, reporters are dispatched all over the country to find out whatever they can about this mysterious, creepy man. Wild speculation is replacing solid facts as videotapes of 6-year-old JonBenét, singing in gaudy adult costumes, flash on the screen. And radio talk show hosts are playing detective, making their own predictions about whether Karr did it and why... We've been here before: The O.J. Simpson murder trial. Natalee Holloway's disappearance in Aruba. The killing of Laci Peterson."

On the other hand, she wrote, the media are "covering this story to death because it's what people apparently want, as evidenced by the number of hits on our website for anything related to Karr, and the fact that news shows' ratings rise whenever there's a murder mystery."

Jon Carroll, writing today on the San Francisco Chronicle Web site, said the reappearance of the JonBenét story made his heart sink.

"I thought it was a terrible day for journalism the first time around," he said, "including the sight of numerous TV and tabloid reporters placidly rolling over for a few law enforcement authorities with an agenda and no proof, and things did not improve much on the second go-round... "

"Editors should keep a picture of Richard Jewell taped to their monitors. Remember Richard Jewell? He was the guy who didn't put a bomb in Olympic Park in Atlanta... "

The trade paper Editor & Publisher just interviewed Addie Rimmer, who was executive editor of Boulder's Daily Camera in 1996, when JonBenét turned up dead in her basement.

"It will be a long time before we know all the answers," she said. "Exercise some caution before you jump to conclusions."

John Temple, editor and publisher of The Rocky Mountain News, wrote in a column that on Thursday, the day after the Karr story broke, more than 700,000 people visited the paper's Web site, something they couldn't do 10 years ago.

"We're in a new world," Temple wrote, "where the fascination with JonBenét's story remains just as intense, but where the public has more ways than ever to satisfy its thirst."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan