Karr Case Chokes a Scandal-Fed Media
For me, the last straw was when she called her Patsy.
MSNBC bubblehead Rita Cosby was breathlessly recounting the disintegration of the case against John Mark Karr as the murderer of Jon Benet Ramsey Monday, speaking to Pam Paugh, the sister of Jon Benet's now deceased mom, Patsy.
And she called her Patsy. Worse, Paugh herself had to remind Cosby that her first name was Pam, not Patsy, who died in June of ovarian cancer. A least Patsy didn't have to suffer through yet another media circus centered on the murder of her 6-year-old child, as news outlets which should have known better, spent weeks assuming there was substantive evidence linking Karr to the child's murder.
It was an outcome I predicted more than a week ago, appearing on Mitch Albom's Detroit radio show during a discussion about the media frenzy surrounding this case. Back then, I suggested those interested in getting a good handle on the case read newspaper reports -- particularly the dominant Denver-area media such as the Rocky Mountain News. Despite early, breathless reporting of their own, these papers also questioned whether Karr's confession was legitimate and noted that the prosecution's case depended on DNA evidence which would likely decide the issue.
Unfortunately, such subtleties as the possiblity of a deeply disturbed man confessing to a crime he didn't commit were largely disregarded by a news cycle led through cable TV's insatiable appetite for attention-getting scandal coverage. And once again, journalists are stuck with an embarrassing performance which only further erodes our credibility as purveyors of the truth.
ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper predicted as much back on Aug. 17, writing on his blog about the "unholy alliance between idiot authorities and reporters hungry for a scoop." He was talking about the way in which the media rushed to judge the Ramsey family, based on flawed information from hapless investigators. But he could have been writing about this latest iteration, in which many news outlets clucked about the edia's past performance in the case, while rushing to commit new sins of overcoverage and hype (TVNewser has a great item on live shots at Jon Benet's grave here).
Expect the finger pointing to begin in earnest today. The boneheaded authorities investigating this case already have taken hits from the media today -- "Why didn't they just do the DNA testing in Thailand?" CNN legal expert Jeffrey Toobin asked Monday -- and there will likely be some vitriol reserved for University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey. Known for producing documentaries friendly to the notion that an intruder killed the child, Tracey contacted police with information on email exchanges with Karr which implicated him.
And there will be the requisite stories asking whether the media went too far in this case. Regardless of the answer, I fear we all know how the throng will react the next time an opportunity presents itself; refuse to learn from history, and you are most certainly doomed to repeat it.
Katrina Anniversary Today; Remebrances All Over the Dial
I've been so busy with other stuff, I've had little time to watch Katrina anniversary stuff, besides Spike Lee's most excellent documentary. Fortunately, Richard Prince has collected a great rundown of Katrina anniversary programming on TV and in radio for his site, Journal-isms; check it out here.
As someone who spent about a week in New Orleans five months after Katrina hit, I've felt some mixed emotions about the issues: mostly, I'm surprised at how many people still tell me they don't realize how screwed up New Orleans still is, or the depth to which governmental institutions continue to fail the people of the city. At a time when some media types are debating "Katrina fatigue," some folks still haven't fully tuned into the tragedy in the first place.
I'm also discouraged that so few news outlets have tackled the larger issues of race and class exposed by the calamity. I decried such lack of wider coverage six months ago; other media critics note the trend is continuing at the one-year mark.
Seems the Jon Benet chasers aren't the only ones who refuse to learn from the past.
(photo credit: MSNBC publicity, Associated Press, TVNewser and Times photographer Willie Allen; click on any photo to enlarge)