Wednesday, August 30

Boulder Words and Timorous Meaning

Oh, the lessons we've learned since then, huh?
[Photo and the phrase "pedophiliac livestock show" via Betty Bowers]

News Item: DA Drops Case in Ramsey Slaying

Yes, I think the case is important, not near as important as the media coverage (what could be?), nor because of any reasons that coverage might have given us. No, I don't think she was killed because some lurking pedophile got the hots for her in a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader outfit; it's a wholly-unlettered stab in the dark, but my guess is that pedophiles prefer children who look like children. What was and is worthy of attention in the Ramsey case is what is has to tell us about the legal system, law enforcement, money, and "tabloid" television (as if there's any other kind) and how they work today. The little blonde girl aspect of the case is the least interesting thing about it.

To begin with let us see if we can dispose of John Mark Karr even faster than the Boulder DA was forced to, after what Colorado Governor Bill Owens called "the most expensive DNA test in history". Not the easy dismissal of "that sounds more like a sick, sorry-assed fantasy than a confession"; how about a few points CNN et al missed while covering the story wall-to-wall:

• The UC journalism professor (Michael Tracey) who had been swapping emails and phone calls with Karr for four years has produced three documentaries about the case, with the cooperation of the Ramseys, all of which strongly supported the "intruder theory" of the murder, and the last of these actually fingered another man as a suspect and claimed he'd gone missing. It turned out he wasn't a suspect and was selling jewelry over the internet.

• Rumor has it that the Boulder DA hadn't contacted the ex-wife (who seemed to alibi Karr) or investigated Karr's past much at all before filing the arrest warrant. Yet he was no flight risk, because of the pending California charges.

• The much-touted DNA testing which supposedly cleared him couldn't have, because there's no such thing as any "foreign DNA" awaiting a match with the "real killer". There is, at best, some defense-attorney-friendly degraded evidence which will never convict anyone, and which will never be linked directly to the crime except in reverse: unless the killer is caught and proven to be a match.

And this much could have been determined with about five minutes' work.

And, again, it's why the case in interesting despite the tabloid factor and the Hey, Look! A Little Murdered Blonde Girl! syndrome. An inexperienced police force made some serious, potentially crippling mistakes that Christmas morning. The case attracted media attention because of its tabloid aspects--this was before the Missing Blonde Girl of the Week became a teevee news staple--and--a first--a large internet following. Shortly thereafter the Boulder DA tried to take over the case from the cops (there'd be open warfare in short order), and hired as an investigator a retired homicide detective who'd first been brought in by the Boulder police but quit because of its focus on John and Patsy Ramsey. That investigator, Lou Smit, reportedly bonded with the couple because of their shared Christian beliefs. He still works for the Boulder DA, Mary Lacy, successor to her one-time boss Alex Hunter.

Then there's the flip-side of this: the way the Ramseys were convicted in the press without trial.

But the Ramseys had two things going for them: money and more money. It bought politically well-connected criminal attorneys and a big-time PR campaign. Tracey's first documentary was basically lifted by A&E for its American Justice series, with no mention that the Ramseys were involved in the production. That program made much of the Ramsey's presumed innocence under the Law, a heartwarming affirmation of our civil liberties until you stopped to ponder that a couple weeks earlier they'd ignored evidence to paint Klaus von Bulow as a murderer despite the fact that he'd actually been found innocent in a courtroom.

Maybe it's best to just ignore anything so stained by yellow journalism, but on the other hand it's worth pondering how all the media resources of the United States can be focused on one small-town murder yet a decade later they're still getting the facts wrong. And a journalism professor with a big financial interest in the case is giving the local DA a new hot lead every few months.

As always, it's at least cheap entertainment to hear some talking hairdo relay the "controversy swirling around Mary Lacy" while ignoring the credulous coverage she was getting just 24 hours earlier from under the very same hair.

1 comment:

R.Porrofatto said...

The very first report on Karr in the NY Times contained a quote from an anonymous Boulder official to the effect that everyone should hold their horses because a confession is not tantamount to guilt, and the information that Karr's ex-wife said he was with her in Alabama the Christmas that the girls was killed.

So, ordinarily, this should have been as easily dismissed as a confession from any other nut claiming to have killed a Kennedy or two, but of course, there were too many advertising dollars and ratings bumps to be mined in it for our cable newsoid media. So we had more than a week of factless frenzy to the point that they were cutting to shots of the effing airplane transporting Karr for visual interest. I feel sorry for Tom Tomorrow—satirizing those for whom nothing is infra dignitatum must be tough.

"There's money to be made" is a phrase that explains so much of everything we endure these days.