By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Karr talk

Media Nation is not going to link to every example of media handwringing that’s online following the decision by Colorado authorities to drop the case against John Karr in the JonBenet Ramsey murder.

But here are two, just to give you a flavor.

Howard Kurtz begins his blog today with this:

Will every anchor, correspondent and producer who shamelessly hyped the John Mark Karr story now apologize for taking the country for a ride?

Don’t hold your breath.

This was such a sham, from the opening moments, that it instantly goes down with the greatest media embarrassments in modern history.

And, over at the Huffington Post, Bob Geiger writes:

There should be a lot of very red faces in newsrooms all over the United States right about now — there should be, but I doubt there will be….

What is amazing to me is the media circus that has followed this “case” for almost two weeks now without really a shred of proof that anything had truly developed in the 10-year-old mystery.

I’m not going to defend the media’s endless coverage of a private, decade-old tragedy. For more on that, I recommend this Boston Phoenix editorial as well as Scot Lehigh’s column in the Boston Globe last Friday. As the invaluable Andrew Tyndall notes, even the three nightly network newscasts, supposedly a bastion of sobriety compared to the morning shows and the wretched cable stations, wallowed in JonBenetmania.

But I do think one small corrective is in order. The media did not arrest Karr in Thailand and fly him back to the United States. The media did not wine and dine Karr while airborne in an attempt to get him to talk. The media did not publicly state that Karr was the killer.

It was law-enforcement officials in Colorado who did all that, and it is they who bear most of the blame for this fiasco.

And I would note that most responsible media accounts have made it clear from the first or second day that the case against Karr was shaky at best.

Yes the quantity of coverage has been ludicrous. But the quality? Not so bad.

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Textbook cases of disability


  1. whispers

    Dan, arresting Karr after he’s confessed to the murder seems like a reasonable thing to do. Doesn’t it? Are you saying he shouldn’t have been arrested? There was certainly probable cause, yes?Don’t blame the police for the crappy job the media has done. It’s not the police department’s fault that so many TV networks have decided that this one particular murder, out of the 200,000 or so committed in the US in the past decade, merits wall-to-wall coverage.The media has its own motives when they focus in on any individual case to the exclusion of all other news. And when the case involves a very young girl who was in a beauty pageant, you can reasonably conclude that the media’s motives are largely exploitative. So they got burned on their own coverage when they did a weak job? That’s their own damned fault. If they started crime in a serious manner and not like it was a prime-time reality show then their coverage would be much better, and they wouldn’t be so easily embarrassed.

  2. Stella

    This feeble story – this mounting disgrace shows how corroded any code of ethics and sense of responsibility has rotted to the core.

  3. LaReinaCobre

    All of the time spent covering this fake confessor – what news were media stations and publications choosing not to cover so they could haul out every Tom Dick and Harry “expert” to talk about this ten year old case? From the instant I saw this guy I had the gut feeling he was just lying so why bother following it?

  4. Don

    I agree with you; it’s the quantity that should be decried. Unfortunately, the media sometimes uses propaganda-like repetition to forward their political agenda, too. This issue should be gone, but the election is coming. . . .

  5. Anonymous

    You say “the media did not publicly state that Karr was the killer”, but they certainly behaved as if they believed he was, all but declaring this case “solved”. One example: when Karr was arrested in Bangkok, NBC’s Dan Abrams opined on “Today” that the authorities must have had evidence that justified his arrest (i.e., his confession must have included details that only the killer would know). This morning on “Today” he tried to backpedal and say that at least having this accused pedophile (re charges in California) in custody isn’t an awful outcome. The media played this for all the ratings they could get; the truth was secondary.

  6. Anonymous

    As I recall, only because I made the mistake of turning on CNN the day of, the district attorney warned people not to jump to conclusions when she held her press conference after the arrest. And didn’t John Ramsey say the same thing that day? I’ve refused to watch the news since because I can’t abide the coverage of this story.

  7. Anonymous

    I got the impression that most people almost immediately decided that Karr wasn’t the killer and lashed on just to watch the story’s inevitable crash. People weren’t taken for a rides, they were served an enjoyable circus number.

  8. bostonph

    I’m still confused by the Department of Homeland Security’s involvement in all of this. Before it all blew up, Ann Hurst from the DHS was all over the news bragging they’d been working with Thai authorities on the case for two months.And what about the articles demanding we all apologize to Patsy Ramsey?

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