Should the Media Apologize to the Ramsey Family?

The following is a transcription of the August 19, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.

ERIC BURNS, HOST: John Mark Karr has been arrested in Thailand for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, Colorado, more than nine and a half years ago. In announcing the arrests Thursday, Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy told reporters how JonBenet's father, John Ramsey, reacted to the news.


MARY LACY, BOULDER COUNTY D.A.: We should all heed the poignant advice of John Ramsey yesterday. He said, Do not jump to conclusions; do not jump to judgment. Do not speculate. Let the justice system take its course.


BURNS: Two questions for this segment, Jane: Will the media not jump to judgment in this case?

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Do you have to ask?

BURNS: Well, it's just sort of a formality.



BURNS: And since they did jump to judgment, thinking that individually each member of the Ramsey family might be the perpetrator before, is it apology time?

HALL: I think it's apologies all around. I think the district attorney who wouldn't want to consider the intruder — the so-called "intruder theory" — may want to rethink that. I think the media.

BURNS: That's the former district attorney.

HALL: Former district attorney.

I think the media, who swallowed a lot of what was leaked to them, apparently, and who went with this story because they had this cute video of a child who was killed, over and over. We got another this week for going wall to wall with it. I think there's enough blame to go around.

I mean, what was strange was that the Ramseys, I think, in some ways, hurt themselves by having their own publicist, their own attorney and all of that. But nobody deserves to be treated the way this family was.

JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Well, the girl is still dead, and something tells me this guy didn't do it, this Mr. Karr. I think that if you want to throw some blame around, let's blame the media, which has created this giant, attractive nuisance of media coverage of this. I think this guy was hungry for publicity, and has found a way to guarantee himself fame and I think that will come out clear enough that this is a version of suicide by cop, suicide by media.

BURNS: But let's give some kudos to some of the journalists, and I think there have been several, Cal, who have been pointed out that this Karr guy has some very tenuous, if any at all to this. Dan Abrams, on MSNBC yesterday, pointed out many times, you know, there's no proof the guy's ever been to Boulder, that he knew the Ramseys.


BURNS: ...that he had a motive. He does have an alibi.

So I think the media have been — let me say something on their behalf, since none of you people will do it so far — the media so far have been very skeptical about this new confession.

THOMAS: Well after the first few hours of regurgitating all of this, then they caught a dose of responsibility.

But here is my nomination for the tackiest, tackiest approach to this story: the two reporters, one from MSNBC and one from FOX, who did a — you should pardon the expression — "live shot" at the cemetery. It gives a whole new meaning to "the graveyard shift."

GABLER: Apropos of what we said last week about Richard Jewell, who was accused of setting off the bomb at the Olympics. The media, and particularly cable, abhors a vacuum. And when they don't have a story — when they've only got a crime, but they don't have a story — they'll fill the vacuum by inventing the story.

BURNS: Well, they didn't…


BURNS: There's an actual arrest here, Neal. So…

GABLER: No, wait. Nine and a half years ago, they invented the story…

THOMAS: That's right.

GABLER: …that the Ramseys killed their daughter. They invented that story. Barbara Walters went on, Did you kill your daughter? That's obscene.

BURNS: That's a hard-hitting question, Neal.


GABLER: Now, the vacuum still exists, and there's still cable time to fill. So now we tote out this guy, Karr. And we ask, Did he do it?

BURNS: Well, the media didn't tote him out, Jim. He was arrested.

PINKERTON: Well, right. I…


GABLER: With a very tenuous connection.



PINKERTON: One lesson though is the valuable of keeping some things secret. We talked about this with the Mel Gibson case a couple weeks ago. One of the ways we'll smoke out whether this guy actually did it or not is whether he can produce details of the case. But so many of the details have been produced in terms of the letter and so on like that, that it's possible this guy could be a — if you will — a fan from miles away, never gotten near anybody in the case, but still know a lot about it, and maybe even con the prosecutors into thinking he did, just based on stuff he read in the paper about — or watched on TV about the murder.

BURNS: In which case, the media should be covering what's going on in Boulder now, shouldn't they, Jane?

HALL: I think they should be covering it. But I think Jim raises a really interesting point, which is, if this guy is some kind of tragic, horrible wannabe pedophile who didn't do this crime, and he was turned on — I used that word advisably — by the all media coverage and some tangential connection, then I think the media do need to think about the endless replay of this story.


HALL: Is there somebody who was trigged by that? I think that's a serious question.

THOMAS: Right. The politicians and some of the officials have a lot of apologizing to do as well. Then-Gov. Bill Owens got on television and basically convicted the Ramseys within a few days after the murder occurred.

GABLER: And let's take one step back. This story didn't deserve the kind of attention it got nine and a half years ago; it doesn't deserve the attention now. And that's a media problem.

BURNS: Well, it sounds as if we ought to end this segment there, Neal. Is that what you're saying?

In deference to Neal's judgment, we'll stop.

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