JonBenet Ramsey – Ten Years On Lessons Are Still Unlearnt
If ever there was a time to see the abuse and misuse of power by the media it would be now. Whether John Mark Karr murdered JonBenet Ramsey or not, he will have to suffer the burden of forever being accused for the rest of his life.
The way the world’s press has dealt with the story of the murdered beauty pageant queen is a stark realisation that a person does not have to even be convicted of a crime to be convicted by the public.
What values does the practice of journalism hold if those who are in the media generalise, victimise and speculate instead of reporting with the responsibility that members of the media are dutified to do?
Even before he had been questioned in the US, Karr’s picture was everywhere – on the internet, in the tabloids, on television sets globally. Out of nowhere one man was tried, found guilty and sentenced for the rest of his life by the media.
The invasiveness and irresponsibility of the press is highlighted in a number of articles. One such article appeared in the Denver Post where it was inferred that Karr wanted to have a sex change operation in Bangkok and had visited a number of clinics.
Dr Setthakarn Attakontan is quoted as saying “The reason he wanted to do hair removal was because he wanted to do a sex change,” when responding to a question about hair removal treatment Karr had allegedly undergone. The doctor is as much to blame as the journalist for reporting very private, circumstantial and speculative news.
A number of reports on the case of John Mark Karr by the world’s press have mentioned in some detail that Karr wanted a sex change. The Denver Post story concluded with a quote from another, unnamed Bangkok doctor: “You can’t stop people from guessing… they are also guessing about whether he is a killer or not.”
This highlights the problem immeasurably, as people, fuelled by the media’s misleading information, are focusing and speculating on offbeat facts and stories from Karr’s history. At this stage it does not matter whether or not he is eventually found guilty, because the point is, as was stated in an Agence France-Presse article, Karr is innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
Along with speculation into Karr’s gender issues, a number of reports, including from the Hamilton Spectator, went to some length to describe the plane ride Karr had from Bangkok to the US. Even whilst the plane was in mid-air there were stories circulating about what Karr drank, ate and watched on the plane.
Useless information came to dominate the reports as it was revealed that Karr drank champagne, ate prawns, watched The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise and read a Dan Brown novel during the flight.
Another confusing part of the story has been the exploitation of information to sufficiently give Karr a label. This is reminiscent of pop culture journalism. A number of reports, including by Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg, have said that Karr was a teacher, and yet his professional life appears to be somewhat chaotic as most of it was spent either working, without much success, as a substitute teacher or looking for employment around the world. The speculation and attention that has been placed on Karr’s career has gone some way to overshadow the actual case at hand.
What has become most important for the media with this case is that it is dramaticised for the global market.
Perhaps the most troubling use of information by the press is that which labels Karr a paedophile. At this time, a number of stories have made reference to Karr being previously arrested for possessing pornographic images of children. This is a very dangerous label that is being thrown around by the press, and one that at the moment only serves to further thrust Karr into a negative light. Just because he may be a paedophile does not give the media the right to destroy his character and label him a killer in the process.
The press have been having a field day and Karr’s character is forever defecated before the truth about him is known. The media has played a very foolish game, as it did when it stood and accused the parents of JonBenet Ramsey of their daughter’s murder. These are accusations that can never be taken back.
It has been reported that Karr has previously been married to a 13-year-old and a 16-year-old. Larry King made note of these facts on Larry King Live recently. What is often not mentioned is that he married a 13-year-old when he himself had just graduated from high school. His marriage to a 16-year-old is the marriage that bore him his three children.
Again, these facts do not make Karr a killer. If he should turn out to be a killer then the media can breathe a sigh of relief, but as the facts unwind the story may play out a different scenario.
It should be reiterated that this does not all become irrelevant if Karr is found guilty. The irresponsibility of the world’s media is shown in all its glory. Lessons have not been learnt from the first time that the case was thrust into the world’s spotlight. It is saddening that journalists across the world have pounced upon the Karr story in this manner.
Have we forgotten that this case is actually about a girl that was murdered? The point is to find her killer first and foremost.
At the time of writing, the only evidence against Karr is his own words. The media’s eagerness to make this an open-and-shut case has taken a back seat now as the truth about Karr begins to unravel and it becomes clear that really there is so much that is unknown.
John Ramsey himself was recently quoted as saying that we should not “Jump to conclusions… not rush to judgment… not speculate. Let the justice system take its course.”
Aug. 29 (Bloomberg) — Charges against John Mark Karr, the former school teacher who claimed to have accidentally killed JonBenet Ramsey a decade ago, were dropped yesterday and he awaited extradition to California for a different crime.
As soon as words leave the mouth the damage is done. Just like bullets fired from a gun, they cannot be taken back… The benefits of retrospect aren't available.