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JonBenet Ramsey: News, Coverage, Hype

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JonBenet.jpgIs there anything about the JonBenet Ramsey case that isn't weird and disturbing? From the weird litte-girl pageant culture it revealed to the horror of the actual crime to the fact that it was never solved (pretty incredibly, considering that she was found dead in her own home) to the sudden decade-later arrest and confession of the supposed killer — who now, as it turns out, might just be a deranged weirdo as opposed to the deranged weirdo. The whole thing is nuts.

E&P traces the developments over just the last day and a half, from the blindsiding, talk-show-guest-bumping breaking news that an arrest had been made to the suggestion that, wait, maybe this guy is just an obsessive deluded weirdo confessing to a crime he didn't actually commit (not to mention the sudden alibi provided by his ex-wife that he was actually in Alabama at the time of the murder. Oh, ex-wives. They're always trying to screw you.) Slate's Jack Shafer doesn't think the press need apologize for its scrutiny, given the aforementioned weirdness of the crime, the bungling police investigation, and the fact that the Ramseys were very open about talking to the press (but if JonBenet was found in the basement of their home, they're declaration that they were top suspects shouldn't really have been that surprising, anyway). Even so, now that there's a new generation of newsies to distance themselves from the coverage, that's exactly what they're doing: see Jake Tapper on ABCNews.com ("I hope the media and authorities are looking long and hard at their own shameful behavior in this whole affair"). As Jon Stewart said last night, the media is "distancing itself...from itself."

E&P suggests that the press has made a "rush to judgment" here but I actually disagree. As I see it, the case has been reported as it has developed, which has been a huge boon to ongoing coverage because there really have been new developments (see ratings spike here). (And it's not like the authorities in Thailand have been agitating for privacy: Between the press conference and showy, let's-get-this-suspect-in-front-of-the-cameras-from-every-angle perp walk, they've obviously been relishing the attention (I noted in my coverage yesterday morning that Chief of Thai Immigration police Gen. Suwat Thamrongsrisakul seemed inappropriately cheery at the press conference).

graveyard journalism.jpgBut — and in the 24-hour news cycle there's always a but — the general consensus seems to be that the cable nets are flogging this to the max. A reader writes: "Watching yesterday, I think it took CNN 20 minutes even to include a reference in the crawl to the NSA warrantless wiretapping program being declared unconstitutional ...." and over at TVNewser, Brian Stelter comments that MSNBC went "overboard" on the coverage. No surprise that other news is being elbowed out of the way; Stewart expressed it with typical dead-on pith thusly regarding the "Algebra of Cable News": "Three year war in Iraq is less than the 30-day-old bombing of Lebanon, which is less than the explosive Gatorade on a plane — all of which is, apparently, chicken[bleep] next to break in the ten-year-old murder case." The Daily Show had a typical video montage of cable net talking heads, but missed the true gotcha moment as far as I'm concerned: The classy JonBenet graveyard location shots, courtesy of Fox and MSNBC. I mean, ew.

Most useful thing I've seen on the JonBenet case, by far: Over at Poynter, Al Tompkins has a great round-up of all the angles on the story, heavily linked and offering a great, broad, and lucid perspective. Yes, that's a great, broad and lucid perspective on the JonBenet Ramsey case.

This post originally appeared on "Eat The Press," HuffPo's center for media news, commentary, analysis and chatter.