The JonBenet Fraud

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 29, 2006 7:22 AM

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.

A strange, creepy character emerges from the shadows of Thailand and says he killed JonBenet Ramsey a decade ago? A guy with no known connection to the family? A yutz whose own relatives, including an ex-wife who hates him, says he wasn't even in Colorado at the time?

This is what produces 25-hour-a-day cable coverage, causes the network morning shows to go nuts and even tops the nightly news two days straight? Aren't the TV types who pumped up this empty balloon just a little bit ashamed?

Oh, and does the New York Daily News run a retraction for its banner headline "SOLVED"?

Of course, you will now hear that it was all the fault of the Boulder D.A., Mary Lacy, for arresting Karr in the first place. And maybe that was a dumb move. But the last time I checked, she didn't own any television stations. Of course you would report that some wack job had claimed to have killed JonBenet, but the resulting frenzy suggests that many journalists either didn't know or didn't care that strange people sometimes make false confessions in high-profile cases.

And yet things got so crazed that reporters jumped on the flight that brought Karr to the U.S., and the morning shows were interviewing fellow passengers about what he ate and so on.

The original JonBenet media circus in 1996 and 1997 became the template for all the missing-or-murdered cases involving pretty young women that followed: Chandra Levy, Elizabeth Smart, Laci Peterson, Natalee Holloway. In the wake of O.J., television discovered that a tragedy affecting an unknown family--what once would have been dismissed as a local story--could be turned into a national soap opera through sheer repetition. And there was that steady media drumbeat of Did the parents do it? that, in retrospect, seems terribly unfair to John and Patsy Ramsey. Facts don't matter in frenzies; what matters is camera-ready speculation, where opposing lawyers and ex-prosecutors can argue on one talk show after another.

Usually, the press is unfair to people like Richard Jewell, who say they didn't commit some crime; here, Karr said he did do the deed, but that hardly lets us off the hook, especially as the contrary evidence continued to mount.

So Karr was a fake, and the media caravan moves on. But I don't think the public forgets. They should teach this one in journalism schools for a long time.

Some leads this morning:

Denver Post : "The murder case against John Mark Karr collapsed in a heap of bizarre e-mails Monday, dealing another blow to the decade-long search for JonBenét Ramsey's killer."

NYT : "The announcement by the Boulder County district attorney, Mary T. Lacy, incited a storm of questions about why Mr. Karr, 41, had been believed in his admissions and how he could have led prosecutors into what became an elaborate global farce. Hordes of reporters had tracked Mr. Karr's journey, from his apprehension in Thailand nearly two weeks ago to his return to the United States."

How he could have led prosecutors into a farce? What about those hordes of reporters ?

And the Daily News 's big climb-down? Not so much. "LIAR IS FOUND OUT":

"The creep who convinced Colorado prosecutors he might be JonBenet Ramsey's killer was unmasked as a liar yesterday after his DNA failed to match genetic material on the slain 6-year-old's body."

There we go again: The creep who convinced prosecutors. Not the creep who convinced editors.

Rocky Mountain News : "When people confess to a crime they did not commit, it's usually to put an end to coercive interrogation, several experts said Monday.

"But there is a smaller group of people who become so obsessed about the smallest details of a case, they convince themselves that they committed the crime."

Well, now it's been confirmed: Richard Armitage was the other secret source in Plamegate. Mike Isikoff summarizes the findings of a new book of which is he the coauthor:

"In the early morning of Oct. 1, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell received an urgent phone call from his No. 2 at the State Department. Richard Armitage was clearly agitated. As recounted in a new book, 'Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War,' Armitage had been at home reading the newspaper and had come across a column by journalist Robert Novak. Months earlier, Novak had caused a huge stir when he revealed that Valerie Plame, wife of Iraq-war critic Joseph Wilson, was a CIA officer. Ever since, Washington had been trying to find out who leaked the information to Novak. The columnist himself had kept quiet. But now, in a second column, Novak provided a tantalizing clue: his primary source, he wrote, was a 'senior administration official' who was 'not a partisan gunslinger.'

"Armitage was shaken. After reading the column, he knew immediately who the leaker was. On the phone with Powell that morning, Armitage was 'in deep distress,' says a source directly familiar with the conversation who asked not to be identified because of legal sensitivities. 'I'm sure he's talking about me.'

"Armitage's admission led to a flurry of anxious phone calls and meetings that day at the State Department. (Days earlier, the Justice Department had launched a criminal investigation into the Plame leak after the CIA informed officials there that she was an undercover officer.) Within hours, William Howard Taft IV, the State Department's legal adviser, notified a senior Justice official that Armitage had information relevant to the case. The next day, a team of FBI agents and Justice prosecutors investigating the leak questioned the deputy secretary. Armitage acknowledged that he had passed along to Novak information contained in a classified State Department memo: that Wilson's wife worked on weapons-of-mass-destruction issues at the CIA. (The memo made no reference to her undercover status.) Armitage had met with Novak in his State Department office on July 8, 2003--just days before Novak published his first piece identifying Plame. Powell, Armitage and Taft, the only three officials at the State Department who knew the story, never breathed a word of it publicly and Armitage's role remained secret.

"Armitage, a well-known gossip who loves to dish and receive juicy tidbits about Washington characters, apparently hadn't thought through the possible implications of telling Novak about Plame's identity. 'I'm afraid I may be the guy that caused this whole thing,' he later told Carl Ford Jr., State's intelligence chief. Ford says Armitage admitted to him that he had 'slipped up' and told Novak more than he should have."

Isikoff says Armitage was also Bob Woodward's confidential source.

His coauthor, the Nation's David Corn , says:

"The outing of Armitage does change the contours of the leak case. The initial leaker was not plotting vengeance. He and Powell had not been gung-ho supporters of the war. Yet Bush backers cannot claim the leak was merely an innocent slip. Rove confirmed the classified information to Novak and then leaked it himself as part of an effort to undermine a White House critic. Afterward, the White House falsely insisted that neither Rove nor Libby had been involved in the leak and vowed that anyone who had participated in it would be bounced from the administration. . . . To date, the president has not addressed Rove's role in the leak. It remains a story of ugly and unethical politics, stonewalling, and lies."

The New Republic's Peter Beinart comes out strongly in favor of vacuous slogans?

"If this fall's midterms become a referendum on the incumbent president and his party, they will be a bloodbath. With approval ratings south of 40 percent, George W. Bush may prove the least popular president to preside over a midterm election since Harry Truman in 1950. And the Republican Congress is even less popular--with less than one-third of Americans approving of its performance. Historically, when Congress's approval rating falls below 40 percent, the incumbent party loses an average of 29 seats in the House--double the number Democrats need to regain control.

"So it's hardly surprising that Republicans want Democrats to offer a detailed agenda; it helps them change the subject...

"So far, the Democrats have not played along: They have kept their proposals vague, and the press has paid little attention. And, with any luck, it will stay that way in the coming months. As much as possible, Democrats should stick to vacuous slogans like 'time for a change' and 'had enough?'"

So much for the notion that elections should be about ideas.

The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes sees Bush getting a bump, but the GOP still in trouble in November:

"As favorable as recent trends have been, they are not nearly enough to spare Republicans a nasty defeat, including the loss of the House and perhaps the Senate. The country is in a disagreeable mood and ready for a change. The Republican base is grumpy and apathetic. Bush may be America's choice to fight terrorism, but he falters on other issues. His boost in the polls doesn't mean he's now popular. He's merely less unpopular. And the August bounce may prove to be ephemeral, as earlier upticks have.

"There's much to do. Standing pat and expecting terrorism to dominate the campaign would be foolhardy. Grim reminders of the threat on the fifth anniversary of September 11 won't make terror the paramount issue. Nor will presidential speeches or lacerating Republican TV ads. Neither Democrats nor the media will play along. It's Bush's actions, not his words, that will matter. Americans want to see him fighting for America's security. For Bush, good politics consists of following his instincts and doing the right thing."

What follows are a chilling six words:

"The place to start is Iran."

Struggling Senate candidate Katherine Harris seems to have an endless capacity for making eye-opening statements:

"Rep. Katherine Harris told a religious journal that separation of church and state is 'a lie' and God and the nation's founding fathers did not intend the country be 'a nation of secular laws.' The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate also said that if Christians are not elected, politicians will 'legislate sin,' including abortion and gay marriage.

"Separation of church and state is 'a lie we have been told," Harris said in the interview, published Thursday, saying separating religion and politics is 'wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers.'"

Non-Christian lawmakers legislate sin? I know a few who'll be surprised to hear that.

Betsy's Page says that Joe Biden is the latest pol to step in it:

"If you watch this YouTube clip , he seems to positively be bragging that his state was a slave state, one of the border states. So, what is his message to South Carolina Democratic voters: Vote for me because I come from a state that had slaves so I'm just like y'all down there. Is he implying that the problems faced by South Carolinians today are a result of slavery?

"He can relate, I guess, because, at the time of the Civil War, Delaware had all of about 1000 slaves that they refused, despite Lincoln's pleas to emancipate even when Lincoln arranged for them to be compensated for emancipating them. I can't figure out what his point was except a vain attempt to seem like some good ol' boy to South Carolinians because Delaware's history has its own race problems. I've just never seen anyone campaign before by trumpeting his own state's slave history. Can't you just imagine if George Allen went down to South Carolina and said the exact same thing regarding Virginia? My gosh, it would be a week-long story of everyone trying to analyze the coded message in the sentence 'My state was a slave state.' With Smiling Joe, the media will just slough it off because it doesn't fit their template about a Democratic politician who is a media favorite."

When the NYT quoted Rahm Emanuel as saying of the Connecticut campaign, "Explain to me how two Democrats running is bad," several liberal bloggers went ballistic, including Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher :

"There is only one Democrat in the Connecticut Senate race in November and his name is Ned Lamont. He isn't the incumbent and thus doesn't trigger knee-jerk DC loyalty but really, this is quite beyond the pale. Lieberman is neither a nominal nor a spiritual Democrat; he's now running a Republican campaign as a once and future lackey of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. He's doing the devil's own work now and I give you credit, Rahm, for being smart enough to figure that out."

Lieberman has, of course, said that if he wins he will caucus with the Democrats.

Finally, the LAT says that Cruise will have a post-Paramount career:

"Tom Cruise has cut a deal with a group that includes the owner of the Washington Redskins to finance the overhead costs of his film production company, sources close to the negotiations said today."

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