Newseum Transcript 1: Ramseys re. the Media by Dunvegan

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... Newseum Transcript 1: Ramseys re. the Media, Dunvegan, 14:11:04, 3/24/2001
Newseum Transcript (1 of 2), Dunvegan, 14:12:50, 3/24/2001, (#1)

"Newseum Transcript 1: Ramseys re. the Media"
Posted by Dunvegan on 14:11:04 3/24/2001

I'll post this in two parts, of which this is the's a long interview, and my fingers need a rest.

When the Ramseys did the Newseum webcast interview on 10/12/2000...I was at work and had a hard time listening to the entire interview (I have a hard time listening to Patsy's and John's voices ANYTIME, but that's a separate issue.)

However, I took down the address at the Newseum website where they said one could write for a cassette tape of the program.

A couple of weeks ago the free tape of the show arrived...but I put it in a cubby of my desk, to listen to later.

However, I remembered that John reacted during this interview, with very scathing language in his assessment of the, since the "recent developments in the media," I thought it might be worth transcribing so we could all take a look.

Since Newseum is a non-profit and educational entity...and they will gladly send anyone a free tape of any broadcast, I hope that by acknowledging them, and quoting very carefully, this is not infringement.'s quite long, so I'll post the first half now, and take a break...posting the rest later tonight...or tomorrow morning.


1. "Newseum Transcript (1 of 2)"
Posted by Dunvegan on 14:12:50 3/24/2001

From the Newseum interview "Inside Media: Coverage and Controversies with the Ramseys", of October 12th, 2000.

The moderators: Blake Morrison and Eric Newton.

(Here was a short preamble...introducing the Ramseys to the audience.)

MODERATOR: John, why did decide to come and talk to the class today?

JOHN RAMSEY: Well...when something like this happens in your life, causes you to really examine...uh, life. And, uh there's certainly a strong feeling on Patsy's and my part, that we want something good to come out of...this.

Um...JonBenet was a beautiful child, uh...we loved her dearly...and, there's certainly a side of us that is grateful that the country...uh, took note of that. There are 800 children murdered in this country every year. And, for some reason, uh...this caught the world's attention.

And, uh...we did a lot of thinking about...well...'cause we were litterally under siege. We'd been, you know: accused, tried, and convicted in the media, of murdering our daughter. And, uh...we really had two choices. One was to try to make a difference, we saw a lot of wrongs in our system...or, just...crawl in a hole and shut the world out.

Well, we decided, well...for JonBenet's sake, for the sake of our children, and their children, we gotta try to make a difference.

And, do we make a difference? Um..and this was an opportunity to, we thought, to talk to young people who are gonna be in the profession; the media, let them understand from our perspective: on the receiving end...the good and the bad we saw. A lot of bad...but we did see some good.

Uh, so perhaps when they go out in the world, and um...and exercize their profession, they' a litlle different perspective....perhaps a little more real perspective with what they're dealing with. Cause they're dealing with real people.

MODERATOR: Patsy: As a former journalism student, yourself, what should the students here look for...uh, today...that they might not be able to get just sitting in the classroom...listening to me talk?

PATSY RAMSEY: I would hope that they would come away with the understanding that...we are real people. You know, I think a lot of time when the news, um...coverage, you know, hits us everyday, and everyday, and's always "the other guy" know: this is never going to happen to me...this is somebody far, far away. We've been fictionalized as people that we're, I want them to understand that in the years to come, when you are reporting about individuals that they are people. They are human beings. They have feelings, theys have, you know, rights to privacy...and just because you are a journalist, does not give you carte blanche to, you know, drag them through the mud, basically.

MODERATOR: Well, let's get our students down to the that they can start asking their questions, and, while you're coming down, I've got another one for John.

You talk in your book about the, um..."sides of the media"...the good side, the bad side, and, clearly, you feel -

JOHN RAMSEY: - We've seen both -

MODERATOR: -You've spent a lot of side on the "bad side"-

JOHN RAMSEY: - We did -

MODERATOR: Well, what are some examples of things that happened to you…something that happens to you when you are on the "good side", and something that happens when you are on the "bad side"?

JOHN RAMSEY: Well…in our case we certainly felt, uh…we were…we were…um…devastated by the loss of our child. Uh…and having gone through this twice, myself…and Patsy (we lost our older daughter) uh, you pretty much just want to shut the world out…yet, the world -through the media- was, uh…intruding our space…(Note: word here is slurred: could be "wildly"…or could be "violence") wildly, from our perspective. And, um…we just felt…violated…that…we didn't want our picture taken, we didn't want that, uh…you know, that attention.

And, um, in the beginning…uh, I think we saw most of the "bad side"…uh, we saw the tabloid…uh, uh…side of the media. The way the tabloid works is that they have…uh, they put out a call for pictures, and a picture is very important to a tabloid…then they can write a story around it.

So, if the picture is "unusual" they can make a very "unusual" story around it. And there's a lot of freelance photographers that that's how they make a living, they get a picture, and if it's a good one, they can sell it, make several thousand dollars, and they sell it to the tabloids.

We saw that side of the media; it's very intrusive. Uh, uh…telephoto lenses aimed in our window, uh…the gravesite…uh…JonBenet's gravesite…uh, we found a hidden camera there…eventually, after we saw the picture of my older son at the cemetery in one of the tabloid pictures, uh - newspapers.

And, a friend of ours, came up with an analogy that I thought was perfect: he said it was like you're the red fox, and you're being pursued by the dogs, in an English hunt…and the dogs are the tabloid…uh, media. And the more proper hunters, on the horseback, are the mainstream media.

And, while the tabloid media is churning up all the innuendos, and uh, the uh, accusations…sadly, what's happened, to a large degree, is that the mainstream media is capitalizing on that, and…uh, in some cases, reporting it as fact.

MODERATOR: So, working almost like a team, is what you're saying, rather than two different -

JOHN RAMSEY: - Yeah, yeah…from our perspective, we felt like "the poor little fox ". We had to, uh…had to plan where we, uh…where we could find our points of refuge.

MODERATOR: Well, we'll get back to this…but, let's see what our students have to ask today, and we'll go to them.

And, you can…don't be shy…come down and line up, so that we can go from one to the other. Uh…you're on "Inside Media"; please tell us who you are, and ask your question.

STUDENT QUESTIONER #1: My name is Ryan (redacted), and I'm a student at the University of Maryland, and I'd just like to express gratitude again for giving us his experience: thanks a lot. And, my question would be this: you've already discussed the intrusiveness of the tabloids in their coverage…but, which news organizations would you have found to be the most fair and professional, in their coverage of the investigation of your daughter's death?

JOHN RAMSEY: That's…uh, a good question. Heh, heh…uh…I think they…I can't point to one that I feel has been…uh, completely…uh, accurate and completely fair, and completely correct. I think they all erred…uh, (sigh). The, uh…you know, we developed a…uh…I'd call it a hatred for the media, based on our experience at the beginning. And we…and as we…overtime begin to meet, what I call the "legitimate journalists" and, uh…people that are…uh, at the top of the profession, we begin to realize, "Well, these people are decent people. They're smart, they're trying to do a good job. Um, and yet we've been so biased by the "dark side" of the media.

Uh, and so it was hard for us to sort out who's the good guy and who's the bad guy…and a lot of…we shut out a lot of it, because we just couldn't, uh…couldn't deal with it. It was hurtful, it would make us angry when things were reported that weren't true…um, and so, the solution for us was just to shut it out.

We took television out of our home a couple years ago…uh, because we didn't want our son to, uh…stumble across Geraldo trying us on television, or something like that…and that was the only way we could be assured that…uh…that wouldn't happen. Uh, so we shut a lot of it out. To some degree, we don't know…because we haven't…we don't follow it. We don't, uh…read all the stories.

But, uh…(pause)…the, um…I've told by…um, friends of ours who did follow it, um, that the Washington Post did a pretty good job of accuracy, and staying out of the mud. But that's second-hand information. Uh, 'cause I didn't…I didn't follow it.

MODERATOR: Would you -

PATSY RAMSEY: -Follow up on that…and, be sure to check it out…cause you can't just take his words for it (!) (Laughter from audience, moderators, John.) That's the best…ha, ha! -

MODERATOR: - Well, Patsy, can I ask you about that, because, in retrospect John's spoke about how you folks basically went into seclusion from the media, or tried to, as best you could. Do you think there's anything that either of you could have done differently that might have helped the media portray you in a more fair, accurate, complete way?

PATSY RAMSEY: You know, we had just lost our child…we weren't concerned with helping portray anything. Um, I get criticized for not having…we both do…for not having "acted right." You know…I (sigh) I spent weeks and weeks and weeks in bed. Immobile. You know: crying. So…you know…no, we weren't out there giving a response…because we were, you know…back there crying our eyes out. So, um…I don't feel obligated, nor did I then, to have to provide information about…you know…to try to get people to…to paint a picture of myself…or something -

JOHN RAMSEY: - You know, people ask us: "Well, how could you…how could you have stood all this attention and accusation in the press. And, what our response is -and, it's…it's…it's very genuine - you know…uh, we lost our child. And, that was the worst thing that could happen to us. What followed was small by comparison. And, and…for a long time, was…was of no consequence to us. Uh…you know, it was hurtful. Uh, but we'd been hurt deeper that anyone could hurt us again.

PATSY RAMSEY: What WAS bad was…I mean, you had to…to…realize where we were coming from. We - there was a murderer in our home. Yeah…this murderer is still at large. So when we would come…um, back to our car, to a parking lot, and all of a sudden this…you know…this MAN(!) jumped out from between a car with something in his hand…I don't know whether it's a journalist or a…or a nut-case. Or, the murderer! I don't know if that's a camera, or a gun. I mean, it's frightening. You know, when…when you KNOW that there is a…a madman out there, and then JOURNALISTS, you know, for the sake of the public's right to know…(exasperated gasp)…PREY on you like this, it's…it's…it's inhumane.

MODERATOR: One of the things about, um…well, "good journalism"…I guess we can make a distinction…is that in "good journalism" sometimes, uh…often times, good reporting on a crime can help solve a crime. Uh -

PATSY RAMSEY: -That's right!-

JOHN RAMSEY: - You bet! In fact, the best investigative work in this case has been done by journalists.

PATSY RAMSEY: -Um hmm. Absolutely.

JOHN RAMSEY: We've got some incredibly good information from journalists, who, on their own, have dug into things that, uh…have been very, very interesting….

MODERATOR: Another question from our students. Tell us who you are -

STUDENT QUESTIONER #2: Hi. Sean (redacted), from College Park. Thanks a lot for coming. Um…my question is: over the course of this ordeal, the media kinda sized up your decision to hire separate legal counsel…do you think that their interpretation played a role in -

JOHN RAMSEY: -Sure. It played a role…i-i-i-i-i-in how people perceived us. It played a role in how the police perceived us. Let me correct one thing: we didn't make that decision. We were, uh…basically immobile. I mean, Patsy and I were devastated. Uh…a good friend of ours, who is an attorney, who'd been a former Prosecuting Attorney, uh…took me aside and said, "John, would you allow me to do some things I think are necessary to do here?" And I said, "Yeah." Cause he was a trusted friend. Uh, he brought in attorneys on our behalf. And we said, "Hey, why do we need attorneys? B: Why do we need 2 attorneys?" And they said, "This is how we need to do it. And it's prudent." And I trusted him.

Uh, clearly it was the right thing to do…um, unfortunately our justice system is flawed. In some cases, and is not, uh…pure as we would hope it would be. And, um…his position for us was: if you're dealing with a…system that is not perfect…you absolutely need to be represented. And, um…I think it was absolutely the correct decision. It was an incorrect decision in terms of how the police and the public perceived us.

The police, automatically: "You get an attorney; you're guilty." That's how they look at it. And I think the public, to a large degree, does too. And, um…y-y-you know, I've often thought: "Well, gee…what if we hadn't…what if we had just said 'No'?" You know, "We don't need attorneys…why do we need attorneys?" Cause that was certainly the thought that was going through our mind. Um, what…what difference would that have made? And, uh…you know, we might have been in jail today…I don't know. Uh, because the system, the justice system…was out to get us. Clear and simple.

That, that became evident…downstream…as we begin to understand that…uh, they really were…focused on the family, because…it's always the parents.

PATSY RAMSEY: I have a new appreciation for attorneys…I don't tell those "lawyer jokes" anymore…because they know so much about the justice system. Um…I remember when it…you know, rumors were flying all the time that I was going to be arrested…and thrown in jail…and I said: "LET THEM! Let them throw me in jail! I will be sittin' there, and that'll just give me more fuel for the furnace…you know, when I'm throwin' out lawsuits, you know. And my attorney said, "You don't understand." He said, "Without exception, every one of my clients who has been put in a jail cell…you know, months later another inmate will be put in the same jail cell…you know…chit-chatting…whatnot…a few minutes later, the inmate goes out and says, 'She confessed!'"

And, I was just…I was just STUNNED! This can't be happening. In this country. And he said, "Believe me, it happens." He said, "If you, you know, are behind bars, you will not be alone for one second. They'll have somebody there, sitting with you, at all times…" Because, he said, "It happens. It happens every time."

JOHN RAMSEY: Yeah, our attorneys were very, very afraid of the justice system, 'cause they knew it was flawed. And, um…that was a wake-up call for us, I think. And…and…and one of the things we wanna make a difference in, uh…is that whole process.

I mean we've got inexperienced police, in general, and I mean this is not a categorical statement…uh, who are too eager to make an arrest. We've got prosecutors who are paid to prosecute. And, we've got politicians who garner votes based on being "tough on crime." And, um, it's dangerous. It sounds good to us law-abiding citizens, but it's a dangerous…uh, uh…edge that we're kinda walking on. And I'm convinced that there are thousands of innocent people in jails today. Every day, when you pick up the paper….

But, that's what we were faced with. And, our friend who was experienced…had been on the prosecuting side, and the defense side, saw it…and we didn't. And that's how attorneys first got involved. But did they…did that bias things? Absolutely.

STUDENT QUESTIONER #2: Great. Thank you very much.


STUDENT QUESTIONER #3: My name is Jill (redacted), I'm also a journalism student at the University of Maryland.

What did the media expose that you felt should have been kept private? And, what hasn't been told that you think should have been?

PATSY RAMSEY: Well, gosh…you know (laughs)…my mother always said, "Watch your reputation!" You know, "Don't go in that bar, don't do this…don't do that…" You know, "What - you gotta -Watch your reputation." I have thanked her about a gazillion times. Because they absolutely have…you know…SCOURED our backgrounds…and they said, you know, we'd be perfect political candidates now because, you know, everything's out in the open. All the skeletons, all the -

JOHN RAMSEY: - lots of skeletons that weren't there -

PATSY RAMSEY: (Loudly) Hee-hee! Yeah! Right! But, just…I mean…they went back and found my High School English teacher! Uh…old boyfriends…you know, I'm embarrassed because those people were bothered…because of me…you know…

JOHN RAMSEY: I think the big issue is, i-i-if we're looking at what, whatta we need to worry about as a society, is that was reflected on our case, is there's a…there's a too much of a intermingling of the justice system and the media. Uh…you know…in some countries; England, for example…most English-based-law countries, the things that went on in our case would have put journalists and police in jail. In England you're not allowed…it's called…oh, it's a Latin term, I forget it…but you're not allowed to report on evidence and…uh…uh…

PATSY RAMSEY: - in an ongoing case -

JOHN RAMSEY: - the process of an ongoing case, because it biases the case…one way or the other. It's not true in our country…and, in fact, it's gotten…I…my believe…is that one of the things we need to look at as a society is that this is a problem. Where…uh, a television program can try, as we were tried, on television…it, uh…it…you gotta realize we've never, ever…yet, heh (laugh)…been named as a suspect. That's really the first step in…in a…in a…process for the police…they name you as a suspect. Then you're indicted, it takes a little bit of evidence to indict, it takes a ton of evidence to convict.

We've never even been named as a suspect…in the media we've been tried, convicted…charged, tried, convicted, and…uh…it's over. And, and that's a problem for our system, because the justice system can't work properly with that going on around it. A detective told me that…an old, retired, very experienced detective…he said the problem with this case was so much media attention, th-th-that the detectives weren't allowed to do their job. And they do their job kinda of in the background. They…uh-h-h…pick here…they look here…you know, it's a…it's a complex thing to solve this kind of crime. Very complex. Takes a lot of gray matter. It takes a lot of time.

Well, when the media gets involved in demanding an answer for the 6 o'clock news, uh…the Chief gets involved. And he micro-manages. Well, the Chief hasn't been in a crime investigation, maybe ever, as it was in the case in Boulder…uh…certainly for a long time, because he's been an administrator…the Chief of Detectives gets involved. And, the poor detective, uh…can't do his job.

So, that…in the very beginning, with that kind of attention and pressure…uh, the justice system, the investigative process, can't operate. Doesn't work. And, that's a problem.

And, uh…it's a…I'm not sure how you fix it. But…you know, in terms…so, there's issues of just the privacy of the investigation that needs to be somehow protected, so that the process can work. And, that may take years.

And, that's a flaw, and that's something that…that…to specifically address your question…uh, should not have been exposed…uh…the police used the media…they played the media like a fiddle in this case…they leaked innuendos….

Their strategy basically was to put immense pressure on us so that we'd break. And…in fact, they wanted to throw one of us in…I guess both of us…in jail. And they figured, well…one of us would crack…and turn on the other…they weren't sure which one, but the two of us were in the house…it had to be one or the other.

And, my fundamental criticism of the media, as I really analyze this from 30,000 feet, is that they…uh, they took these leaks, and innuendos, and basically gossip as fact, and ran with it. And they ran with it world-wide. Rather than being skeptical of the police.

The police as a gov-, …you know, the justice system is a government organization. And hence, should be looked at with some degree of skepticism, and, uh…and, uh…suspicion.

I mean that's…that's…to me...and I don't know if this is what you teach in school, but…to me the…and I've thought a lot about this, but the main responsibility of a free press in a democracy is to keep the government honest. And, uh…we seem to not realize that the justice system is the government. I mean, we're seeing cases not with, you know…Wen Ho Lee, and, you know, there's…there's…I'm sensitive to it because I look for it in the papers, and it's always there. Where, uh…that role has been grossly overstepped. And, uh…but, um…the-the willingness to…uh…convict…you know…not only before trial, but before anyone's ever been charged, is a huge…error…that was illustrated in our case.

And that's a…that's a violation…not of our privacy…well, it is, I guess in a lot of respects. Um…because we were the victims. But, it destroys the system that we, that we put in place to deal with these kinds of things.

STUDENT QUESTIONER #3: For the second part of that question: was there anything that you feel should have been exposed, but wasn't…should have been told, by the media, that wasn't?

JOHN RAMSEY: (To Patsy) Any thoughts?

PATSY RAMSEY: Well…um, there again I think…um, a lot of press has been guilty of just taking…you know, by spoonfuls, information that the police department wanted them to have. So…and, very little investigative reporting was done. I mean, just this summer, just in the past few weeks, we learned that there was another young girl assaulted, in her bed…by a perpetrator…who had been in the house for at least four hours…this happened in…

JOHN RAMSEY: September.

PATSY RAMSEY: September of 1997. And, the Special Prosecutor for the Grand Jury…he did not know about this…I mean, it was kept…you know…quiet! -

JOHN RAMSEY: - that was an example of good journalism, in my opinion! I mean…and these…the guys that dug this out, and ultimately reported on it, had been some of our harshest -

PATSY RAMSEY: - Journalists!

JOHN RAMSEY: - critics, but they were journalists…and they, basically, uh…called the police…uh, on this, and said, "Wait a minute. This…why haven't you looked at this?"


PART 2 - Thursday, October 12, 2000
Newseum interview "Inside Media:
Coverage and Controversies with the Ramseys