Fleet Russell White, Jr. and Priscilla Brown White
November 17, 1999
BOARD OF REGENTS
Fri. Nov. 19 1999
The Board of Regents
University of Colorado
Regent Henry F. Anton, Jr.
Regent Maureen Ediger
Regent Susan Closgriff Kirk
Regent Thomas J. Lucero, Jr.
Regent James A, Martin, Jr.
Regent Norwood L. Robb
Regent Jerry G. Rutledge
Regent Robert E. Sievers
Regent Peter F. Steinhauier, D.D.S.
C/O Milagros Caraballo
Secretary of the University and of the Board of Regents
Campus Box 3
Boulder, CO 80309
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are residents of Boulder. We were friends of John and Patsy Ramsey and were at their home on December 26, 1996, the day their daughterâ€™s body was found.
On April 2,1998 we received a telephone call from Michael Tracey, a professor on the faculty of the Universitys School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Mr. Tracey indicated was working with British producer David Mills on a television "documentary" for "Network Channel 4 in Great Britain". Mr. Tracey stated that he intended to investigate how the American supermarket tabloids had covered the JonBenet Ramsey murder. Mr. Tracey also stated that he did not intend to delve into the crime itself. He did, however, ask for an interview in order to receive a "chronology of the story". We declined that request and did not respond to Mr. Tracey's telephone messages that we received on April 10 and April 24 repeating his request for an interview, Under the circumstances existing at the time, we were very alarmed to have received such a request from a University of Colorado faculty member, it was commonly known that a Boulder grand jury could soon be investigating the murder and we considered it to be likely that Mr. Tracey knew we could be called as witnesses. We immediately sent two letters to President John Buechner expressing our skepticism regarding Mr. Tracey and his project. These letter's are enclosed for your reference,
On April 8. 1998 President Buechner contacted us by phone to briefly discuss our letters. Mr. Tracey's project did not seem to trouble President Buechner although he did mention the University's one-sixth rule governing faculty members projects and work outside of their university duties. We have not heard anything further from President Buechner or the University. Since we continue to feel strongly about Mr. Tracey and his project, we now wish to bring the matter to your attention.
Shortly after our telephone conversation of April 2, 1998 Mr. Tracey publicly announced his plans to produce the, documentary, On April 21 the Boulder Daily Camera printed a letter from Mr. Tracey that read in part:
"The documentary will be about the character of the media coverage (shabby, exploitative and for some, obsessive) and will suggest that the coverage was used to systematically trash the right to the presumption of innocence."
On April 24,1998 Mr. Tracey was quoted in an article appearing in the Colorado Daily:-
"We're tying to stimulate a debate about the American media at the end of the century. Through this we particularly wanted to explore the role of the media and how the public knows of the guilt of the Ramseys."
The same article reported: They (the Ramseys and their lawyers) put one condition on it (granting Mr. Tracey interviews with the Ramseys), he (Tracey) said. The Ramsey family stipulated that the documentary not be shown in the United States until the Boulder County grand jury has completed any study of JonBenets murder. On April 7 David Mills, Mr. Tracey's associate in the project, told the Denver Rocky Mountain New "It's absolutely clear they (the Ramseys) didn't see this interview as a way of proving their innocence¦ They did not want to be seen as trying to manipulate public opinion.,
On July 10, 1998 the Denver Rocky Mountain News quoted Mr. Tracey:
"The documentary is not about the crime or about solving it or declaring them (the Ramseys) innocent or guilty,., What we set out to do was question the way in which the story was told in the American media: It was a public lynching.
The initial broadcast the program in Great Britain on July 9, 1998 w covered extensively by the national and Denver news media. On August 5, 1991: Denver NBC Affiliate Channel 9 showed a modified version to a Boulder and Denver area audience --contrary to Mr. Traceys earlier assurance that the program would not be shown prior to the conclusion of a grand jury investigation of the murder. (The Boulder grand jury proceedings would not even begin until September 15, 1998.) Using Mr. Traceys extensive interviews with the Ramseys as its centerpiece, the "documentary was Primarily a vehicle for the Ramseys to safety tell their version of what happened on and around December 26, 1996, It also enabled members of the Ramsey family and other Ramsey supporters to publicly vouch for the Ramseys. Prominent among these were Susan Stine, wife of former University of Colorado Vice President of Budget and Finance Glen Stine (In February 1997 when the Ramseys were living at her home, Mrs. Stine had told the Boulder Police Department and members of the Boulder Community that Fleet and Priscilla White should be considered prime suspects in the murder) and Michael Bynum, who was John Ramsey's business partner and corporate attorney. Also speaking in defense of the Ramseys were Dr. Francesco Beuf. JonBenet's pediatrician and Bryan Morgan, a Boulder criminal defense attorney representing John Ramsey who argued that the Ramseys bad been cooperative and forthcoming with police detectives in the early days of the Investigation. Using several "documented" examples of how the Ramseys had been victims of unfounded media speculation, the program blamed the news; media and the Boulder Police Department for the Ramseys' poor public image. Overall, the program attempted to portray the Ramseys as perfectly normal, trusting and relatively unsophisticated people who had been unjustly accused of murdering their daughter by a frenzied and irresponsible press that was being fed misleading and false information by incompetent law enforcement personnel.
The program, however, completely avoided anything unfavorable or unflattering to the Ramseys. There was no mention of the Ramseys overt and media-savvy public relations maneuvers that included their appearance on CNN the day after JonBenet's funeral in Atlanta and also the use of memorial services at churches in Boulder and Atlanta as staged media events. Nor was there any mention of how the Ramseys and their defenders mailed "profiles" of the murderer to residents of selected Boulder neighborhoods, carefully staged a "press conference", or hired private investigators. There was certainly no attempt to explain how or why the Ramseys happened to gain Mr. Tracey's advocacy. The program was a 1opsided and biased, attempt to generate public sympathy for the Ramseys and to reinforce the notion that an intruder murdered JonBenet. Mr. Tracey was attempting to deflect suspicion from the Ramseys on the eve of a grand jury investigation. This attempt was successful at least to the extent it cause the editors of the Boulder Daily Camera write in an August 12, 1998 editorial:
"Anyone who is half-awake or who viewed "JonBenet's America" last week on Channel 9 knows this case (against the Ramseys) is dripping with reasonable doubt.
Local journalists, however, were generally critical of Mr. Tracey and the Ramseys. On August 9,1998 a columnist for the Denver Rocky Mountain News wrote:
"the program used some pretty broad strokes to paint horns and a pointy tail on members of the American media for the way they've handled the case. As a result, the report was just as sloppy and one-sided as the coverage it criticized to imply that a majority in the media had it in for the Ramseys practically from the get go - or even now is simply ridiculous."
Defending his work, Mr. Tracey was quoted in the August 11, 1998 Colorado Daily:
"It is no different from, though. more visible than, my other work as a CU professor. I am paid to think about the media and society; my doing this documentary feeds directly into what I teach.".
Wick Rowland, then of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, had backed this up stating the August 5, 1998 Boulder Planet that "He (Tracey) told me about (the Ramsey project), As I understand it, it's part of his scholarly work."
Exploiting the national news attention given to the first broadcasts of his program, Mr. Tracey began appearing on numerous national television news and discussion programs, Often appearing angry and confrontational. he would vigorously defend not just the rights and interests of the Ramseys, but also his own motives. Mr. Tracey now enjoys celebrity status with national television and Internet audiences that follow the investigation, (We suspect that Mr. Tracy attempts to directly influence Internet discussion of the case as the enclosed copies of some recent postings on a JonBenet Ramsey forum suggests.) It is now likely that Mr., Tracey is the Universitys most renowned faculty member and that his "scholarly work" is known by more members of the American publication that of Nobel Prize winner Thomas Cech.
In September of 1998, The A&E Network and Bill Kurtis Productions bought the rights to Mr. Tracey's programs part of their Investigative Reports series. Hosted and narrated by Mr. Kurtis, the program has since been broadcast in prime time on at least four occasions. The most recent broadcasts were on September 2, and October 28, 1999 coinciding with increased media coverage of the grand jury's conclusion Entitled "The Case of JonBenet; The Media versus the Ramseys". the October 28 broadcast began with Mr. Kurtis stating.
"For many the news on October 13 bordered on the unbelievable. For more than a year a grand jury board evidence in the baffling case that had captivated ."America for almost 3 years who killed JonBenet Ramsey? But when the proceedings ended the grand jury issued no indictment.. In this edition of Investigative Reports, an exclusive interview with John and Patsy Ramsey conducted by University of Colorado Professor Mike Tracey just days before the grand jury began hearing testimony. It's the story of the media frenzy around the case and what the Ramseys think happened on the night of JonBenets death.
In addition to updated comments by Mr. Kurtis, these recent programs had subtle revisions and additions including a photo image of former University of Colorado Journalism professor Bill McReynolds dressed as Santa Claus standing with a group of children at a Christmas party at the Ramsey home. Unlike previous programs, the faces of all children in the photograph except JonBenet had been obscured leaving a clear image of only Mr. McReynolds and JonBenet. This image was then closely juxtaposed with the voice of Patsy Ramsey and the narrator as they speculated that an intruder entered the Ramsey home on Christmas and murdered JonBenet. This was a clear suggestion that Mr. McReynolds should be regarded as a suspect in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. We have no reason to believe that Boulder law enforcement investigators suspect that Bill McReynolds had anything to do with the murder. But regardless of whether Mr. McReynolds is in fact a "suspect" in anyones mind it is unconscionable that Mr. Tracey would make 'such a suggestion on national television. In doing so he is simply engaging in the same irresponsible and speculative television "journalism" that he claims to be exposing. Also, included in these recent programs were our own images photos taken from a tabloid and a newspaper. These images coincided with the narrators words regarding "leaks and speculation" and how the Ramseys have been the victim of a "modern day Salem". This was clearly an attempt to suggest that Fleet and Priscilla White probable grand jury witnesses had acted or spoken in a manner that imperiled the Ramseys presumption of innocence perhaps by giving or selling information to tabloids or other news organizations. This could not be further from the truth and is deeply insulting to our family. While we have made a few written public statements regarding the investigation and the conduct of Boulder police and prosecutors, we have not discussed the events of December 26, 1996 with anyone other than a Ramsey attorney and investigator and Boulder police and prosecutors. We have gone to great lengths not to share our feelings and opinions regarding the crime with anyone outside of the official investigation.
As with the earlier versions, the prime objective of Mr. Tracey's most recent television programs was not to expose "shabby and exploitative" media coverage of the case-it was to convey the messages that John and Patsy Ramsey were not involved in the murder of their daughter. The recent programs added the message that there were in fact other "suspects" in the investigation besides the Ramseys and that the credibility of Fleet and Priscilla White should be questioned since they have actively aided the tabloid and other news media in "lynching" the Ramseys,
On October 12, 1999, the day before the Boulder County District Attorney announced that the Boulder grand jury had completed its work and that charges could not be brought against anyone for murdering JonBenet Ramsey, Mr. Tracey made one of his frequent appearances on the Larry King Live television program. Following the portions of the transcript of that program:
KING: Are you saying, in essence, you totally believe the parents did not do it?
TRACEY: No. You know, Larry, I've never said that. My job isn't to pronounce guilt or innocence. I have my own private thoughts...
KING: Michael, when you said the media was wrong, what should and I don't like to collectively accuse-- what should the media have done that* they didn't do?
TRACEY: I think there should have been-one, there should have been much less coverage of the crime, this particular case. I think the character of the coverage should not have been as sleazy and sensational as it was. But I think also the media should not have allowed themselves to be used to construct a story that was full of mistakes and errors and bits of misinformationâ€¦ Can I address one point, though, this issue of frustration, Larry, which you raised before the break? And I do understand that there is a level of frustration about getting a result, getting some kind of solution to this, but it seems to me that precisely at those moments when people are frustrated, one has to be very careful to protect the process, because you're dealing with some very basic principles of the rule of law. And so the frustration should not lead to a situation where we give a result, come what may. I think one has to be extremely careful in the context of a frustrated public and a frustrated media.
The next day, October 13, 1999 following District Attorney Alex Hunters announcement, Mr. Tracey once again appeared on the Larry King Live television program and made the following comments.
KING: OK, You did of course "The Case of JonBenet: The Media versus the Ramseys", that documentary, which is going to be repeated December 18th on A&E. One would assume you're going to update it now.
TRACEY: As of tonight, Larry, I have no idea what we'll do. We do have some plans but not necessarily to update that particular documentary.
KING: Were you surprised today (about the lack of an indictment from the Boulder grand jury)?
TRACEY: We do have plans, I wasn't totally surprised, no. I think I think it was quite clear, not just in terms, but almost from the beginning, if you stepped out of the box if you stepped out of the public hysteria, if you stepped out of the appalling media story that was being told, it was quite clear that wasn't a case against these two people (John and Patsy Ramsey). And if this grand jury after all the expectations and hopes of many people when it was empanelled --- and I think we just remember what the context was for this grand jury being empanelled it was the assumption, passionate assumption that they will quickly indict John and Patsy Ramsey. It didn't happen. And the reason it didn't happen and I'll answer a question you asked me last night the reason it didn't happen is not only is it that there is no case against these two people, they didn't kill JonBenet. The only thing they ever did was love her. And this is what has been revealed today
KING: Do you plan to try another interview with the parents?
TRACEY: We do have plans, which I don't particularly want to elaborate on at this point. But I do I would make one in terms of suggest the general direction we want to go is it quite clear that something bad went wrong with the investigation
TRACEY: ... in terms of the law enforcement and the media and so on. And so we have a few ideas in that general realm, because I think we have to learn the lessons. We have to find out what happened, what went wrong, why it went wrong, who was leaking information, why were they leaking information? Because, as I said to you before, Larry, I think theres a very specific intent to frame John and Patsy Ramsey. It didn't work."
Also on October 13, 1999 Mr. Tracey appeared on MSNBC and was asked by program host Katie Couric if there is any possibility that the Ramseys were involved in JonBenets murder to which Mr. Tracey responded: "No I do not. It is inconceivable".
With these recent comments, Mr. Tracey completely eliminated any remaining basis for claiming that his work ion the Ramsey investigation has something to do with scholarly and objective social scientific research. For the first time, Mr. Tracey stated that John and Patsy did not kill their daughter and he made it clear that this is not just his opinion. He stated it as a matter of fact. He also implied that the lack of an indictment by the grand jury is proof of this. He then went on to express his extraordinary belief that information had been "leaked" to the media in an attempt to "frame" the Ramseys. While he did not say whom he suspects to be involved in this conspiracy, he did imply that it includes members of "law, enforcement" (If Mr. Tracey actually posses s any evidence of such a conspiracy or has any other meaningful information regarding the crime, we hope he will recognize his duty to immediately contact an appropriate agency or the Colorado Attorney General. It would be a disservice to the Boulder community and the State of Colorado to do otherwise.) Finally, he announced to a national television audience that he intends to "find out what happened" in the investigation-who leaked information and why.
Nineteen months ago Mr. Tracey made a number of statements regarding the timing and objectives of his project. In order to avoid the appearance of intentionally prejudicing a grand jury investigation, Mr. Tracey indicated that his television program would not be shown in the United States until the inquiry had concluded. Instead, the program was broadcast to a Denver and Boulder audience before the proceedings even began. And later, after Mr. Tracey sold it to the A&E Network, the program would be re-broadcast several times to a national television audience during the grand jury proceedings. As it turned out, the program was produced and broadcast to do precisely what Mr. Tracey had claimed was not his intention to prejudice and condition the grand jury and the publics opinion of the investigations targets: John and Patsy Ramsey. Notwithstanding his early assurances, Mr. Traceys television programs and his own high profile advocacy have done very little else than delve into the crime and attempt to influence public opinion about who did or did not murder JonBenet Ramsey.
Mr. Tracey also claimed initially that he was motivated by a desire to "stimulate a debate about the American media at the end of the century." But as an astute and clearly cynical observer of mass communication he surely knew that the people watching his "documentaries" would have no interest in debating journalism ethics. Mr. Tracey knew exactly what would interest his audience: sensational "exclusive" interviews with the parents of a murdered six year old beauty queen not a debate. It is unlikely that Mr. Tracey ever intended to stir the moral and social conscience of his audience and cause them to cry out for fair and balanced reporting of high profile murder cases.
Mr. Tracey also knew what it would take to reform a bottom-line obsessed news and entertainment industry. Journalists and news reporters would have to be presented with cogent and compelling arguments why they should jeopardize their careers by recommending to their managers that they all stick to core journalism values and stop giving their audiences and readers anything and everything they want. Mr. Tracey has certainly not offered any such arguments with his television programs or in his high profile television commentary. But given the nature of his work on the Ramsey investigation, Mr. Tracey could not possibly have thought that he could "stimulate debate" among offending journalists. They would be the first to correctly identify him as simply a fellow traveler as just another opportunist who has no compunction about using the murder of JonBenet Ramsey for his selfish purposes.
Rather than stimulating debate, Mr. Tracey has made a mockery of the truly important issues that he claims to be addressing: the general decline of American journalism and the proper role of news and entertainment media in the criminal justice system. For this alone, Mr. Tracey should be encouraged to discontinue any further academic or teaching duties. His talents and commercial interests seem far better suited to the world of exploitative and sensational journalism that he has so dishonestly criticized.
It is now perfectly obvious to us that Mr. Tracey has (1) selfishly and irresponsibly used his position as a professional educator on the faculty of the University of Colorado to secure a commercially beneficial arrangement with the prime suspects in an ongoing murder investigation, (2) attempted to generate favorable public opinion for the Ramseys using biased, misleading and sensational television programs clumsily and unconvincingly disguised as academic work product, and (3) engaged in dishonest deceptive conduct in performing advocatory services for the Ramseys.
We doubt that Mr. Traceys conduct over the past nineteen months could possibly meet any reasonable standard for a professional educator or even a journalist. We believe that his actions have endangered the well being of the Boulder community and the rights of its citizens including our family. We also believe Mr. Tracey has used his commercial ventures in an attempt to influence and interfere with the official Investigation of JonBenet Ramseys murder and the recently completed grand jury investigation. His recent public statements give a clear message that he intends to continue these attempts even now when it appears that the State of Colorado has taken a greater interest in the investigation that is clearly focused on John and Patsy Ramsey.
We urge you to closely examine Mr. Traceys scholarly activities having to do with the Ramsey murder investigation and determine whether they are constant with the interests of the University, the Boulder community and the State of Colorado and its criminal justice system. We obviously feel that they are not. If you come to the same conclusion, we are hopeful that the University will take whatever steps necessary to prevent Mr. Traceys ongoing involvement in the Ramsey investigation including, if necessary, his dismissal. We would also recommend that the University make an unequivocal statement disclaiming any support or endorsement of Mr. Traceys television programs. Taking such measures would have nothing to do with limiting his academic freedom since Mr. Traceys involvement in the Ramsey investigation has nothing to do with academics. The University would simply be making it clear that it does not wish to be connected with the commercial exploitation of a childs murder. We request that you give consideration to this matter at your earliest opportunity. According to Mr. Traceys recent comments on television, the next broadcast of his program is December 18.
Please be assured that we will not remain silent in this matter. We have enormous incentive to prevent Mr. Tracey or anyone else from improperly influencing the investigation of JonBenets murder. We will certainly not tolerate people who unjustly impugn or defame our family.
We encourage you to call us if you have any questions or need any further information. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter further with anyone that you wish.
We have enclosed videotape of Mr. Traceys most recent television program.
Fleet Russell White, Jr. And Priscilla Brown White
10/28/99 A&E Investigative Reports
"The Case of Jon Benet"
"The Media vs. The Ramseys"
One copy of videotape provided, in Board ofc