Overexposure: When Media Coverage Blocks out the Sun

Article excerpt

As the cameras showed John Mark Karr sitting in an airport waiting to be moved, the media were already in full self- examination mode last week. Story after story wondered how the press got so far down the road of quietly - and sometimes not so quietly - pointing to the parents of JonBenet Ramsey as culprits in the 6- year-old's murder 10 years ago.

"I hope the media and authorities are looking long and hard at their own shameful behavior in this whole affair. Of course, I doubt that anyone is ... but it's very important for all of us to remember lessons learned here for future reference," Jake Tapper of ABC News wrote in his blog.

And in a matter of hours, it soon became clear that the future is, well, now.

It didn't take long before friends, relatives, and analysts pointed out that Mr. Karr's story - although he confessed to the killing - had multiple holes in it, leaving some to wonder whether the New York Daily News had maybe gone a tad too far when it led with the giant headline "SOLVED."

Is Karr guilty? Is Karr some oddball on the fringe? Do you care?

Be honest when you consider that last question.

It's easy to argue that the JonBenet Ramsey case doesn't matter much in the scheme of things. It ultimately is about whether the police in Boulder, Colo., can finally close the books on an old case.

But the fact is, the case has become more than that in the minds of many people. Yes, there are all the pieces that entice - the wealthy family, the beauty pageants, the strange mix of evidence surrounding the killing. It is above all, however, an unsolved mystery and when there was an arrest made, half the world away, you probably had the smallest bit of interest. If you didn't, you're a more high-minded person than I.

But the real issue is the amount of coverage lavished upon the story. In that sheer volume of stories, there's a lesson for consumers in how the media work - and it's not really about JonBenet.

The fact is, when the US news media really turn their attention to a topic, they do a very thorough job. You may not think much of the JonBenet story, but if you wanted to know about it, or even if you didn't, you certainly weren't lacking for information last week. There was everything from press conferences to Greta Van Susteren's interview/ deposition of Karr's brother Nate. …