Off Limits

Deathwatch reunion: Discomfort was the theme when the five media witnesses to the execution of Gary Davis gathered at the Denver Press Club last Friday to discuss the intensive coverage of the event. No one was eager to volunteer for another such assignment.

"I wasn't emotionally upset about it until I went to bed that night," said KOA's Carol McKinley. "I kept seeing his face turn blue."

"I had a feeling of being in the spotlight and not enjoying it," said Associated Press reporter Judy Kohler.

But the most spotlight-shy of the bunch turned out to be the only television reporter, Channel 2's Ernest Gurule, who asked that his remarks before the paying crowd be treated as "off the record." Two other media types objected, asking why a reporter would want to go off the record--at the Denver Press Club, no less. Moderator Fred Brown of the Denver Post, recently elected national president of the Society of Professional Journalists (an organization that allegedly champions the free flow of information), explained, "We do this all the time here."

Not to worry. Judging by Gurule's hush-hush remarks, the Press Club must be buzzing with swarms of uninteresting, unpublishable secrets. If these walls could talk, they'd say, "Don't quote me."

But if reporting on an execution is so painful, why do newspapers and television stations clamor for front-row seats? So they can talk about it later, of course. Off the record.

You read it here first: Remember how, back in September, John and Patsy Ramsey were so determined to solve the murder of their daughter, JonBenet, that they took out ads in the Boulder Daily Camera profiling the killer? One ad detailed how the ransom note bore a marked resemblance to lines in such movies as Ransom and Dirty Harry. To which, in the September 11 Off Limits, we added the startling similarities between the Ramsey ransom note and a note featured in an episode of Matlock--"The Kidnapping," in which Andy Griffith's insufferable buddy, Billy, is snagged.

Now the Globe, the publication that brought us Ramsey crime-scene photos, is on the case. In its November 4 issue, the tabloid offers this stunning revelation: "Frantic cops ask TV's Andy Griffith for help." According to the Globe, Boulder investigators were struck by the similarities between the Matlock episode and the Ramsey case, which extend far beyond Barney Fife-like bumbling. For example, John Ramsey was asked to put the money in an attache case--and Griffith actually carried one on the show! And although this Matlock episode was made in 1994, it repeated on Boulder cable at 11:05 a.m. on November 11, 1996. That's just the time when Patsy Ramsey liked to take a break, one source said--and it was just six weeks before the murder.

"The irony," an alleged insider told the Globe, "is Ben Matlock cleared up the TV kidnapping in a two-hour double episode. The real cops are already ten months into this and looking at several months more before an arrest."

The numbers game: Don't believe everything you read in the newspaper, especially when the newspaper is talking about itself. The Rocky Mountain News blew its own horn to exhaustion on November 4 with a two-page ad trumpeting its commanding circulation "lead" over the Denver Post in the six-county metro area. Trust that the way you would trust Wayne Huizenga selling you a used car.

Please turn to the business section of the same edition of the News for a story that contains some of the facts of the matter. It seems that the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation for the six months ending September 30 show that the Post increased its overall circulation lead, both daily and Sunday--and that the News's daily circulation plummeted by 13,958 copies.

As for that vaunted metro-area circulation, News exec Bruce Johnson is quoted in his own paper as saying the News continues to dominate, with "approximately a 17,000 lead Sunday and an 8,000 lead daily." Please turn back to the ad, dear reader, where the News brags that in the "vital metro market," it is outselling the Post by 46,033 daily and by 46,251 Sunday. Where did those figures come from? The ad's fine print notes that the figures stem from the News's own analysis of ABC stats from...1996.

 
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