A World of Possibilities

Peter Boyles does some fast talking regarding his on-air speculation about the Emily Johnson murder.

The people in charge of the news conference held at Denver police headquarters on January 11 were, in pissing order, Mayor Wellington Webb and Chief of Police Tom Sanchez, followed by Assistant District Attorney Chuck Lepley, divisions chief Armedia Gordon and Sergeant Jon Priest. Or at least that would have been true if we weren't living in Media America. But since we most definitely are, the biggest swinging dicks in the chief's conference room that day were the folks with the magic boxes, the soul penetrators, the eyes that never close.

In other words, the television cameras.

"Hold on a second, Mayor," said a camera jockey from his elevated perch at the back of the room, stopping Webb in the middle of what was to have been his introductory sentence about the arrest of three juveniles suspected in the New Year's Day murder of schoolteacher Emily Johnson. "I'm getting some weird tone off audio."

The two dozen or so media types gathered for the announcement turned to watch the cameraman (one of five operators prepared to lens the proceedings) try to bend the equipment to his will. At one point, he joked, "I'm putting in an extra tape," spurring an appreciative chortle from the assemblage. When Gordon asked, with mock indignation, "What station is he with?," more har-dee-har-hars followed -- but they ended abruptly after the cameraman finally gave up on his disobedient rig and allowed the show to go on. Then it was all grim faces and a common sense of purpose. Gotta keep the audience in mind.

After briefly citing the arrests, Webb launched into a salute to the men and women in blue: "We want to use constructive criticism when appropriate, but we also want to give commendations when appropriate. This is a good police department." But then he abruptly veered into an unexpected area. "Listening to all the presumptions and moving to pre-judgment on talk shows and other places, I think we have to be careful. We have to be careful raising issues about the deceased and her lifestyle, who she dates and interracial couples. Making pre-judgments serves no purpose."

Whoa! Hold up! Red light! There was only one fella at whom those comments could have been aimed -- Peter Boyles, KHOW's morning-drive talk-show host, who'd beaten the drums about the Johnson slaying for the better part of a week.

Granted, a lot of the gab on Boyles's program in relation to Johnson had been on the loopy side, with the host and others floating unsubstantiated theory after unsubstantiated theory about Robert Davis, Johnson's boyfriend, a parole violator found sleeping naked in her home with blood on his hand at the time her battered body was discovered. (For example: He must have been dealing drugs -- how else could he have paid for his share of the Lexus he and Johnson purchased together? Or: He surely had to be a snitch -- otherwise, he would have been in the pokey for his many sins.) And there was plenty o' stuff, too, about Johnson, who was reportedly adored by her students at Skinner Middle School, yet also worked for part of 1997 and 1998 tending bar at the Diamond Cabaret, a strip joint for the monied class. (Hey, didn't that sound a little like Looking for Mr. Goodbar, that '70s-era Judith Rossner novel -- Diane Keaton was in the movie -- about a schoolteacher by day/bar-crawling thrillseeker by night who winds up dying a brutal death at the hands of a psychotic pickup? Sure it did!) But come on: This was just talk radio doing what talk radio does best -- giving people a place to say whatever pops into their heads, be it profound or insane.

Now, the mayor of a major U.S. metropolis, the Queen City of the West, was here to praise what appeared to be an extremely impressive slab of police work -- one that cleared the most obvious suspect (Davis) even as it suggested that the initial motive of three young men implicated in Johnson's murder (David Martinez and Lloyd Kenneth Martinez, both sixteen, and Lorenzo Montoya, fourteen) was garden-variety burglary. Webb wouldn't take time out from this chore to wag his finger at Boyles, would he?

Well, sort of. Webb declined to mention Boyles by name ("I don't want to single anyone out"), but his subsequent comments -- "When we try to make other analogies and do the work of the police department, that undermines that type of effort" -- made it ultra-obvious just who had raised his dander. Even Sanchez got into the act, noting "a rush to judgment running rampant in our community" before pointing out that "we have a responsibility to clear innocent people in spite of severe pressure...Miss Emily Johnson's lifestyle had nothing to do with this at all. We're convinced of this."

Such comments, and the connotations they carried with them, were seemingly too much for Channel 2 reporter Dave Young, who in lieu of an actual question about the arrests chose instead to argue against lumping legitimate journalists (like him!) together with air-polluting broadcast gasbags: "Talk radio doesn't represent us, and vice versa," he declared in his best sucking-up tone. Webb seemed both taken aback and pleased by this proclamation, telling Young, "I'm glad to hear you say that, and that's a distinction we'll try to make in the future." Sanchez also offered Young and those he sought to represent a dollop of reassurance. "I think we know the difference between entertainment and journalism," he said.

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