By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
In her introduction, Walters heavily weighted her statements in favor of the Ramseys, promising to present "new crime-scene photos and surprising information that may contradict what you've been told." The structure of the program echoed this approach, opening with allegedly tough questions (the sometimes-dubious answers to which Walters studiously avoided challenging) before transitioning into segments on the intruder theory that appeared designed to undercut what all those bad investigators have been saying about these nice people for so long. Combine that with the warm, familial setting and the usual Walters soft-focus photography, which seemed to surround all three in the warm glow of kinship, and you had an hour of TV time that couldn't have gone any better for the Ramseys had they scripted it themselves. Walters provided the Ramseys with a local bonus afterward: In an interview with Channel 7's Mitch Jelniker that immediately followed 20/20, she said that, in her opinion, either the Ramseys were the best actors who ever lived, or they've been tortured for three years. Score!
The opening portions of Couric's series for the Today show, which were still airing at press time, went just as well. Patsy, who wore the same powder-blue hue in her sit-down with Walters (the color of innocence, perhaps?), seemed less woozy and bizarre on 20/20 and Today than she did in past TV appearances, while John came across as a bit softer and more sincere. Obviously, practice helps -- and so do news outlets that see mutual benefits in keeping the Ramseys talking and this audience-grabbing subject alive.
At the beginning of her first Ramsey segment, Couric said as much: "By the time we're through, you may feel even more strongly about their guilt or innocence -- but before you decide, listen to their entire story."
Many of those who have aren't buying it. Governor Bill Owens insisted on receiving equal time from GMA, and during a March 20 interview he not only accused the Ramseys of misleading the American public, but chided Walters for making "no follow-up" with them -- a totally legitimate beef. For his part, Boyles, on KHOW, was nattering on about pineapple in JonBenét's stomach ad nauseum. And the Post's Green? He kicked off a March 20 column pointing out inconsistencies in the Ramseys' statements with the following: "My apologies for another Ramsey column. I'm more sick of writing them than you are of reading them." Doubt it. Later, Green said he hoped this would be his last Ramsey column until John and Patsy make good on their promise to take lie-detector tests. You can bet we'll be keeping track.
That same day, the News ran the second half of Lisa Levitt Ryckman's two-part interview with the Ramseys. This predictably puffy opus may have been one of the couple's few miscalculations: Ryckman is so widely thought to be in the Ramseys's pocket (she penned an August 1997 apologia for the News headlined "Are They Innocent?" and once refused to appear on Rivera's cable program alongside Boyles) that her involvement merely provided ammo to critics. The same can be said of the Ramseys' promise to banter with Channel 9's Paula Woodward, one of seven locals whose May 1997 press conference with the Ramseys gave softball a bad name. There'll likely be little bang for that buck.
Nonetheless, ex-consultant Korten, who's now vice president of communications for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative Christian cause, believes that the Ramseys have plenty to gain by talking. "It's a pity they weren't in the position to open up earlier. I think the earlier they could have told their story fully and completely, the better off they, and all of us, would have been. There were legal circumstances in the case that the attorneys thought mitigated against that, and I respect their opinion. But it's a shame that the one approach to this case that might have eventually helped us find the murderer was ignored for so long. And my fear is that it's too late now."
But when it comes to good publicity, there's all the time in the world.
The KVOD rumor patrol, whose musings were printed in this space last week, was half right. Clear Channel, which needed to divest the classical outlet as part of its merger with AMFM, didn't give the station away; instead, the firm sold it to Dallas's Rodriguez Communications for a reported $3.75 million. But as predicted, the outlet wound up in the hands of a minority-owned business of the sort FCC chairman William E. Kennard suggested Clear Channel seriously consider, thereby giving the Justice Department, which must sign off on the deal, another reason to say "yes."
Most observers assume that Rodriguez Communications will install a Spanish-language format at KVOD, but Chuck Brooks, the company's president, is noncommittal. Brooks and company have been in a buying mood of late, adding a whopping eighteen radio stations and three TV operations to what was until recently a modest portfolio of one TV channel and two radio properties, all based in Dallas. Brooks notes that another half-dozen transactions are likely to be announced in the next week or two. But while the TV stations will be switched to what he calls "a Spanish-language MTV format," some of the radio acquisitions aren't slated for an overhaul. "We bought a classic-rock station that we don't plan on changing," he says.