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Contrary to appearances, Green doesn't have the freedom to publish anything that pops into his head; over the years, he said, he's had five or six columns spiked, the majority by former Post editor Dennis Britton, about whom he could hardly speak with more contempt. One effort Britton rejected was a JonBenét piece in which Green invited experts to speculate about whether the child's bedwetting could have prompted her parents, Patsy and John Ramsey, to fly into a homicidal frenzy. As Green remembers it, Britton "called me in and said, 'I'm not going to publish this, because my child wet her bed and so have the children of a couple of editors here, and we are not murderers.'"
Another doomed slab of wisdom focused on Pam Paugh, sister of Patsy, who said she'd had some beyond-the-grave communications with her late niece. According to Green, his piece proposed, "Gee, Pam, next time you talk to her, why don't you ask her, 'Who hit you over the head, little girl?'" -- a question he didn't think to pose in his own letter to JonBenét, published in March 1997, about three months after her death. Instead, Green wrote that he was haunted by her autopsy photos but preferred to think of her "sitting in the chair of a swing, on a schoolyard playground, being pushed toward the sky, your pretty hair flying in the wind and your laughter filling the air." Britton refused to go forward with Green's initial idea because, Green said, "we were ridiculing Pam Paugh, and it wasn't our job to ridicule people."
In an internal Post evaluation about six months after JonBenét's death, Green admitted, his superiors told him he was concentrating too heavily on the case "and to knock it off." But Green ignored the advice -- "I probably wrote about it more in the next six months than I had before," he announced proudly -- because in his opinion, his fans wanted more, more, more. "A lot of readers thought I was writing too much, too, but most readers said, 'Keep it up. Don't let them get away with this. Keep it up, keep the heat on. Boulder is corrupt. Money shouldn't buy justice.'"
It did procure Green's services as a television commentator, however. Talk-show host Peter Boyles has refused compensation for appearing as a Ramsey commentator because he doesn't want anyone to accuse him of benefiting from JonBenét's demise. But Green, who for the past four years has been paid by NBC to comment about the Ramsey case and other local stories that have gone national, sees no sin in accepting TV dough. "This is my job. This is what I do. This is my career. My career is as a journalist -- so why should I provide my services for free to the networks? Because I will be labeled a profiteer? Well, label me a profiteer, if you will, but I prefer to label myself as a worker...So I guess I should be working for the Denver Post for free and digging ditches or selling vegetables for a living? I don't think so."
These days, calls for Ramsey remarks have been coming less and less often, and Green concedes that he's had more than his fill of the topic: "The only things that I have written about JonBenét in the last six or eight months -- I'm not saying only, but mostly -- have been prompted by the Ramseys," he adds, as if they'd busted into his office and demanded that he attack them a few more times.
He needn't make a similar request of his fellow workers at the Post, many of whom have been all too ready over the years to make sport of Green's work: After one column about Gus, staffers put up a list of fifteen potential followups, including "JonBenét Would Have Loved His Dog." At the mention of such behavior, Green's tone, which had previously been familiar, even friendly, turned pitch black.
"I don't give a shit about what my colleagues think. Most of my colleagues despise me," he growled. "I'm probably the most unpopular person in my own newsroom. But I don't care."
After the shock of this admission wore off, I asked Green why he thought he was so hated, even as I formulated some predictions of my own. Not surprisingly, Green's were different from mine. "There's some professional jealousy there," he said. "They resent my work schedule, they may resent my freedom, they may resent my friendship with Dean Singleton."
Ah, Post owner Singleton: a controversial figure whom Green referred to in a column penned immediately after the announcement of the proposed joint operating agreement between the Post and the News as "the Superman of the American newspaper industry" -- and if you think that was meant ironically, think again. In conversation, Green didn't say he and Singleton were best buddies; they've never visited each other's homes, for instance. But he did reveal that during the early years of Singleton's Post ownership, Green frequently shared his opinions with Dean (who, like Green's wife, Susan, has multiple sclerosis) about the personalities on board, and they continue to speak personally every month or two.