Barbara Walters's John Ramsey Interview a Cringe-Worthy JonBenet Rehash

If you missed the exclusive Barbara Walters sitdown with John Ramsey to discuss the 1996 murder of his six-year-old daughter JonBenet, don't feel too bad. The program, part of a series entitled Barbara Walters Presents American Scandals, aired a couple of weeks ago in a particular corner of basic-cable hell known as the Investigation Discovery channel, which specializes in shows about serial killers and baby-snatchers. And like much of what passes in the national media for "in-depth" exploration of Colorado's most infamous unsolved homicide, the piece was maudlin, cheesy, misleading and utterly devoid of any fresh content. 

Okay, it was trash. But at least it was recycled trash. The bulk of the material consisted of old clips, including generous excerpts from Walters' tear-soaked interview with John and Patsy Ramsey in 2000. Lawrence Schiller, author of Perfect Murder Perfect Town, showed up to explain how Boulder's open-space policy is driven by a desire "to keep itself separate from the rest of the world." The last quarter of the show was basically handed over to John Ramsey — who, under gentle fawning and prodding from Walters, talked about how the family tragedy drained his finances and made him all but unemployable. He also introduced his current wife. (Patsy died in 2006.)

Other than a brief glimpse of JonBenet's brother Burke as an adult, there wasn't much new here. Walters didn't go near what are arguably the only "newsy" developments in the JonBenet investigation in recent years —  evidence that the DNA in the case is much more muddled than we were led to believe and the revelation that the grand jury voted to indict John and Patsy Ramsey on criminal charges back in 1999, but Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter refused to sign off on the prosecution. Instead of tackling those juicy subjects head-on with Ramsey, Walters stuck to an old, old script. She insisted that the parents had been "officially exonerated" by Hunter's successor (a characterization the current Boulder DA doesn't accept) and that marks on JonBenet's body "exactly matched" the contact points of a stun gun (a canard advanced by intruder theorist Lou Smit, debunked by investigator James Kolar in his 2012 book Foreign Faction). 

Details, details. Nothing was going to get in the way of the gooey, sugary story line Walters was determined to serve up — that John Ramsey is a man who has suffered much and come out smiling. That her whiffle-ball questions might have given him plenty of reasons to smile never seems to have occurred to her. 

Below is a clip from the show.  

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast