The Unbearable Lightness of Dr. Phil's Burke Ramsey Interview

Grin or grimace? Dr. Phil has described Burke Ramsey as "socially awkward," with "a really unusual affect."
Grin or grimace? Dr. Phil has described Burke Ramsey as "socially awkward," with "a really unusual affect."
CBS

If you somehow missed the first two installments of Dr. Phil's exclusive, three-hour, fantasmagoric interview with Burke Ramsey, twenty years after the unsolved murder of his six-year-old sister JonBenét, let me catch you up in a heartbeat.

There were no big revelations here, and there are not likely to be any in the third episode, either.

Not unless you are easily shocked by Burke's stunning admissions that he thinks his mother was a pretty okay mom, that he didn't bash his sister with a baseball bat, that at nine years old he wasn't wild about talking to cops and therapists and probably didn't open up to them too much. 

The success of the recent O.J. Simpson retrospectives has triggered a deluge of JonBenét-related stuff in this fall's TV schedule, most of it washing up in the next couple of sweeps weeks — and all of it hiding its essential thinness behind a thick padding of archival footage. The Dr. Phil coup had the potential to at least bring something new to the table — after all, 29-year-old Burke has never spoken publicly about the case before — but the pickings have been pretty slim so far. (Some cynics never expected the interview to get too deep, given that Dr. Phil and the Ramsey family have the same libel lawyer, Lin Wood — who also shows up in brief sessions with the good doctor, trashing the Boulder police for making his clients' lives miserable.)  

In fact, just about the only point of interest in the lengthy rehash has been what Dr. Phil calls his guest's "unusual affect" — the seemingly frozen smile on his face and darting eyes, accompanied by an occasional, highly inappropriate chuckle. You don't want to read too much into what may be just basic unease at being in the limelight, but the show's producers made it extremely difficult to ignore, repeatedly setting up commercial breaks by zooming in on the poor kid's odd grin just as he's about to offer yet another bland denial to one of Phil's didja-do-it queries.

Every one of those smiling denials is fully expected and lands with a thud, ending yet another dead-end tease. You want more context than Dr. Phil is willing to provide. For many years, Ramsey critics have maintained that some hard-to-decipher conversation at the end of the 911 call, when Patsy Ramsey thought she'd hung up the phone, proves that Burke was awake when that call was made and that his parents lied to police about that. Burke denies that he was present for that call. So why not play that disputed portion of the enhanced tape and let him respond to it? When he concedes that his sister might have eaten pineapple that evening (while rightly pointing out that there's no particular reason that would stay in his memory), why not explain further why the pineapple is considered another indication that his parents weren't entirely truthful with the police? 

No such luck. As an interviewer, Dr. Phil didn't fare as badly with Burke as a fawning Barbara Walters did last year in a sit-down with John Ramsey, but these much-hyped sessions are more about fake drama than facts. There's a contingent of cyberspace Ramsey theorists who believe that Burke, at nine years old, was somehow involved in his sister's death, and it's doubtful any of them will be convinced otherwise by this encounter. But for those still on the sidelines, it's a shame to be learning more about the awkwardness of JonBenét's 29-year-old brother than about what the hell happened to her all those years ago.

The third episode of Dr. Phil's interview with Burke Ramsey is scheduled to air on Monday, September 19. Here's a teaser clip for the interviews.


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