More Messages: The Write Stuff, Redux

Yesterday's More Messages blog focused on a Rocky Mountain News article that ballyhooed a statement by handwriting pro Curt Baggett, who claimed to be "99.9 percent certain" that John Mark Karr, the main suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, had penned a ransom note found in the Ramsey's home. The problem with the piece? Baggett and the individuals supporting his opinion (mainly his son and a former student) appeared at the top of the story, well above other experts who either disputed Baggett's view or argued that no valid conclusions could be reached without examining the original documents rather than copies.

Cut to today's Rocky, which features a followup that raises more doubts about Baggett. In "Writing Analyst Was Disqualified," reporter Lou Kilzer noted that Baggett didn't win approval to serve as an expert witness in a court matter earlier this year: Georgia Federal District Court Judge Clay Land wrote that he "was not certified by several industry groups, had not undergone proficiency tests and had not authored texts in the field of handwriting analysis." Land concluded that Baggett's qualifications were "clearly paltry."

Baggett disputed Land's statements later in Kilzer's item. Yet the dispute itself calls into question the Rocky's decision to make a big deal of his JonBenet-related statements in the first place -- particularly given that other credible folks in the field disagreed with him. Instead of shopping for someone to point the finger at Karr, and then turning the spotlight on him, the paper should have published a balanced representation of the issue.

Granted, the Rocky deserves credit for printing the second Baggett article. Unfortunately, though, it was considerably shorter than the original, and appeared in the middle of the paper, in a far less prominent spot than the one awarded to the first opus. (The same thing was true when it came to the Rocky's website; the new effort didn't make the home page.) As a result, many readers of the previous story will likely miss an opportunity to put the handwriting issue into greater perspective.

Of that, experts are 99.9 percent certain. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts