Off Limits

The Santa clause
When former governor Roy Romer lost his seat as chairman of the Democratic National Committee last week, Colorado lost some of its national prominence -- and local detective R. W. "Pete" Peterson lost one of his favorite targets. Back in early 1998, when the Washington, D.C., magazine Insight revealed that it had pictures of the then-newly appointed chairman in a six-minute smooch with his former assistant, Peterson coyly let himself be credited with the Romer scoop, although the video actually came from another snoop. But Peterson's not one to stay out of the limelight for long. In fact, on Friday he thrust himself right back into it, calling a press conference in Los Angeles to reveal that he'd identified a prime suspect in another long-running Colorado story: the murder of JonBenét Ramsey.

And who did Peterson finger? None other than Bill McReynolds, the former University of Colorado journalism teacher and part-time Santa beloved by JonBenét, and McReynolds's wife, Janet. Never mind that McReynolds is one of a handful of people actually cleared by the Boulder Police Department during its 33 months of excruciating labor -- we all know journalists are guilty of something.

Or at least journalists covering the JonBenét murder, as former "investigative reporter" for the Globe tabloid and born-again ethical crybaby Jeff Shapiro argued in a column published in the Denver Post on September 23. Shapiro, who was so obnoxious in his pursuit of the Ramseys that he was charged with trespassing and harassing a Ramsey family friend and given a year of probation, is quick to admonish his "former tabloid colleagues" and the mainstream media. "Reporters from all publications would do well to remember that they are paid to report the news as it happens, impartially, honestly and without regard to class or financial status, not to act as either judge or jury," he writes.

Thanks, Jeff. Maybe you can take McReynolds's spot at the CU journalism school. Then again, maybe not.

Stooping to scoop
Can't shake that déjà vu feeling? Maybe you've been imbibing too much media play of the Columbine massacre and its aftermath, which is beginning to repeat on us something awful. Last week, NBC's prime-time viewers got an eyeful of young, gunshot-riddled bodies sprawled on the grass. No, not file footage, but the season opener for Law & Order, which presented an "inspired by today's headlines" case of a med-school mass murderer; the episode quickly degenerated into a long-winded and tedious debate over gun control -- much like the talk shows' take on Columbine itself.

While NBC was fictionalizing, ESPN Magazine weighed in with its profile of the Columbine football team, and Salon posted an online "news exclusive" that claimed to present hush-hush stuff about the progress of the official investigation into the shootings, as well as excerpts from the secret diary of gunman Eric Harris. Despite generating some fuss in the dailies, the Salon piece, by local freelancer Dave Cullen, was in many respects an uncredited homage to an article by Westword writer Alan Prendergast that appeared in these pages almost two months ago ("Doom Rules," August 5) -- from its packaging (Salon's "Everything you know about the Littleton killings is wrong" was strikingly similar to Westword's "Much of what we think we know about Columbine is wrong") to its all-too-familiar revelations that the deadly assault was a "suicide mission" that had little or nothing to do with the Trenchcoat Mafia, jocks, goths or Marilyn Manson, and everything to do with the killers' hatred of just about everybody.

Cullen quotes extensively from the so-called Harris diary, which he's never seen. He says he obtained the material over the phone from "sources close to the investigation" -- school authorities, perhaps, who approved of Cullen's awestruck, suck-up profile of Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis in the Denver magazine 5280. But many of the excerpts are actually from Harris writings that have been available on the Internet for months, while the authenticity of other passages -- which sound suspiciously like the bogus suicide note that circulated months ago ("Just because we went on a killing spree doesn't mean everybody else will" -- a spree, mind you!) -- has been challenged by sheriff's investigators.

Cullen did manage to raise doubts about whether Cassie Bernall professed her faith before she was killed, calling into question the entire premise of She Said Yes, her mother's book about Cassie's "unlikely martyrdom." Now, that would be news -- if only conflicting eyewitness statements hadn't been part of the Columbine beat from the beginning.

We say no to phony exclusives.

If you have a tip, call Jonathan Shikes at 303-293-3555, send a fax to 303-296-5416 or e-mail [email protected].

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