Ten years ago, in December 1996, the nation first heard the name of six-year-old Jon Benet Ramsey, who was found murdered in her upper-middle-class home in Colorado. The case soon became the subject of household conversation, due to the amount of coverage it received. Before this, the job of the news agencies was to report only the facts, but something changed with the Ramsey case. The media took it upon themselves to play jury. Instead of simply reporting the evidence, reporters analyzed it on-air and drew conclusions as to what might have happened. No one came out and said that the child's parents killed her, but almost every update to the story made sure that the public knew that the parents were the prime suspects.
When new evidence was brought to light, the media would spin it to seem more damning to Jon Benet's mother and father. If evidence was introduced that might lead people to believe the parents were not guilty, it was downplayed. With the barrage of reports and the loss of true objectivity, the media, in short, passed judgment on John and Patsy Ramsey and destroyed what remained of their tragic lives. The media reports that Patsy was jealous of her daughter and trying to live her failed modeling career through Jon Benet was sickening. It was almost as if the news agencies were trying to establish a motive to support their suspicions. Reporting quickly changed to speculation and became cruel.
I spoke with the Ramseys in the early part of 1997. We discussed the possibility of doing a book to strengthen their case in the public eye, but at that time the media was on a witch hunt. Even though I brought plenty of information to the networks that contradicted what they were reporting, it was too late. The only thing they were interested in broadcasting was absolute proof that the parents didn't kill their daughter, or things that would increase the suspicion that they did. It is a lot harder to prove you didn't do something than to prove that you did. In my gut, I knew the Ramseys had nothing to do with their beautiful daughter's death. I remember the frustration I felt for them as we parted ways later that year.
In January 2005, DNA evidence proved that the Ramseys were not guilty. Scientific evidence showed that someone else had been in the basement of the Ramseys' home. The news magazine show 48 Hours ran the report, and a few pieces did make it to the air, but the damage was already done. The only people who truly hold the media accountable for what they report are the media, and it doesn't add to the ratings when you admit that you were wrong. For every minute of coverage the exoneration received, there were hours that implied the Ramseys' guilt.