February 2000

                      JonBenét Inc.

                      Take a murder tale that has nothing to it except some alluring video of a

                      little girl dolled up for a beauty contest. Add media hunger to fill the gap

                      between O.J., Monica, and the Next Big Story. What do you get? Lots of

                      local media people cashing in on the ravenous appetite of national news

                      outlets for a story that had only one problem: There was never any real


                      By Katherine Rosman

                      On Tuesday, October 12, 1999, John Ashton, 52, grabbed a few

                      ties and his reporter's notebook and zoomed the 30 miles west on

                      U.S. 36 from his Denver apartment to the mountain hamlet of

                      Boulder, Colorado. Rumors were flying that the grand jury might

                      hand up an indictment in the JonBenét Ramsey murder investigation,

                      and Ashton needed to be there.

                      He arrived at the Justice Center, on the corner of Sixth Street and

                      Canyon Avenue, at about 1 p.m. The area around the two-story

                      building was already mobbed by reporters, satellite trucks, and

                      camera crews. Ashton elbowed his way to the center of the pack,

                      or "the belly of the beast," as he puts it. He took out his notepad

                      and his pen and waited among the hordes of reporters from

                      newspapers and television stations across the country.

                      He turned to his left and caught the glance of a similarly dressed

                      man with a microphone in his hand. "Which TV station are you

                      with?" the man asked. Ashton hesitated. "I'm not," he replied.

                      "We're doing a TV movie on that JonBenét thing."

                      Ashton is not a reporter, but he was hired to play one on TV. The

                      day before, he had got a call from his agent, who told the actor that

                      he had been cast as a reporter covering the murder of the

                      6-year-old in CBS's rendition of Perfect Murder, Perfect Town,

                      based on Lawrence Schiller's JonBenét book of the same name.

                      Schiller, Ashton, and about nine other actors were peppered among

                      the actual journalists. (Schiller is also directing the two-part TV

                      drama, which is tentatively scheduled to air on CBS February 27

                      and March 1.)

                      The crowd waited, wondering when -- if at all -- an announcement

                      about the jury's conclusions would be made. By 3:30, the reporters

                      had begun to realize that, on this day, no announcement would be

                      coming. So, for lack of anything else to shoot, the cameras swept

                      the crowd, capturing the scene of the sea of reporters and actors.

                      "It was reporters doing reporting on reporters who are actors

                      pretending to be reporters for an alleged documentary on something

                      that may or may not have happened," says Ashton, laughing. "It

                      was like a bunch of mirrors."

                      In the year of JonBenét's death, 804 children ages 12 and under

                      were murdered in the United States, according to the FBI's 1996

                      Uniform Crime Report. Her killing should never have been more than

                      a Denver-area story. In fact, "that JonBenét thing" might not ever

                      have made it to the national stage if not for timing. The 6-year-old

                      beauty pageant contestant died during the slowest news week of

                      the year -- the days between Christmas and the New Year, when

                      most businesses and the federal government are in low gear.

                      Then, for a while, JonBenét stayed in the news because of the

                      now-ubiquitous pageant videos and glossy pictures: JonBenét as

                      Rockette, JonBenét as cowgirl, JonBenét as glam girl, JonBenét as

                      feather-clad temptress. With the end of its beloved Simpson epic

                      on the horizon, the All-O.J.-All-The-Time media machine seized

                      upon the eerie but captivating photos of the child pinup and

                      manufactured its next "celebrity" murder trial.

                      Arguably, between September 1997, when Newsweek and Vanity

                      Fair published the full text of a ransom note found at the murder

                      scene, and October 13, 1999, when a grand jury announced it

                      would hand up no indictments, there have been no significant


                      But why let the absence of information get in the way of a good

                      story? From January 1, 1997, until November 19, 1999, 20/20, 48

                      Hours, Hard Copy, American Journal, Dateline NBC, Entertainment

                      Tonight, Extra, the weekend edition of Extra, and Inside Edition

                      aired a total of 438 JonBenét Ramsey segments, according to

                      NewsTV Reports, a Kansas-based auditor of television

                      newsmagazines. Geraldo Rivera -- on both CNBC's Rivera Live and

                      the defunct Geraldo Rivera Show -- has featured no fewer than 195

                      JonBenét-related segments. Larry King Live has devoted at least 44

                      segments to JonBenét.

                      Meanwhile, Newsweek has run about 30 JonBenét-related items and

                      stories; Time has published about 25. Since April 1997, the Globe,

                      The National Enquirer, the National Examiner, and the Star tabloids

                      have published 124, 73, 51, and 38 JonBenét items respectively,

                      according to the Joshua-7 website, a tabloid archive. JonBenét has

                      been pure gold for the tabs. In the year before Ramsey's death, the

                      Globe, for example, boasted a total paid circulation of its weekly

                      editions exceeding 1 million seven different times. In the year

                      following her death, that number jumped to 22. One can only

                      imagine the circus that would ensue should anyone ever be brought

                      to trial on this matter. Such a spectacle would make the O.J. trial

                      look like a Department of Agriculture background briefing.

                      The blizzard of coverage continues to shock John and Patsy

                      Ramsey, who sat down to discuss the press's obsession with their

                      daughter's murder. "We were manufactured to be hated," asserts

                      John Ramsey. "We were the media's product."

                      Dan Abrams, NBC News's legal correspondent, defends the media's

                      coverage of the JonBenét murder case. Not only are unsolved

                      murders fascinating in and of themselves, Abrams argues, but the

                      Ramsey case includes substantive legal issues, most notably how a

                      crime scene that is not immediately secured -- as in this case --

                      can forever taint an investigation. "There are intricacies of the legal

                      system that can be learned" from this case, Abrams says. "I think

                      there is a legitimate argument that the public has learned something

                      from the coverage of JonBenét's murder."

                      Patricia Calhoun, the editor of Denver's weekly alternative paper the

                      Westword, doesn't buy that. "What is the story," she asks, "except

                      that it's a national springboard for a lot of people?" Even those who

                      have leaped from that springboard, like Charlie Brennan of the

                      Denver Rocky Mountain News, acknowledge that more than a

                      national tragedy, the Ramsey tale is a career builder for journalists.

                      "I understand that her death is no greater tragedy than the loss of

                      any other child. And I've recognized that from the start," says

                      Brennan, who also toiled as the collaborator on Schiller's Perfect

                      Murder, Perfect Town. "But I also recognize that a lot of other

                      people seem to think it's a much bigger tragedy, a much bigger

                      deal, than all the other deaths." Ultimately, Brennan admits, "it has

                      been the greatest opportunity that I have had in my career to

                      carve out a name for myself."

                      Brennan was joined by a cadre of journalists who made it their

                      business to keep the business of JonBenét alive -- which has not

                      been easy, given the lack of information. Many relied on

                      sensationalism, untraditional tactics, and rule bending to keep this

                      nonstory in the headlines. In the process, they and their nonstory

                      became the quintessential symbol of a new age in which journalists,

                      faced with the job of finding the next Big Story to feed the

                      insatiable news machine, will reach down for material that by any

                      standard is not news and rely on the work of bottom feeders to fill

                      their pages and airwaves. In the end, the purported aim of finding

                      the truth and reporting it fell largely by the wayside as journalists

                      saw their own stars ascend, hitched to a 6-year-old girl famous

                      only in death.

Page 1 2 3 4 5 6

                      FOOTPRINTS IN WHAT SNOW?

                      On March 10, 1997, Charlie Brennan, a 15-year veteran of the

                      Denver Rocky Mountain News, was sitting at his desk in the

                      newsroom when a colleague tapped him on the shoulder and gave

                      him a tip about the JonBenét Ramsey case. It sounded like a good

                      one, so Brennan, 44, followed up by calling a man Brennan

                      characterizes as a "law-enforcement source."

                      The source confirmed the information Brennan's colleague had

                      passed along: The police noted in their initial report that there were

                      no footprints in the snow outside the Ramsey home the morning

                      after the murder. This made it unlikely that an intruder had entered

                      the home. Brennan scribbled down notes, made a few more calls,

                      and hunkered down to write his page 4 report:

                      Police who went to JonBenét Ramsey's home the morning she was

                      reported missing found no footprints in the snow surrounding the

                      house, sources said Monday.

                      That is one of the earliest details that caused investigators to

                      focus their attention on the slain girl's family, police sources said.

                      Although there was no significant storm just before police went to

                      the house the morning after Christmas, it had snowed lightly

                      several times from Dec. 23 to 25, weather records show.

                      Brennan's scoop was as close to a smoking gun as anything publicly

                      known at the time. Until that point, a broken basement window

                      on the south side of their home meant an intruder could have

                      gotten into the house and killed John and Patsy Ramsey's daughter.

                      Now a lack of footprints in the snow indicated otherwise.

                      Brennan's findings made national headlines, appearing in publications

                      such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Chicago Tribune, the

                      Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the San Francisco Examiner. Even

                      The New York Times reported Brennan's findings. (Those papers'

                      combined readership is 2,519,501.) In all, 23 publications and news

                      programs picked up the report, according to a search on the

                      Lexis-Nexis database.

                      His No Footprints In The Snow scoop solidified Brennan as an

                      important force on the Ramsey beat. When journalists from national

                      publications began parachuting into Boulder to get their share of

                      the action -- such as Vanity Fair's Ann Louise Bardach, and

                      Lawrence Schiller, who had been commissioned by The New Yorker

                      to cover the Ramsey murder -- Brennan was the man they called.

                      In fact, when Schiller decided to expand his New Yorker article into

                      a book, he hired Brennan to help with the reporting. (Brennan won't

                      say how much money he made from collaborating on Perfect

                      Murder, Perfect Town. The hardcover and paperback editions both

                      reached best-seller lists.)

                      Although Brennan was beginning to enjoy the national exposure --

                      The New York Times was reporting his discovery, Larry King Live

                      was calling -- his scoop would soon quietly fall apart.

                      When Daniel Glick heard about Brennan's No Footprints headliner, he

                      thought it was a bombshell. Glick, a former Washington

                      correspondent for Newsweek who now writes for the magazine from

                      Boulder County, even went so far as to say on Larry King Live that

                      if the Ramseys' claims of an intruder were to be believed, the killer

                      must have had the power to "levitate."

                      But in mid-June 1997, Glick and his writing partner, Sherry

                      Keene-Osborn, both began to question the story's accuracy.

                      Keene-Osborn said she got a call from an "impeccable source" who

                      warned her that much of what ran in the newspapers and

                      magazines (including Newsweek) was flat wrong. Glick says he

                      raised an eyebrow when, while visiting the Ramseys' Boulder house,

                      he noticed that flagstone surrounded its south side.

                      They started re-reporting Brennan's scoop. Glick says he found a

                      meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric

                      Administration who told him that there was little snowfall and that

                      the temperature had been mostly above freezing in the week prior

                      to the murder. Glick says he then deduced that because there were

                      no leaves on the trees to block the sunshine from reaching the

                      flagstone patio outside the broken window, there probably wasn't

                      any snow on the ground outside the broken window -- even though

                      there were patches of snow on the lawn. To confirm, Glick says, he

                      contacted a "frost expert" who told him that scientifically one

                      couldn't even determine whether or when frost would have been on

                      the ground outside the window. In other words, the police notation

                      of "no footprints" was meaningless; it certainly did not rule out the

                      entrance of an intruder.

                      Glick and Keene-Osborn wrote a story that questioned Brennan's

                      reporting. The article was largely ignored by other print outlets,

                      though Geraldo Rivera mentioned Newsweek's report on Rivera Live

                      and Glick discussed his findings on two episodes of Larry King Live.

                      Given the relatively little play by the media outlets that had so

                      quickly picked up Brennan's No Footprints piece, Glick and

                      Keene-Osborn's piece hardly made a dent in what John and Patsy

                      Ramsey's attorney now calls "the greatest urban legend of the

                      case." In fact, five months after Newsweek disputed Brennan's

                      story, The Washington Post reported that "from the start,

                      circumstances surrounding the crime focused suspicion on the

                      parents….There were no conclusive signs of forced entry at the

                      home and no footprints in the snow that fell that night."

                      The importance of the No Footprints story, Brennan contends, is

                      not whether there actually were footprints or not. Rather, he says,

                      his report showed the direction in which the police investigation

                      was heading: By noting a lack of footprints (wrongly or rightly), the

                      police were clearly considering the potential guilt of the Ramseys.

                      "What I reported was that police noted in their reports an absence

                      of footprints," says Brennan. "That's not Charlie Brennan saying,

                      'Hey, there was an absence of footprints.' I'm saying, 'Hey, the

                      police put it in their reports.' And they did! They did! That was

                      never wrong."

                      But when The New York Times ran its story about Brennan's No

                      Footprints article, the paper didn't play up the aspect of the

                      direction of the police investigation. The Times's headline was "No

                      Sign Of An Intruder At Home Of A Slain Child."

                      To Glick, Brennan's piece unfairly threw a dark shadow on the

                      Ramseys and forever cast them as the homicidal parents. Again,

                      Brennan disagrees: "The public opinion train was way out of the

                      station by the time that story broke," he asserts.

                      For many reporters, getting the story out ultimately became more

                      important than getting it right. And context was hardly the only

                      element missing. Tabloids such as the Globe, which kept JonBenét

                      on the front page for three years (and counting), fabricated stories

                      outright, says Jeffrey Shapiro, a freelancer who exclusively reported

                      for the Globe from February 28, 1997, to February 11, 1999.

                      Such a manufactured news bulletin began, Shapiro recalls, over the

                      weekend of August 22, 1998. Shapiro was facing more pressure

                      than usual to find a blockbuster headline. Just a few days before,

                      the National Enquirer had landed the biggest tabloid scoop of

                      recent months: "911 Call Nails Brother in Murder Cover-Up -- And

                      It's On Tape," blared the Enquirer.

                      Shapiro had been a tireless tabloid soldier. He admits that short of

                      paying his sources and breaking the law, he would do anything to

                      live up to his e-mail address: jbsavenger. He pestered people he

                      believed had information; he climbed trees to peek through windows

                      to watch police investigations of the Ramsey home; he even tried

                      to get close to the Ramseys' minister by pretending that he wanted

                      to convert from Judaism to Christianity.

                      Shapiro defends his tactics even as he betrays his lack of

                      perspective about how big of a deal the Ramsey case is. "Do you

                      believe in undercover journalism?" he asks. "If you were a journalist

                      who knew you had to go undercover to break up a big drug ring

                      that was the cause of death to innocent people or to even solve

                      one of the two mysteries -- what is on the missing 18 minutes of

                      Watergate tapes or about the grassy-knoll assassin who shot

                      President Kennedy -- would you go undercover? I would. I would in

                      a second," he says with complete earnestness.

                      Days after the Enquirer's 911 scoop, Shapiro's editor had a big lead

                      for him. Late in the night, on August 22, 1998, Shapiro says, one of

                      his editors, Joe Mullens, called him at home to tell him that Mullens

                      had found a source with the perfect juicy nugget. The lead, Shapiro

                      recalls, was that John Ramsey had handed his pilot, Michael

                      Archuleta, a box potentially filled with evidence, such as the cord

                      used to strangle JonBenét and the tape found covering her mouth.

                      (Mullens referred questions on this topic to the Globe's press

                      representative. So did Tony Frost, the paper's editor. The press

                      representative declined to comment.)

                      Shapiro says that when his editor filled him in on the details of the

                      tip, he questioned the accuracy of the main source, who turned out

                      to be Archuleta's brother. Apparently, in addition to telling Mullens

                      about Ramsey's having allegedly dropped off the murder weapon at

                      his pilot's home, Archuleta's brother gave Mullens another tip that

                      Shapiro knew was demonstrably incorrect -- the details of a

                      conversation Shapiro knew could not have taken place.

                      Mullens defended his source, Shapiro says, telling the young

                      reporter that although the pilot's brother may have been wrong

                      about the conversation, he was sure about the box delivery.

                      Shapiro says he wasn't convinced.

                      But Mullens assigned Shapiro to look into the tip anyway, and

                      Shapiro went to stake out Archuleta's house. After waiting for

                      hours, Shapiro called Mullens to inform him that nothing was


                      Just wait. The police are on their way over to Archuleta's, Shapiro

                      says Mullens told him.

                      How do you know? Shapiro says he asked.

                      Because we called the police and told them, so we know they'll be

                      heading over there, Mullens replied, according to Shapiro. Shapiro

                      kept at his post.

                      Meanwhile, inside the house, Archuleta got a phone call from a

                      Globe editor. According to the pilot, the Globe editor said that

                      Archuleta's brother had told the Globe that John Ramsey had given

                      Archuleta a box of evidence. Would he care to comment? The Globe

                      editor inquired.

                      Archuleta told the editor that he had been estranged from his

                      brother for about five months. "If you're taking information from my

                      brother, that shows me how stupid you people are," he recalls

                      having told the Globe editor.

                      Soon after, Archuleta says, an investigator contacted him to tell

                      him that law-enforcement officials were going to come out to his

                      house that night to ask him about information that had just been

                      called in from the Globe. The pilot says he had told the investigator

                      that the police knew from extensive prior interviews that he had not

                      been at the Ramseys' house the morning after the murder.

                      Archuleta says he asked, "Why do you guys chase your tail around

                      every time a Globe reporter calls?" The investigator told Archuleta

                      that they had to follow up every lead, and if the tabloid press wrote

                      that law enforcement had a tip that they didn't look into right

                      away, the police department could get fried in the mainstream

                      papers. (Mark Beckner, chief of the Boulder Police Department,

                      declined to comment while the Ramsey investigation is still active.)

                      Sure enough, the police arrived at the pilot's house late in the

                      night, Shapiro was there to capture the moment, and the Globe had

                      its headline: "World Exclusive! Cops probe breakthrough charge in

                      Little Beauty murder case…JonBenét: dad caught hiding key

                      evidence. Ramsey hid deathbed sheets, girl's nightie and stuffed

                      animals in box, then gave it to pilot -- says source." The article

                      included only one word of Archuleta's comments: "inaccurate."

                      From the beginning, the story was never based on legitimate

                      sources, according to Shapiro: "They initiated the whole thing…fed

                      it to the police, got the police to react on it so they could write the


                      Shapiro has become an interesting sideshow to the JonBenét circus.

                      At 23, he moved to Boulder just two months after the murder -- a

                      year out of college with little full-time reporting experience.

                      Suddenly, he found himself near the center of a media frenzy.

                      The excitement thrilled Shapiro, but after about a year, he claims,

                      he began to question the fairness of the Globe's style of journalism.

                      Most troublesome, asserts Shapiro, was that his editors weren't

                      interested in any scoop that didn't finger the Ramseys as the killers.

                      In case he ever needed proof to substantiate his claims that his

                      bosses at the Globe had questionable ethics, Shapiro began

                      tape-recording all of his conversations with his editors. He went

                      public with the tapes on 48 Hours and in Editor & Publisher


                      In short order, Shapiro went from being a cub tabloid reporter to a

                      veritable "personality." Shapiro has appeared on Dateline NBC and

                      has been profiled in Newsweek, which painted him as a

                      pavement-pounding newshound. "Shapiro's a real journalist, doing a

                      lot of old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting," Daniel Glick wrote in

                      Newsweek. "His tactics are hard-charging but legal; 'I may have

                      made mistakes,' he says, 'but I've never done anything to hurt

                      anyone….I know in my heart I've made a real contribution to getting

                      justice for this girl.'"

                      In addition, Shapiro is a major character in Schiller's book and TV

                      movie. (Shapiro says he considers himself the "main" character of

                      the book.) He has also written a first-person account of his tabloid

                      travails for The Washington Monthly.

                      The benefits to Shapiro from his involvement in the JonBenét saga

                      hardly stop with a high public profile. He has pulled off the ultimate

                      coup in bootstrapping: The former tabloid reporter has landed a gig

                      with a paragon of journalism -- Time magazine.

                      Time has not been an important presence on the Ramsey coverage,

                      and bringing Shapiro on as a stringer to cover all matters JonBenét

                      gives Time greater access to the sources who have driven the

                      story. But printing the words of a young man whose only formal

                      training in journalism has come from editors of a tabloid publication

                      that runs stories like "Cop Saw Murder in Dad's Eyes" is risky.

                      On October 25, 1999, 12 days after a grand jury in Boulder

                      announced that it would not hand up indictments in the Ramsey

                      case, Time ran an article by Shapiro about Lou Smit, a homicide

                      investigator who worked on the Ramsey case on behalf of the

                      Boulder district attorney's office. The piece was cowritten by

                      Richard Woodbury, but Shapiro conducted the interviews with Smit.

                      In the piece, Time reported that Smit believed that a man might

                      have spotted JonBenét as she rode in a convertible in a Boulder

                      Christmas parade, later broke into her house, sexually assaulted the

                      child, and then killed her in a panic.

                      But Smit says that except for his two direct quotes in the article --

                      explaining that he believes an intruder, not the parents, killed

                      JonBenét -- Shapiro embellished and distorted his comments. "It's

                      not right at all," Smit says of Shapiro's Time piece. Shapiro defends

                      his work. "I based that story on a dozen lengthy conversations with

                      Smit. I felt and still feel to this day that it's a very accurate

                      representation of what he has said to me," he says. (Walter

                      Isaacson, Time's managing editor, did not return phone calls

                      seeking comment. Time's news director, Marguerite Michaels,

                      declined to comment, because, she says, Smit has not complained

                      to the magazine.)

Page 1 2 3 4 5 6

                      THE RAMSEYS ARE FAIR GAME

                      Time is by no means the only mainstream media organization that

                      has looked to those who employ tabloid tactics to get the goods.

                      Outlets such as Dateline NBC and The New York Times have turned

                      to a Boulder gadfly named Frank Coffman to keep them competitive

                      in their JonBenét coverage.

                      Coffman, 52, is something of a town crier in the saga. A resident of

                      Boulder for more than 20 years, he once lived a quiet life making

                      Halloween masks and writing occasional columns for a Boulder

                      weekly newspaper. But that was before his town's serenity was

                      rocked by the murder of a little girl. As an accident of proximity,

                      Coffman says, he became entangled in the case.

                      On December 11, 1998, in his downtown Boulder apartment, which

                      looks like a graduate student's crash pad, Coffman's phone rang.

                      John Ramsey's standing on a street corner by your apartment right

                      now! cried the caller.

                      Coffman took the cue: He snatched a camera and dashed

                      out the door. Coffman saw Ramsey standing on the street

                      corner with his son, a friend, and one of Ramsey's lawyers; with his

                      heart pounding, Coffman raised his camera, aimed, and fired.

                      Ramsey wasn't pleased to see Coffman with his camera hoisted. "He

                      attacked me," Coffman says, claiming that Ramsey lunged at him

                      and grabbed his jacket before one of Ramsey's attorneys, Michael

                      Bynum, stopped the potential brawl. (Bynum did not return phone

                      calls seeking comment.)

                      "I was not stalking him," Coffman says without being asked. Still, he

                      adds, it's "kind of weird to take a picture of somebody like that. I

                      wouldn't do it to anybody else...but John and Patsy Ramsey are fair


                      Despite the scuffle, Coffman snapped a few shots, though the

                      camera's flash didn't go off for the one picture that captured

                      Ramsey allegedly lunging at Coffman. "If that flash had gone off,

                      that would have been a fabulous picture," says Coffman. "It would

                      have made him look so damn guilty. Because people would have

                      said, 'Ah-hah! Here he is. The killer,' " Coffman purrs, adding, "and I

                      don't know that Ramsey killed anybody."

                      But whether Ramsey killed anyone matters little when you've got an

                      exclusive picture. Coffman says the incident surrounding his

                      photography was reported in an Internet chat room and that once

                      the word was out that he had a few photos of John Ramsey, his

                      phone was ringing like a car alarm in New York City. "The New York

                      Times called me," he says. "I didn't try to sell it, but they said,

                      Look, we want to buy this, we want to publish it, so I said, Okay.

                      Why not?"

                      The Times ran one of Coffman's pictures on December 16, 1998,

                      along with an item that described the alleged tussle with Ramsey.

                      Coffman says he made $150 from the sale of the photo. (In addition

                      to getting work from the Times, Coffman says, he has peeped

                      through the windows of the Ramseys' former home in Boulder, taken

                      photos, and sold them to Schiller's movie production team. The

                      photos helped the producers properly re-create the crime scene.)

                      That the Times considers it newsworthy that a "stalkerazzi"

                      photographer claims to have had his collar grabbed by John Ramsey

                      indicates how far even the most legitimate of news outlets have

                      gone for a JonBenét story. Asked about the paparazzi-like photo,

                      Times deputy picture editor Mike Smith said, "We don't encourage

                      or look for that kind of work."

                      Coffman says he is not a profiteer seeking to make hard cash off

                      the death of a kid. "I never tried to make money on the Ramsey

                      case," says Coffman. "I never asked anyone to send me

                      money….They just spontaneously—all these people who were so

                      desperate to get information and photographs and whatever on the

                      Ramsey case."

                      Coffman admits that he now accepts retainers from various media

                      outlets in case he finds himself in possession of information they

                      want, but won't say which outlets. "I'd rather retain my freelance

                      independent status," he reasons.

Page 1 2 3 4 5 6

                      GETTING IN ON THE ACTION

                      There is no question in radio-talk-show host Peter Boyles's mind

                      that John and Patsy Ramsey were involved in the murder. Boyles

                      doesn't know what happened to JonBenét, but what he knows is of

                      little importance. That's because Boyles is a part of the "opinion

                      press." On Denver's KHOW-AM, Boyles broadcasts his beliefs nearly

                      every chance he gets. And why shouldn't he? Since JonBenét died,

                      Boyles's ratings have skyrocketed. In the fall of 1996, Boyles had a

                      4.9 percent share of the morning audience. In fall 1997, that

                      number jumped 31 percent, to 7.1 percent, a share he maintained

                      through the fall of 1998.

                      Because of the thirst of the national media to keep the JonBenét

                      mill churning, Boyles doesn't have to reserve his comments for his

                      morning show's local audience. When he wants a little national

                      media attention, he comes up with all kinds of clever ways to get it.

                      Take the war of the newspaper ads.

                      During the last week of July and the first week of August 1997,

                      John and Patsy Ramsey published two full-page advertisements in

                      the Boulder Daily Camera seeking public help infinding the killer of

                      their daughter.

                      After reading the Ramseys' first plea, Boyles took action. For

                      $3,100, he placed his own ad, which ran in the Daily Camera the

                      same day as the Ramseys' second ad was printed. Titled "An Open

                      Letter to John & Patsy Ramsey," it outlined Boyles's reasons for

                      thinking the Ramseys are guilty. In part, he wrote, "you are

                      displaying certain characteristics that are totally opposite those of

                      most victim parents….Fred Goldman's behavior exemplifies the true

                      victim parent of a child who has been murdered. You, on the other

                      hand, have led Colorado and the nation on a seven month, low

                      speed, white Bronco chase."

                      The payoff? In the two days after Boyles's letter ran, he appeared

                      on Dateline NBC, Rivera Live, and Good Morning America to discuss

                      it. Two CBS Sunday night news programs and CBS Morning News

                      aired reports about Boyles and his missive.

                      Boyles says he talks about the case as frequently and as

                      passionately as he does so that JonBenét will not have died in vain.

                      More than three years into the case, Boyles still covers JonBenét

                      regularly. He has even helped produce a CD of parody songs with

                      titles such as "Big Bad John [Ramsey]."

                      Still, Boyles is just a small part of the Lynch the Ramseys Brigade.

                      Nationally, Geraldo Rivera is similarly committed to giving airtime to

                      those who imply guilt on the part of the Ramseys. On November 24,

                      1997, Rivera stood before the audience of what was then his

                      nationally syndicated broadcast show (not to be confused with his

                      CNBC talk show), tie adjusted, mustache groomed. "It is entirely

                      possible," Rivera said ominously, "that this murder mystery will never

                      be solved, and that no one will ever be tried for the terrible crime

                      committed against that lovely child—except for today, except for

                      the mock trial we are about to stage for you right here in our


                      Rivera then gave new meaning to the cliché "trial by media." He

                      presented a two-part mock trial of John and Patsy Ramsey. (Rivera

                      declined to comment for this story.)

                      The trial's "witnesses" for the prosecution included Tony Frost, the

                      editor of the Globe; Cindy Adams, the New York Post's gossip

                      columnist who was introduced by the prosecutor as "the world's

                      greatest authority on everything"; a former Miss America; and Craig

                      Silverman, a Denver attorney with no relation to the Ramsey case.

                      Most of the "testimony" came in the form of clips from past shows.

                      Highlights from these "witnesses" included a statement from Adams

                      in which she said, "Bit by bit, inch by inch, so slowly that you can't

                      see it, it is closing around Patsy….Everything is pointing to Patsy."

                      Marilyn Van Derbur Atler, a former Miss America and alleged victim

                      of child abuse and incest, "testified" that because her own mother

                      had forced the pageant world upon her, she believes the Ramseys

                      did the same to JonBenét.

                      Silverman, the Denver lawyer, "testified" that he wonders whether

                      Patsy killed her daughter in a religious sacrifice. Silverman says his

                      so-called testimony was actually an outtake from a different Rivera

                      appearance during which he floated the religious sacrifice theory.

                      He had no idea Rivera was going to use his comments as part of a

                      mock trial until he turned on the TV and saw it himself.

                      A former Denver prosecutor, Silverman is a self-styled pundit and

                      paid source for the Globe tabloid, according to Jeffrey Shapiro, the

                      former Globe scribe. Silverman confirms he is on the tabloid's

                      payroll. "I will take their money when they offer it but only on the

                      condition that they show me my quotes ahead of time," he says,

                      but later adds, "the vast majority of my work has gone

                      uncompensated." Silverman also waxes analytical for The New York

                      Times, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, Today, Extra, and Fox

                      News Channel.

                      The "defense," represented by Rivera perennial Linda Kenney, a New

                      Jersey attorney, called friends and relatives of the Ramseys, who

                      said they knew the Ramseys could not have killed their daughter.

                      A jury made up of six volunteers found the Ramseys liable for the

                      wrongful death of JonBenét. Rivera's studio audience hollered in


                      Two weeks later, it was reported that NBC News hired Rivera as a

                      full-time employee for $30 million over six years. If NBC hoped to

                      capitalize on Rivera's proven ability to keep the JonBenét coverage

                      going, the news organization got its money's worth. Since going

                      legit full-time on CNBC, Rivera has done about 50 JonBenét

                      segments on Rivera Live.


                      Chuck Green is a 32-year veteran of The Denver Post and an

                      award-winning journalist. Green believes that "the evidence points

                      to the Ramseys' being involved in their daughter's death," and he

                      speaks with a preacher's cadence as he makes his argument that a

                      rich couple has gotten away with murder.

                      As with Boyles, what Green believes -- not what he knows --

                      counts, because he writes an opinion column for the Post four times

                      a week. Green says he has devoted at least 80 columns to the

                      Ramseys. He admits that's a lot of ink for one murder case but says

                      that morally he has no choice as long as JonBenét's killer walks free.

                      "The system has failed JonBenét," he says. "The system will fail and

                      fail and fail other kids as long as nobody cares how the system

                      failed JonBenét."

                      Green's not just a talking head, though; he claims to have inside

                      "law enforcement" sources. And he freely admits to having served

                      as a conduit for their leaks.

                      Journalists on this story have covered the "breaking news" by

                      broadcasting and printing the spin fed to them by sources, Green

                      contends. But the longtime newspaperman is hardly knocking himself

                      and his colleagues for having done so. "I don't care if you're

                      covering city hall or a sports team....You report the spin that your

                      best sources give you and by reporting that spin you get access to

                      that source," says Green. A consulting contract with NBC has

                      helped Green ensure that his brand of reporting isn't limited to a

                      local audience. He has made regular star turns on Today.

                      "That's how journalism works," Green continues. "You report the

                      spin that your best sources feed you and that's how you keep them

                      as sources."

                      But what about verifying the spin before publishing it as fact? "You

                      try, but you usually can't," he says. "You verify with the guy who's

                      sitting at the next desk to the guy who's giving you the information

                      in the first place. And they're usually working on the same team."

                      Certainly, reporting often starts with a source's telling a reporter

                      what that source would like to see in the paper the next day. But

                      the job of a journalist usually involves checking the information,

                      especially if the leak comes from a police or prosecution source

                      hoping to test a theory or create the impression that progress is

                      being made on a case. Otherwise, a story may be technically

                      correct -- in that the police do believe or suspect such and such --

                      but contextually wrong or completely unfair, as is likely with

                      Footprints In The Snow and the tabloid revelation about John

                      Ramsey's pilot.

                      But anyone who actually thinks that such verification takes place,

                      Green claims, lives in a dream world. The onus is on the consumer,

                      Green says, to decide if he trusts the reporter. "I think this system

                      serves the public," he says.

                      Ridiculous, answers University of Colorado journalism professor

                      Michael Tracey, who coproduced a documentary that attacked the

                      media's coverage of the case. "Boulder law enforcement put a ring

                      in Chuck Green's nose and led him around on a leash," Tracey says.

                      "Law enforcement used the media to build a case that law

                      enforcement knew it couldn't construct in court. The role of the

                      journalist is to assume you're being used, assume you're being lied

                      to, and to double-check."

                      That has been an important rule in the Ramsey coverage, says

                      Carol McKinley. Having reported the saga from the onset -- first for

                      Denver radio's KOA-AM before making the considerable leap from AM

                      radio to Fox News Channel -- McKinley had been fed a fair share of

                      leaks. Back in late 1997, a Ramsey spokesman leaked her some

                      potential news over lunch.

                      "There was something in the grass," McKinley recalls the spokesman

                      telling her. "A cord? Some tape? A key?" McKinley says she asked.

                      He wouldn't say, but he implied the news would prove that an

                      intruder had been outside the Ramsey home the night of the

                      murder. This could be a blockbuster, McKinley says the spokesman

                      told her.

                      After lunch, McKinley returned to her office, got on the phone, and

                      learned that the "something" found in the grass was a kneeprint.

                      A kneeprint? she thought. What in the world does that mean?

                      She called a forensic investigator, who, McKinley says, shared her

                      skepticism. "'A kneeprint? So what?'" McKinley says the expert told

                      her, who added that without some other indentation nearby -- like

                      a footprint or toeprint -- such evidence would likely be


                      He told her that there was no significance in a kneeprint in the

                      grass. So she didn't broadcast it.

                      Such leaks -- and people like Green, who say they let them into the

                      public domain without verifying them -- have led to the appearance

                      (if not the reality) of "camps" within the Ramsey case: polarized

                      groups of journalists whose work leans toward insinuating either the

                      guilt or innocence of John and/or Patsy Ramsey. "It's defined by

                      who talks to whom and who doesn't talk to whom," says

                      Newsweek's Glick. "A lot of reporters were happy to have sources in

                      one camp and stopped trying to get sources in other camps."

                      Glick spent six years in Newsweek's Washington, D.C., bureau, and

                      he thinks the reporting of the Ramsey case mirrors Washington

                      coverage in terms of close and longstanding journalistic

                      relationships between specific political sources and reporters. "It's

                      like the old Washington game," he says. "Almost everyone knew

                      where these friendships were. It's not dissimilar in this situation."

                      Glick himself has been accused of being part of the pro-Ramsey

                      camp. In fact, no national media outlet that runs news reports has

                      been as castigated as much as Newsweek for this type of camp

                      journalism. Consistently, Newsweek's Ramsey stories -- usually

                      written and reported by Glick and Keene-Osborn -- have espoused

                      a Ramsey-favorable point of view. Most of Glick and Keene-Osborn's

                      "pro-Ramsey" coverage for Newsweek has criticized both the case

                      that the police say they have against the Ramseys -- and the

                      press's often sensationalized representation of that case -- rather

                      than promoting a belief in the Ramseys' guilt or innocence.

                      The Newsweek scribes have taken their reporting multimedia; both

                      acted as associate producers on professor Michael Tracey's

                      British-funded documentary, which maintained that the Ramseys

                      had been wrongly tried and convicted by the American lynch-mob


                      The documentary offers what no nonfiction piece at the time could:

                      John and Patsy Ramsey appearing on camera to answer questions

                      about the case and the media's behavior. Newsweek got exclusive

                      rights to the interview and, using outtakes from that on-camera

                      exchange, quoted the Ramseys in a July 13, 1998, article that

                      chastised Boulder's law-enforcement community. The documentary

                      has aired four times so far in the United States on A & E. Glick and

                      Keene-Osborn split half the fee from the U.S. television rights.

                      Ramsey critics such as Boyles and Green have denounced the

                      documentary as pure spin. Green labels it an "infomercial"; Boyles

                      prefers "crockumentary." They insist that Newsweek and the

                      Ramseys have a symbiotic relationship: Glick and Keene-Osborn get

                      their Ramsey-fed exclusives and the Ramseys get favorable


                      To Glick, that kind of criticism shows the inherent flaw of the

                      Ramsey coverage. He says he got access to the Ramseys not

                      because of favorable coverage but because the Ramseys trusted he

                      would not merely follow the spin of his best law-enforcement

                      sources. He says he got access to the Ramseys because they saw

                      that he was "questioning the orthodoxy" and "looking critically" at

                      what law-enforcement sources were leaking. And Glick says that he

                      became skeptical of the police investigation long before he had any

                      access to the Ramseys. Keene-Osborn adds, "During the entire

                      case, most of my sources were within the prosecution. To have

                      labeled me as any kind of Ramsey pawn is laughable."

                      That Green and Boyles criticize Glick for maintaining a

                      journalist-source relationship with the Ramseys astounds him. "What

                      journalist in the country would say no to three days of on-camera,

                      on-the-record interviews" with the Ramseys? he asks. "If that

                      makes me pro-Ramsey, so be it."

                      Tracey defends the film against cries of "advocacy journalism" with

                      equal ferocity. "What it was advocating is not being a megaphone

                      for spin, and double-checking leaks from sources," Tracey howls. "If

                      that's advocacy journalism, then, fine."


                      There are two others with a story to tell who have decided to try

                      to sell it: John and Patsy Ramsey.

                      In April, the two will publish their memoir of the events of the last

                      three years, called Death of Innocence. The Ramseys have chosen

                      a Christian publisher in Nashville to bring their story public.

                      Once the grand jury announced it would not indict the Ramseys and

                      word spread that the couple planned to pen a memoir, the media

                      vultures began circling for an exclusive interview. "We've received

                      calls from just about every national show," says the book's

                      publisher, Rolf Zettersten, "from 20/20 to Dateline NBC, to 48 Hours

                      and all the morning shows….There's something of a frenzy to get

                      the interview." One weekly newsmagazine, one monthly magazine,

                      one nightly television newsmagazine, and one morning show,

                      Zettersten adds, will probably be awarded coveted Ramsey


                      Death of Innocence will likely be a bonanza. And so the most obvious

                      questions: Are the Ramseys profiteering? Are they just two

                      more people latching on to JonBenét, Inc.?

                      No, says the Ramseys' libel attorney, L. Lin Wood (who is

                      representing the Ramseys in a suit against the Star tabloid). He

                      says that "the nightmare of the past three years has literally

                      depleted this family's life savings, and they are in tremendous debt

                      for attorneys' fees and other expenses related to the criminal

                      investigation." Proceeds from the book, says Wood, will pay off

                      those debts. Any profit beyond that will go to the JonBenét Ramsey

                      Children's Foundation, which donates money to children's spirituality


                      The idea that a reporter would ask about profiteering nudges the

                      soft-spoken John Ramsey into a passionate response. "A horrible

                      story has been told about my daughter and my family. And I think

                      we have the right to tell our side without being edited or cut down

                      to a sound bite," says Ramsey. "We are not profiting from this. In

                      fact, I find that repugnant. How dare the media criticize us for

                      profiteering? There's so much hypocrisy."