[Copy furnished courtesy "Dunvegan", Justice Watch Forum]
Date of interview at Newseum = October 12, 2000
The moderators: Blake Morrison and Eric Newton.
MODERATOR: John, why did decide to come and talk to the class today?
JOHN RAMSEY: Well...when something like this happens in your life, um...it causes you to really examine...uh, life. And, uh there's certainly a strong feeling on Patsy's and my part, that we want something good to come out of...this. Um...JonBenet was a beautiful child, uh...we loved her dearly...and, there's certainly a side of us that is grateful that the country...uh, took note of that. There are 800 children murdered in this country every year. And, for some reason, uh...this caught the world's attention. And, uh...we did a lot of thinking about...well...'cause we were litterally under siege. We'd been, you know: accused, tried, and convicted in the media, of murdering our daughter. And, uh...we really had two choices. One was to try to make a difference, we saw a lot of wrongs in our system...or, just...crawl in a hole and shut the world out. Well, we decided, well...for JonBenet's sake, for the sake of our children, and their children, we gotta try to make a difference. And, um...how do we make a difference? Um..and this was an opportunity to, we thought, to talk to young people who are gonna be in the profession; the media profession...um, let them understand from our perspective: on the receiving end...the good and the bad we saw. A lot of bad...but we did see some good. Uh, so perhaps when they go out in the world, and um...and exercize their profession,they'll...um...have a litlle different perspective....perhaps a little more real perspective with what they're dealing with. Cause they're dealing with real people.
MODERATOR: Patsy: As a former journalism student, yourself, what should the students here look for...uh, today...that they might not be able to get just sitting in the classroom...listening to me talk?
PATSY RAMSEY: I would hope that they would come away with the understanding that...we are real people. You know, I think a lot of time when the news, um...coverage, you know, hits us everyday, and everyday, and everyday...it's always "the other guy"...you know: this is never going to happen to me...this is somebody far, far away. We've been fictionalized as people that we're not...so, I want them to understand that in the years to come, when you are reporting about individuals that they are people. They are human beings. They have feelings, theys have, you know, rights to privacy...and just because you are a journalist, does not give you carte blanche to, you know, drag them through the mud, basically.
MODERATOR: Well, let's get our students down to the microphones...so that they can start asking their questions, and, while you're coming down, I've got another one for John. You talk in your book about the, um..."sides of the media"...the good side, the bad side, and, clearly, you feel -
JOHN RAMSEY: - We've seen both -
MODERATOR: -You've spent a lot of side on the "bad side"-
JOHN RAMSEY: - We did -
MODERATOR: Well, what are some examples of things that happened to you...something that happens to you when you are on the "good side", and something that happens when you are on the "bad side"?
JOHN RAMSEY: Well...in our case we certainly felt, uh...we were...we were...um...devastated by the loss of our child. Uh...and having gone through this twice, myself...and Patsy (we lost our older daughter) uh, you pretty much just want to shut the world out..yet, the world -through the media- was, uh..intruding our space..(Note: word here is slurred: could be "wildly"..or could be "violence") wildly, from our perspective. And, um...we just felt..violated..that..we didn't want our picture taken, we didn't want that, uh..you know, that attention. And, um, in the beginning..uh, I think we saw most of the "bad side"..uh, we saw the tabloid..uh,uh..side of the media. The way the tabloid works is that they have..uh, they put out a call for pictures, and a picture is very important to a tabloid..then they can write a story around it. So, if the picture is "unusual" they can make a very "unusual" story around it. And there's a lot of freelance photographers that that's how they make a living, they get a picture, and if it's a good one, they can sell it, make several thousand dollars, and they sell it to the tabloids. We saw that side of the media; it's very intrusive. Uh, uh..telephoto lenses aimed in our window, uh..the gravesite..uh..JonBenet's gravesite..uh, we found a hidden camera there..eventually, after we saw the picture of my older son at the cemetery in one of the tabloid pictures, uh - newspapers. And, a friend of ours, came up with an analogy that I thought was perfect: he said it was like you're the red fox, and you're being pursued by the dogs, in an English hunt.. and the dogs are the tabloid..uh, media. And the more proper hunters, on the horseback, are the mainstream media. And, while the tabloid media is churning up all the innuendos, and uh, the uh, accusations..sadly,what's happened, to a large degree, is that the mainstream media is capitalizing on that, and..uh, in some cases, reporting it as fact.
MODERATOR: So, working almost like a team, is what you're saying, rather than two different -
JOHN RAMSEY: - Yeah, yeah...from our perspective, we felt like "the poor little fox ". We had to, uh..had to plan where we, uh..where we could find our points of refuge.
MODERATOR: Well, we'll get back to this..but, let's see what our students have to ask today, and we'll go to them. And, you can..don't be shy..come down and line up, so that we can go from one to the other.Uh..you're on "Inside Media"; please tell us who you are, and ask your question.
STUDENT QUESTIONER #1: My name is Ryan (redacted), and I'm a student at the University of Maryland, and I'd just like to express gratitude again for giving us his experience: thanks a lot. And, my question would be this: you've already discussed the intrusiveness of the tabloids in their coverage..but, which news organizations would you have found to be the most fair and professional, in their coverage of the investigation of your daughter's death?
JOHN RAMSEY: That's..uh, a good question. Heh, heh..uh...I think they..I can't point to one that I feel has been..uh, completely..uh, accurate and completely fair, and completely correct. I think they all erred..uh,(sigh). The, uh..you know,we developed a..uh...I'd call it a hatred for the media, based on our experience at the beginning. And we..and as we..overtime begin to meet, what I call the "legitimate journalists" and, uh...people that are...uh, at the top of the profession, we begin to realize, "Well, these people are decent people. They're smart, they're trying to do a good job. Um, and yet we've been so biased by the "dark side" of the media. Uh, and so it was hard for us to sort out who's the good guy and who's the bad guy..and a lot of..we shut out a lot of it, because we just couldn't, uh..couldn't deal with it. It was hurtful, it would make us angry when things were reported that weren't true..um, and so, the solution for us was just to shut it out. We took television out of our home a couple years ago..uh, because we didn't want our son to, uh..stumble across Geraldo trying us on television, or something like that...and that was the only way we could be assured that..uh..that wouldn't happen.Uh, so we shut a lot of it out. To some degree, we don't know..because we haven't..we don't follow it. We don't, uh..read all the stories. But, uh..(pause)..the, um..I've told by..um, friends of ours who did follow it, um, that the Washington Post did a pretty good job of accuracy, and staying out of the mud. But that's second-hand information. Uh, 'cause I didn't..I didn't follow it.
MODERATOR: Would you -
PATSY RAMSEY: -Follow up on that..and, be sure to check it out...cause you can't just take his words for it (!) (Laughter from audience, moderators, John.) That's the best...ha, ha! -
MODERATOR: - Well, Patsy, can I ask you about that, because, in retrospect John's spoke about how you folks basically went into seclusion from the media, or tried to, as best you could. Do you think there's anything that either of you could have done differently that might have helped the media portray you in a more fair, accurate, complete way?
PATSY RAMSEY: You know, we had just lost our child..we weren't concerned with helping portray anything. Um, I get criticized for not having..we both do..for not having "acted right." You know..I (sigh) I spent weeks and weeks and weeks in bed. Immobile. You know: crying. So...you know..no, we weren't out there giving a response...because we were, you know..back there crying our eyes out. So, um...I don't feel obligated, nor did I then, to have to provide information about..you know...to try to get people to...to paint a picture of myself..or something -
JOHN RAMSEY: - You know, people ask us: "Well, how could you..how could you have stood all this attention and accusation in the press. And, what our response is -and, it's..it's..it's very genuine - you know..uh,we lost our child. And,that was the worst thing that could happen to us. What followed was small by comparison. And,and..for a long time,was...was of no consequence to us. Uh..you know, it was hurtful. Uh, but we'd been hurt deeper that anyone could hurt us again.
PATSY RAMSEY: What WAS bad was...I mean, you had to..to..realize where we were coming from.We - there was a murderer in our home. Yeah..this murderer is still at large. So when we would come..um, back to our car, to a parking lot,and all of a sudden this..you know..this MAN(!) jumped out from between a car with something in his hand...I don't know whether it's a journalist or a..or a nut-case. Or, the murderer! I don't know if that's a camera, or a gun. I mean, it's frightening. You know, when...when you KNOW that there is a...a madman out there, and then JOURNALISTS, you know, for the sake of the public's right to know..(exasperated gasp)..PREY on you like this, it's...it's...it's inhumane.
MODERATOR: One of the things about, um...well, "good journalism"...I guess we can make a distinction...is that in "good journalism" sometimes, uh...often times, good reporting on a crime can help solve a crime. Uh -
PATSY RAMSEY: -That's right!-
JOHN RAMSEY: - You bet! In fact, the best investigative work in this case has been done by journalists.
PATSY RAMSEY: -Um hmm. Absolutely.
JOHN RAMSEY: We've got some incredibly good information from journalists, who, on their own, have dug into things that,uh...have been very, very interesting...
MODERATOR: Another question from our students. Tell us who you are -
STUDENT QUESTIONER #2: Hi. Sean (redacted), from College Park. Thanks a lot for coming. Um...my question is: over the course of this ordeal, the media kinda sized up your decision to hire separate legal counsel...do you think that their interpretation played a role in -
JOHN RAMSEY: -Sure. It played a role...i-i-i-i-i-in how people perceived us. It played a role in how the police perceived us. Let me correct one thing: we didn't make that decision. We were, uh..basically immobile. I mean,Patsy and I were devastated. Uh...a good friend of ours, who is an attorney, who'd been a former Prosecuting Attorney, uh..took me aside and said, "John, would you allow me to do some things I think are necessary to do here?" And I said,"Yeah." Cause he was a trusted friend. Uh, he brought in attorneys on our behalf. And we said, "Hey, why do we need attorneys? B: Why do we need 2 attorneys?" And they said, "This is how we need to do it. And it's prudent." And I trusted him. Uh, clearly it was the right thing to do..um, unfortunately our justice system is flawed. In some cases, and is not, uh..pure as we would hope it would be. And, um..his position for us was: if you're dealing with a..system that is not perfect...you absolutely need to be represented. And, um...I think it was absolutely the correct decision. It was an incorrect decision in terms of how the police and the public perceived us. The police, automatically: "You get an attorney; you're guilty." That's how they look at it. And I think the public, to a large degree, does too. And, um..y-y-you know, I've often thought: "Well, gee...what if we hadn't...what if we had just said 'No'?" You know, "We don't need attorneys...why do we need attorneys?" Cause that was certainly the thought that was going through our mind. Um, what...what difference would that have made? And, uh...you know, we might have been in jail today...I don't know. Uh, because the system, the justice system..was out to get us. Clear and simple. That, that became evident...downstream...as we begin to understand that...uh, they really were...focused on the family,because...it's always the parents.
PATSY RAMSEY: I have a new appreciation for attorneys..I don't tell those "lawyer jokes" anymore..because they know so much about the justice system. Um..I remember when it...you know, rumors were flying all the time that I was going to be arrested...and thrown in jail...and I said: "LET THEM! Let them throw me in jail! I will be sittin' there, and that'll just give me more fuel for the furnace...you know, when I'm throwin' out lawsuits, you know. And my attorney said, "You don't understand." He said, "Without exception, every one of my clients who has been put in a jail cell..you know, months later another inmate will be put in the same jail cell..you know...chit-chatting...whatnot...a few minutes later, the inmate goes out and says, 'She confessed!'" And, I was just...I was just STUNNED! This can't be happening. In this country. And he said, "Believe me, it happens." He said, "If you, you know, are behind bars, you will not be alone for one second. They'll have somebody there, sitting with you, at all times.." Because, he said, "It happens. It happens every time."
JOHN RAMSEY: Yeah, our attorneys were very, very afraid of the justice system, 'cause they knew it was flawed. And,um...that was a wake-up call for us, I think. And..and...and one of the things we wanna make a difference in, uh...is that whole process. I mean we've got inexperienced police, in general, and I mean this is not a categorical statement..uh,who are too eager to make an arrest. We've got prosecutors who are paid to prosecute. And, we've got politicians who garner votes based on being "tough on crime." And, um, it's dangerous. It sounds good to us law-abiding citizens, but it's a dangerous...uh, uh...edge that we're kinda walking on. And I'm convinced that there are thousands of innocent people in jails today.Every day, when you pick up the paper.... But, that's what we were faced with. And, our friend who was experienced...had been on the prosecuting side, and the defense side, saw it...and we didn't. And that's how attorneys first got involved. But did they..did that bias things? Absolutely.
STUDENT QUESTIONER #2: Great. Thank you very much.
STUDENT QUESTIONER #3: My name is Jill (redacted), I'm also a journalism student at the University of Maryland. What did the media expose that you felt should have been kept private? And, what hasn't been told that you think should have been?
PATSY RAMSEY: Well, gosh...you know (laughs)...my mother always said, "Watch your reputation!" You know, "Don't go in that bar, don't do this...don't do that..." You know, "What - you gotta -Watch your reputation." I have thanked her about a gazillion times. Because they absolutely have...you know...SCOURED our backgrounds...and they said, you know, we'd be perfect political candidates now because, you know, everything's out in the open. All the skeletons, all the -
JOHN RAMSEY: - lots of skeletons that weren't there -
PATSY RAMSEY: (Loudly) Hee-hee! Yeah! Right! But, just...I mean...they went back and found my High School English teacher! Uh...old boyfriends...you know, I'm embarrassed because those people were bothered...because of me...you know...
JOHN RAMSEY: I think the big issue is, i-i-if we're looking at what, whatta we need to worry about as a society, is that was reflected on our case, is there's a...there's a too much of a intermingling of the justice system and the media. Uh...you know...in some countries; England, for example...most English-based-law countries, the things that went on in our case would have put journalists and police in jail. In England you're not allowed...it's called...oh, it's a Latin term, I forget it...but you're not allowed to report on evidence and...uh...uh...
PATSY RAMSEY: - in an ongoing case -
JOHN RAMSEY: - the process of an ongoing case, because it biases the case...one way or the other.It's not true in our country...and, in fact, it's gotten...I...my believe...is that one of the things we need to look at as a society is that this is a problem. Where...uh, a television program can try, as we were tried, on television...it, uh...it...you gotta realize we've never, ever...yet, heh (laugh)...been named as a suspect. That's really the first step in...in a...in a...process for the police...they name you as a suspect. Then you're indicted, it takes a little bit of evidence to indict, it takes a ton of evidence to convict. We've never even been named as a suspect...in the media we've been tried, convicted...charged,tried, convicted,and..uh...it's over. And, and that's a problem for our system, because the justice system can't work properly with that going on around it. A detective told me that...an old, retired, very experienced detective...he said the problem with this case was so much media attention, th-th-that the detectives weren't allowed to do their job. And they do their job kinda of in the background. They...uh-h-h...pick here...they look here...you know, it's a...it's a complex thing to solve this kind of crime. Very complex. Takes a lot of gray matter. It takes a lot of time. Well, when the media gets involved in demanding an answer for the 6 o'clock news, uh...the Chief gets involved. And he micro-manages. Well, the Chief hasn't been in a crime investigation, maybe ever, as it was in the case in Boulder...uh...certainly for a long time, because he's been an administrator...the Chief of Detectives gets involved. And, the poor detective, uh...can't do his job. So, that...in the very beginning, with that kind of attention and pressure...uh, the justice system, the investigative process, can't operate. Doesn't work. And, that's a problem. And, uh...it's a...I'm not sure how you fix it. But...you know, in terms...so, there's issues of just the privacy of the investigation that needs to be somehow protected, so that the process can work. And, that may take years. And, that's a flaw, and that's something that...that...to specifically address your question...uh, should not have been exposed...uh...the police used the media...they played the media like a fiddle in this case...they leaked innuendos....Their strategy basically was to put immense pressure on us so that we'd break. And...in fact, they wanted to throw one of us in...I guess both of us...in jail. And they figured, well...one of us would crack...and turn on the other...they weren't sure which one, but the two of us were in the house...it had to be one or the other. And, my fundamental criticism of the media, as I really analyze this from 30,000 feet, is that they...uh, they took these leaks, and innuendos, and basically gossip as fact, and ran with it. And they ran with it world-wide. Rather than being skeptical of the police. The police as a gov-, ...you know, the justice system is a government organization. And hence, should be looked at with some degree of skepticism, and, uh...and, uh...suspicion. I mean that's...that's...to me...and I don't know if this is what you teach in school, but...to me the...and I've thought a lot about this, but the main responsibility of a free press in a democracy is to keep the government honest. And, uh...we seem to not realize that the justice system is the government. I mean, we're seeing cases not with, you know...Wen Ho Lee, and, you know,there's...there's...I'm sensitive to it because I look for it in the papers, and it's always there. Where,uh...that role has been grossly overstepped. And, uh...but, um...the-the willingness to...uh...convict...you know...not only before trial, but before anyone's ever been charged, is a huge...error...that was illustrated in our case. And that's a...that's a violation...not of our privacy...well, it is, I guess in a lot of respects. Um...because we were the victims.But, it destroys the system that we, that we put in place to deal with these kinds of things.
STUDENT QUESTIONER #3: For the second part of that question: was there anything that you feel should have been exposed, but wasn't…should have been told, by the media, that wasn't?
JOHN RAMSEY: (To Patsy) Any thoughts?
PATSY RAMSEY: Well...um, there again I think...um, a lot of press has been guilty of just taking...you know, by spoonfuls, information that the police department wanted them to have. So...and, very little investigative reporting was done. I mean, just this summer, just in the past few weeks, we learned that there was another young girl assaulted, in her bed...by a perpetrator...who had been in the house for at least four hours…this happened in...
JOHN RAMSEY: September.
PATSY RAMSEY: September of 1997. And, the Special Prosecutor for the Grand Jury...he did not know about this...I mean, it was kept...you know...quiet! -
JOHN RAMSEY: - that was an example of good journalism, in my opinion! I mean...and these...the guys that dug this out, and ultimately reported on it, had been some of our harshest -
PATSY RAMSEY: - Journalists!
JOHN RAMSEY: - critics, but they were journalists...and they, basically, uh...called the police...uh, on this, and said, "Wait a minute. This...why haven't you looked at this?"
M: So, it's a real...it's a real conundrum -
J: - Yes!
M: - I mean...uh, no coverage then doesn't protect our rights against the government...uh,abuse...but, too much coverage,you're saying, this kind of saturation: any detail, any gossip, any rumor...also -
P: - gets in the way -
M: - creates a situation where our rights are, uh...we've lost rights. And, so, we need reporting -
J: -Absolutely. That's...that's the conclusion I've come to...(Crosstalk between John and the moderator)
M: -but, where do you draw the line?
J: - and I've gone the full gamut of...in the beginning I was...you know, this system is terrible. We need the government to take it over, and by God, that's the answer. And...then, of course then you realize - whoa-whoa - that's a bad idea! Uh...we need...a democracy needs freedom of the press. It...and I think Plato said that...a long time ago. But, it's got to...uh,it's very biased with...with, as Patsy said, adjectives...um, um...there was a report recently in the Atlanta paper, where it was reported that we were selling our house to pay legal bills, which is true...uh, but the article said that "the Ramseys have to give up their lavish lifestyle." Well, that wasn't...necessary. You know, that...that hurt! I mean, the fact of the matter is that we were losing our house, because this has been horrendously expensive, and...you know...we'd worked all our lives, and -
P: (crosstalk) - See, it's those -
P: - little adjectives -
J: - but, the adjective of "lavish lifestyle"...
P: - Paints a portrait -
J: - paints this horrible picture! We feel like we been created into modern-day, real-life J.R. Ewings. (Quiet laughter from audience)
M: Um hmmm (affirmative.)
J: And, we were created...uh, probably in the beginning by the tabloid media...
P: Um hmmm (affirmative.)
J: ...to be hated. Because that sells...sells their paper. People wanna...you know...find someone that's...life is...I don't know why people read tabloids. And...but...some do, and...and the big problem is that many, many, more see the headlines...and that's where the damage is done. But, um...
P: I mean as journalism -
J: That is just -
J: perpetuated, from our perspective...um...
M: Well, why do people read tabloids? They're in business because -
J: (exasperated) Yeah!
P: It's profit!
M: - they're some of the largest circulation -
P: There's something about...I don't know whether it's Americans...the human psyche...something.We're just...we're NOSY!You know, you (laugh) wanna know...what our neighbor's doin'. You know. Where are they going? Where are they coming from? And...I don't know what it is. I mean, I think it's...sickening. But, they sell so many magazines...it's just unimaginable.
J: Well, and you know, the issue is not, in my mind, not...if people want to buy that stuff and read it, you know, they deserve to pay the two bucks, or whatever they have to pay for to buy it. But, the problem is: it's right in the front of everybody's face...these lurid headlines...which often are toned down in the story, you know. "Father...uh....Assaults Daughter in Bed!" ...and then you, you...that's the headline. And, so, if you're passing through the grocery line...and you see that, you think, "Whoa!" and that gets burned in your brain. And then the next time you see it, it's burned again. The story may be totally different. But the headlines are what do the damage. And I'm convinced hundreds of millions of people see those headlines...because they're walking past the supermarket check-out stand. And that's where the damage is done. I don't...you know...if the tabloids...I mean, that people buy child pornography magazines, people buy all sorts of...strange things...it's a free country, I guess. But the fact...that the "pushers" put this stuff right in our face...
P: - with children in the (garbled...may be "buggies")...
J: ...is what's wrong with...our...our contention is, you know, let...tabloids, if they t-t-they've got an audience, that's fine...you know, that's not to be...uh, the issue. The issue is: the pushers of this pornography, journalistic pornography...in my opinion, uh...should be criticized, by their customers for putting it in front of their children -
P: - "Pushers" being: the grocery stores, the drug stores, you know...where...that give them the floor space.
J: And, they do that because they because it's very profitable...they make a lot of money.
M: Well, it's right -
P: (Shouting down the moderator) AND THEY MAKE LOT OF MONEY!
M: - there...the tabloids are right there with the candy -
P: - That's right!
J: - You can't miss it.
M: - and the other stuff that may or may not be good for you, when you're checking out.
P: (loudly) And, you may not stoop to actually pick one up and looking at it, or buying it, for heaven's sake...but, nevertheless,you're gonna see the headline. Perfect example: a few weeks ago...you know...it...of course, we know, uh...that part of the crime scene that we have this Hi-Tec boot footprint that is unidentifiable. Well, a headline ran:"Ramseys Turn Over Hi-Tec Boots". You know. So, if you just saw that, what would that tell you? We had a Hi-Tec boot...you know. That is not what happened. Our investigators, you know, investigating...um, you know...into...
J: - one of the leads --
P: - into one on the leads that we had, obtained a pair of Hi-Tec boots!
M: Oh. So, you went and got some boots.
P: (laughing) So...our investigator obtained these boots...turned them over to the police authorities. Well, the headline implies that it was...they were our boots! You know...
M: Could you tell us who's they were? I mean, or just -
M: - did you go to a store and buy them, or what?
P: (unhappily) -No.
J: These were...we have probably a half a dozen good leads. That we've been working on. We've given all the information to the police. Uh...one of them may be the killer...none of them may be the killer. And, so, uh...but this pair of boots belong to one of the leads that we have and the footprint is, from our perspective, an identical -
J: - match. May or may not be anything. But, we gave them to the police, and said, "Here, this needs to be looked at. Please, look at them." And...we can only hope that they have. Um...but, um...you know, I've often thought that if we could, if we could marshal all the effort that the journalists have put in to this case, to finding the killer, we'd of had him a long time ago.
J: And there have been...three or four, maybe half a dozen journalists who have really dug into some things, as I said earlier...some very, very interesting...bits of information, that we wouldn't have found, and I know...the -
M: I want to go back to the students, but -
J: - the police wouldn't have found.
M: - could you name those journalists...I mean, the journalists that were really...turning up things that were -
J: Well...Dan Glick of Newsweek...uh...
M: - helpful to the case.
P: - he found a tremendous amount.
J: - dug into a lot of stuff, just in his process of investigative reporting. Uh...Charlie Brennan of, formerly the Rocky Mountain News, um...broke this story about the....ummm...very similar circumstance that happened to this young girl in Boulder, nine months after JonBenet was assaulted. Um...he had a difficult time getting it even printed. He...he was a freelance journalist, at the time...and nobody in Boulder would, or in Colorado would print the story. And, it ended up being printed by the Dallas Morning News...and, of course, it made national headlines because it was, you know, very...a very similar attack, uh...had been kept quiet by the police...had not been even disclosed to the prosecutors, who were looking at us very hard...and it needed to be looked at very seriously, in my opinion. They broke that story, and that's great.
M: Let's get back to our students. You're on "Inside Media".
STUDENT QUESTIONER #4: My name is Esther (redacted) and I'm one of Mr. Morrison's students...I just had a question: You wrote in your book, "Death of Innocence," that you started taking pictures of the media that were covering you. Now, may I ask why you began doing that? And, what you intend to do with the photographs?
J: Well, it was a defense...what we found was that...and, these are mostly tabloid photographers...they hated to have their picture taken. I don't know why. If they were wanted for arrest somewhere...hmmm...
M: Oh...now YOU'RE doing it!
P: Heh, ha ha ha! (loudly)
P: (gleefully) Editorializing!
J: (John and Patsy crosstalk) I...
P: The best defense -
P: ...the best defense was to turn the tables on 'em!
J: They'd flee, basically.
J: They just hated to have their picture taken. They hated to be followed. They would follow us in their car...you know, we'd be out driving, and we'd notice this car...they always used rental cars...
P: Um hmmm...
J: In Colorado, rental cars have headlights that -
P: - the headlights -
J: - are on all the time. So, it was very easy to pick them out, because it's the only car with headlights on, all year round. Well, if we could get behind them...and follow them...if you pursue them in the same way...they hated it. So, it became...it became kind of a game, in some respects. Although, it was...a very...
P: Dangerous game.
J: - uh...yeah, you know when Princess Diana was killed, you know, and that fleeing of the...uh, tabloid photographers: I knew exactly how they felt.
P: Um hmm (affirmative.)
J: And, it's silly...because it can't hurt you...well...they can hurt you immensely with a camera. Because of the things they say and the picture. Uh...I've often said I'd rather have a gun pointed at me than a camera. Because, at least I know the gun...I know the worst it can do. The worst damage it can do. But that...just the feeling of being pursued, it's a...it's like the red fox being pursued by the hounds. Uh...it's...I think it's just an instinctive...uh, feeling that you have: that you don't wanna be pursued.
M: Can we talk about perceptions, a little bit? One question that you're obviously asked every time that you do an interview is: did you kill your daughter? When you first thought about answering that question, probably still today, do you think about what the best way to answer that question is, in terms of the tone you take, and the words you choose?
P: You know, this...this never ceases to amaze me that people think that we are so calculating. Somebody said that...that if we really did this, that we are the best...we ougha get a...uh...an Oscar, or something, cause we're the best actor...actors....around. I mean, when somebody asks me that, I say, "NO!" I mean, I don't think about...anything except, "NO! I didn't do it!" So, I don't...I don't plan how I'm gonna say (laugh) it...or, it's just...um...I just say, "No." What else is there to say? You know....
J: Y-y-y-eah...I m-m-m-ean, it's a...it's a...uh, (pause) It's...you know, on one level it's a...it's a very...foolish question.Cause we know...who we are...that we loved our children...normal people. Ahh...but now if..if somebody asks me that, I say..."So why, why...before I answer that, but why do you ask the question? Why would you even...suspect that. Or, why would you wonder that? What in my background...would make you think that? What...what...of the evidence, you know about, would make you think that?" "Why would you even ask that question?"
M: Thinking back, was there a moment where you realized that...you were suspected, although not named as suspects, that moment...and, you're saying to yourselves, you know, "Well, we just go and tell them 'No...that's ridiculous.'"
M: But, I guess...you know, you must have been thinking, "That's not good enough, that's not going to be good enough." Uh///
P: See! That's where I think you're wrong: why shouldn't that be good enough? I mean, why do I have to defend myself...I have been, you know, a good mother. I have been...tried to be...a good...person. I mean, what in my background have I ever done -
J: See, we actually had -
P: - to make you THINK that?
J: - the Chief of Police in Boulder say, "Well, you prove to me you're innocent...and I'll be the first to say it."
P: (exasperated gasp)
J: And, I felt like saying, "Do you know what you've just said?"
M: The opposite of what -
P: (crosstalk) - Yeah! Backwards of -
M: - is supposed to be the law.
P: - Innocent until proven guilty.
M: Umm hmm (affirmative.)
J: And, yet...he had no concept of what he had just said. And yet, that's the perspective that they took on this case. "Prove to me you're innocent."
M: It's a very unusual position you were in -
M: - and, and...and I think that some of us are just fascinated about (sputters)...in morbid way, I have to admit...but what would it be like to be...to have that happen to you? And...and just the incredible frustration that...of not being able to communicate what you wanted to communicate.
J: Yeah. Well, it...the big issue is...the big perspective issue is, I think, is that we're not unique in this. This happens a lot...in our country. I think the...the whole, the whole approach, in large degree, of the justice system has taken on this, "You're guilty...you gotta prove you're innocent." And, that's why we've got innocent people in jail. That's why you read about it everyday in the paper. People being released based on DNA evidence that was tested...
P: Um hmm (affirmative.)
J: ...and like, "Whoops! They weren't guilty."
P: Um hmm (affirmative.)
J: But the police don't...if I can use our experience as a...as applying to the 18,000 police jurisdictions that are out there, which isn't fair, but...they make a decision, they decide guilt, and try to prove it. And, your job, it to prove you're not guilty. And..that's backwards.
P: You can't...how do you prove you're not guilty?
M: Reginald, got a question for them?
STUDENT QUESTIONER #5: My name is Reginald (redacted), and I'm a Junior at the University of Maryland, and my question is: if you were a journalist covering this case, how would you have gone about things differently?
M: And, if you could, along those lines...touch on some of the characterizations that you mentioned. You've mentioned terms that journalists use: "lavish lifestyle". JonBenet is constantly referred to in stories as a "beauty queen."
M: That was the basis for the sensationalism of the story.
P: Well, I know you've heard this a million times.."the pen is mightier than the sword." That...I mean, John just said he'd rather have a gun pointed at him than a camera. I mean, when you write a story...every word counts. Particularly, those adjectives. "The Ramseys give up 'lavish lifestyle'." You know. Katie Couric said..we were on the Today Show...and she said, you know...just in her...you know, quick, "bub-bub-bub-bub-bub-bub-ba" you know, "Ramseys just take a 'self-sponsored' polygraph test." And, I said, "WHOA, WHOA, WHAA...whoa, whoa, whoa! Listen to what you just said! 'Self-sponsored polygraph test.'" I mean...those little adjectives there...absolutely send a picture, you know, to the listening audience...to your reading audience, you...combined with everybody else reporting about this are building a characterization, you know, of the person that you're reporting about. So: Watch those descriptive things. You're there to report the news. Unless you're on the editorial page, you do not have...total carte blanche to give Reggie's, you know, personal opinion...you know...of what happened here, or who these people are. Or, how they came across to you. You know, unless somebody comes up to you and says, "Gee, when they were out in the hall...what did they really act like?" Then you can say what Reggie feels like...but Reggie reporting as a representative of USA Today, or the University of Maryland, or whatever...shouldn't insert...you know...your own little adjectives, because that's what...that's what nailed us! I mean, people say, you know, (takes on a huffy, deep voice) "Ramseys live in a mansion! A b-i-i-i-i-g mansion!" You know, the price of the house kept going up...you know. We tried to sell it, and the realtor said it kept going down...I think it was Diane Sawyer who came into the house, and she said, "This is the mansion?" You know, it just got...it...it...was make-believe! And, it was all because of the words chosen by each individual journalist. Time after time after time.
STUDENT QUESTIONER #6: Hi. I'm Meghan (redacted). My question for you: I know you guys touched on the law in England, as far as privacy laws...but, do you feel that privacy laws and other limitations should be placed upon journalists or media coverage, in cases such as the killing of your daughter?
P: Funny you should ask...our eighth grade son, Burke, is...in his civics class studying privacy in the media. (sigh) And that's, you know, what he's going to be studying all year...where do we find the balance between the public's right to know...and an individual's right to privacy? Both of those are equally important. So it's...when one over-steps the other, that it starts getting ugly.Um...do you have any...?
J: Well, I think...I mean, the things that were...offensive to me, just as a person...were how...why should a photographer be able to take my picture, without my permission...and sell it? That didn't seem right. Now, um...I know in France, for example, they have laws where you can't do that...without the person's permission. The..um...but, the big issue, I think, really...and, and maybe you have to have laws...cause there's always people who'll stoop to the lowest common denominator. We've got to protect our justice system from...ah...this intrusion...and, and in fact it's being used for entertainment. I marvel at shows like CourtTV, and uh...you know, the...televised OJ trial. This is for entertainment. And, and that's not right.
P: And, one of the big problems, too...is that, you know, I think you said that if one of the students gets one thing wrong, you know: a detail incorrect on your paper...you get an "F". The press in this country: media, broadcast, print, whatever..has no accountability. If they make a mistake, there is no one to smack their hand. There's no one...the liable laws are the only thing that we have to retaliate with as a private citizen..but, even that is like, like David and Goliath. You know..trying to...to fight this. So, um...unless someone...as a matter of fact I think Brill's Content...do you'all...you should get Brill's Content magazine...they're kinda a "media watchdog"...on their own industry. They did a survey of some of the top media executives, in the country. And posed two different, self-regulated kind of questions to them. You know, Would you, in lieu of a law being passed...would you voluntarily, as a news organization agree to...I'm paraphrasing...but "back off", you know...children, particularly...and respect the privacy of people...and, I think the whole thing came about right after JFK, Jr.'s plane went down...and they were talking about how horrible it was...people sticking cameras through to Caroline Kennedy's home, and that kind of thing. And, I mean, almost without fail...every one of 'em said, "Oh, no!"...you know..."We judge everything case-by-case and have all these wonderful...um, mantras about how they are...really want to do things ethically. But, you know, when they choose between ethics and getting' the scoop first...you know, and be on the air in five minutes...guess what...they're gonna go with that one without checking things.
M: Did it, did it bother you at all when Brill's used a picture of your daughter on it's cover? They got quite a bit of criticism from other members of the media, who thought that they were also guilty of exploiting her death.
J: Well...we were so numbed by that time...you know, it's...
M: Of all the exploitations, this wasn't so bad because it was media criticism?
J: (laughter) Well! Ha...that helps!
P: Well! (laughs) It's kinda like...it's kinda like why we're here today! You know....preaching to the choir, kinda! I mean...there is some choir-members here, if I'm not mistaken...you know...So. I mean...they were using her picture....as an example....uh....of people using her picture. (Laughs) You know what I mean...So!
M: Some people have said that the problem with the law is that it could also stop those, sometimes rare occasions, when it's important for journalists to be able to take photographs of things going on in public-
J: Yeah, I know. And, that's a different...how do you -
M: - to show, to show...how about this: there has been some...there's been talk about re-creating the National News Council. It would be a place that people, in your situation, could go to...you know...cast the light back on those...it's kind of like an institutional way of turning the video camera on to the...what would your opinion be about that kind of an institution?
J: I think that...I mean, from what you've described, I think that would be very necessary to...It's probably the only, from my awareness, the only way a group of professionals who don't have an oversight group, like the American Medical Association...or the Bar Association...and, you know, anybody can call themselves a "journalist." And there's...it ranges from the lowest of the low, like the tabloid...to the best of the best. And, unfortunately...you know, the...lowest of the low bring down the whole standard of the industry. There used to be accountability. As I looked at it from, OK...how do you fix this? Maybe, it can't be fixed...maybe you just hope there's enough good journalists out there that...and people begin to understand that this is where I get accurate, correct information. You know, in the old days, you know that if Walter Cronkite said it...it was true. You just didn't question that. And now, I've learned...I'm not sure where you go for that absolutely, most-of-the-time, accurate information. But, if...maybe the way it's fixed is if enough people like you guys, that understand what your role is...and it's a critical role in a democracy and a free society...that, it would...counterbalances the bad, uh...and um...cause I've thought about this a lot. You know, how do you...how do you fix all these wrongs we've seen? And...um, it's not easy.
P: And the trouble is, you know...you students sitting there are saying, "I will never stoop to this. I was raised better. My momma wouldn't like this!" (laughs) You know...and you might have really great...you know....determination to go out there and really fix it. But, all of a sudden...when Globe Magazine, or somebody is waiving this big check, and a free expense account...then, uh...a car, and...you now...blah-blah-blah...it's like: (whispers) "Oooooh! Gosh! Welllll...let's just do this for a little while." You know...and get back into the real stuff later...or something. You know...the "almighty dollar" does strange things to people...So, you know, don't give up your...
P: ...principles. Just...don't. It's just...that's where things start a downward spiral.
M: Tell us who you are.
STUDENT QUESTIONER #7: I'm Maura (redacted), also from the University of Maryland. You were talking about your son. I was wondering what steps you take to shield your son from the media, and how has he been effected?
P: Well, first step is I'd rather not answer that question. Cause I just don't like to talk about him a whole lot or tell anything about him. For that very reason...
J: We try to be very careful that his picture is not taken. The issue really is...you know, we've seen...we've seen the good in our society, and we've seen the bad...and we know there's both. The good...far outweighs the bad...and that's the good news. But, there are bad people out there. And...you know, that's why...and people that aren't...their head's not screwed on right. And that's why you have John Lennon being shot, you know, out in New York...for no good reason. And, so, we don't want Burke to be...identifiable.
P: I really wanted him to come today. In fact, I'd spoken to his Principal and all that...to get him out of school, because he's studying this privacy and the media all year. And then, at the last minute, I learned that it was open to the public...and, I just...I just...I mean, initially, I thought that we were going to be in your classroom at the university...so, I said to his Principal: "Oh, great...so, we can visit a college...and, you know...perfect topic to discuss...and then, you know...when that "open to the public" thing came out...I just...chickened out.
M: There is a line you draw with him. I mean, we have to talk about the lawsuit. That was the reason you sued -
M: - the tabloid. I mean...tell us about that.
J: Well, part of our responsibility...we feel...is that this is going to effect our children, it's going to effect their children...and who knows how far downstream that'll go? You know, Patsy and I...it's not a issue to us as to how people feel...whether 20% of the people feel we're guilty, or 80%. We know the truth...we, you know....are comfortable with...ourselves. But, we've got a responsibility to try to reclaim our good family name....for the sake of our children. And, so hat's...that's really what's driving those kinds of efforts...I think, more than anything else...that's, that's why we've chosen to speak out. You know, a good criminal attorney will tell you...tell their client, "Look: if you're under suspicion by the police, my preference is to put you in a closet, close the door, tell the police to 'go prove it'...but, we're not gonna help you." Any...that's Criminal Defense 101. And...uh, that's why, for three years, we never spoke out. Because our attorneys said, "You know, you're under investigation...under suspicion by the police..." Uh, we are fully prepared to meet them in a full court of law, and I promise you...it's the only thing I'll promise you...we will...be victorious. We'll win...there's no question about it. But, we're not going to practice our trade in front of a camera. And so, for three years, we...bit our tongue. You know, we wanted to say, "That's not true." You know...that's...and protect our name and our reputation...but, uh...we were strongly advised against us....against it.
M: It was Burke that was accused of, by the Star...was that the...
J: Oh...I think all of the tabloids...
M: ...and the lawsuit? Do you feel that it was...that there was some justice, in how that was resolved?
J: Uh...it was settled. Uh....prior to a trial. And, uh...it was satisfactory to us. I mean the only accountability, ultimately, that there is available, to a citizen against the media,regardless of who it is...is in court, and financial accountability. You know, we can't have them in prison because of the laws: they operate under the First Amendment. In fact, I've often thought of the tabloids as a...basically a form of organized crime operating under the protection of the First Amendment. But, they can be held accountable financially...still, very difficult to do, because most of the laws in this country...as they pertain to, you know...speech...are put together with the USA Today's and the Washington Post's, and the New York Times' in mind. And, they want to be very careful that they're protected so they can exercise their role in society. The lowest of the low operate under the same rules. And, they're two different organizations.
MODERATOR: You know, you talked a little about the court of public opinion...I think, Amanda,you had a question about perceptions, initially?
STUDENT QUESTIONER #8: Right. I'm Amanda...I'm another student. Do you think the media overplayed your daughter as a beauty queen? And, how did the media's portrayal, with the pageant pictures effect the public's view of you as parents?
PATSY RAMSEY: Well, I think a lot of things...you know; timing, availability of video footage, all contributed to...that perception of John and me as parents....and also, enabled...the world...to...see...so much of JonBenet, vs. one little school picture. And I, I'm almost certain, that is why...you know, the world knows of her so much more than just a child who was killed somewhere and they just have one little picture available. Uh...you know, I grew up in a...in a small town in West Virginia. Lived in Atlanta for years, and years, and years...it's a...kinda of a "Southern thing"...is the beauty pageant deal. I was involved in the Miss America pageant, it paid a lot of my college tuition with scholarships from the Miss America pageant...I'm gonna watch it this weekend on television. Um...but people have condemned that...for their own sick reasons. I mean, it is not unlike parents I know who get their...their eight and nine year olds up at the crack of dawn, and take them to an ice hockey rink, its 5 a.m., because it's the only time that they can get "rink time." Um...it's not unlike little boys being...you know, dressed in...um....those wrestling outfits they wear. You know, I mean....it's just...JonBenet was a performer. She...we would have a dinner party, and she would come downstairs with a pom-pom on her head...and a tutu on, and say, "Watch me, watch me...I wanna sing a song for you!" You know....and everybody would have to sit there and...and watch...while she did her little thing.And, I've gotten letters from mothers and parents that say, you know, "My little girl was the same way. Now, she's a vocal performance major at...XYZ University." It was just something to...grab a-hold of...um,...
JOHN RAMSEY: You know, she did a lot of things...and that was one of them. She also took violin lessons, and French lessons, we had her signed up to do rock climbing...our approach with the kids was we would like them to find one thing that they were good at, that they could be proud of themselves...and, they tried a lot of different things. JonBenet tried...she took dance lessons, and...and, uh...we have pictures of that, too...but the, the uh...pageant pictures are what got out. And, um...she did...I used to tell her that it doesn't matter whether you're the prettiest or have the prettiest dress on...it's your talent that counts, and uh...cause, each one of these little events had a talent portion, and...she would always tell me, "I worked really hard on my talent, Dad." And, in fact, I wear this medal that she'd given me...in her last little competition. Where she'd won the overall talent award. And, she was just a very talented kid. She loved to get on a stage, and perform. My biggest fear was that she was going to run off to Hollywood. And, uh...(laughs)
PATSY RAMSEY: Now, see...Burke is not like that. He came home a couple weeks ago, and saying that he thought he might want to try out for the middle school play...and I was like,"Wow! You know, this is...this is a big deal!" And I said, "What part are you trying out for?" I'm thinking the lead, you know...he said, "Aw, I wanna be on the sound crew." You know. OK. (sounds disappointed) But, you know, kids are different.Burke can do...you ought to see what he can do with a skateboard. You know...blows my mind. But kids have different..fortes.
JOHN RAMSEY: But...to be specific...it absolutely...portrayed a picture that was inaccurate...biased...opinions...I believe. No question.
MODERATOR: Let's take a look at one of the tabloid pages that we're talking about today. This one, you know we're talking about the words that are used. And this banner red headline says, "Little Beauty Sex Murder." Doesn't say "Violin-playing Girl Killed."...or something like that. That's deliberate...well, you know, obviously this sensationalism of...and then, then also it says, "Crime Scene Photos" in the Globe. And, these are photographs of the, of the crime scene and of her..which we're not going to show to you, but you get the idea of what's selling this newspaper.It's being sold on the words: "beauty", "sex murder", and "six-year old". And that is the fundamental elements of the..of it. And, it brings up a question: the psychology of tragedy. And, you know, we've been exposed to so many murders, and so many things over the years that it seems to me that...that whether you look at OJ Simpson, or the...or the Kennedy death that there's some kind of American fascination with, you know: the last possible victim. The last possible person you would think could be accused of murder. OJ Simpson. The last possible person you think could run his plane into the ocean...Kennedy. The last possible person you could think would be killed in their own home...your daughter.And, do you think...have you thought about that? And do you...is it, is it so much the...is it almost just the worst terrible situation that...you know, you say that many other people have been in the same situation...your case was singled out...I mean, you were right there in-between OJ and Monica Lewinsky..in a slot, almost...
JOHN RAMSEY: Yeah.
MODERATOR: ..."The Story!" And, do you think that what I'm just...is there any validity to what I'm saying about this tragedy that...this psychology of tragedy?
JOHN RAMSEY: It's...it's...I think you have to look at who buys that stuff. It's an element of voyeurism. Just like people that buy any other kind of pornography. The problem with the tabloids is that the headlines are visible to hundreds of millions of people. A very small fraction of people ever buy one of those things. But...I used to...I used to do it myself! Walk through a grocery store, you know: "Two-Headed Baby Born in Kansas!"...you think, "Whoa!" You know? Could that be? You kinda know it's not true...but you...there's just this little element of, "Gee, I wonder if that's true?" And, there's a survey taken...back...that 7% of the Americans believe that the tabloid stuff is true. You think, "Well, that's great." But, that's one out of ten...roughly. That's a big number that believe that stuff.
MODERATOR: Well, the problem I have is that when you see four in a row, and says "It was John!".."It was Patsy!"..."It was Burke!"..."It was all of them!"..."It was none of them!" Those things can't all possibly be true.
JOHN RAMSEY: No, it's kind of...Burke's...what they figure was that Burke sells…and we actually have that on tape from one of the editor's of the tabloids. So...let's run more Burke stuff.
PATSY RAMSEY: He's nine years old...
JOHN RAMSEY: Our fundamental position with the tabloids, is look, if we as a society are going to permit this stuff...fine...you gotta take the good with the bad...freedom of press, and freedom of speech. But, are we going to let them attack our children? We let them attack our movie stars...and our politicians...but are we going to let them attack out children? For profit? And, it's a form of pornography...and we allow it to be displayed...for all to see...at the Wall-mart...at the check-out stand. You know: why shouldn't it be wrapped with the brown paper wrapper, just like...a Penthouse magazine?
MODERATOR: Another question from our students... How are you doing...Good morning. Phil (redacted) from University of Maryland, Public Relations student. I'm wondering if...if you're ever to be prosecuted, would you testify on your own behalf, for JonBenet's murder?
JOHN RAMSEY: Oh, sure. We asked to testify before the Grand Jury...and we were never called. We've never been concerned about a trial, I mean, we don't want to go through that horrible, uh...disgrace. Uh, but we've never been afraid of the outcome: it would be a massacre. And uh...the good news is a Grand Jury looked at a one-sided presentation...for 13 months, and said, "No." And it takes about that much evidence to indict someone...you know. Would we want to go through that...horrible embarrassment? No. Would we? Sure. Cause we know the outcome. It would be a...in fact, I've said...I'd love to have it televised, if they ever did that...I'd love for the public to see what's been done to us.
MODERATOR: Patsy, we have a number of media who are here, covering this event, and they're going to go back and write stories, or file stories for broadcast, and...I'm wondering what you would tell them as they start thinking about how to put their stories together, and what you would tell my students who are going to be scrutinizing their stories, about this, tomorrow?
MODERATOR: Write your story...write your own story here! PATSY RAMSEY: Write your story! (laughter) I'm glad you came to class today, I hope you learned something!
MODERATOR: Nothing else?
PATSY RAMSEY: You know what? The proof's in the pudding! Let's see what happens tomorrow. Right?
JOHN RAMSEY: I'll tell you what our...our thought process is...what we've been trying to do for, literally for three and a half years now, is to get...objective...experienced investigators...on this case. We've hired...uh, one fellow who's investigated 300 homicides, works on full-time. There's only so much a private citizen can do. So...how do we get the government to do the right thing here, from our perspective? How do we get them to investigate...if we get them...if we get the government to look at...uh, the leads we have...with one tenth of the energy that they've looked at us...we'd be thrilled. So, how do we do that? The only way we can do it, is through public pressure. Our government responds to public pressure. The police respond to public pressure. And, so...if we can get the public...and the media to start saying, "Wait. Something is fishy, here." You know, there was another girl who was attacked the same way, nine months later. Same M.O., same...you know, a carbon copy of...the only difference was that it was interrupted...thankfully...before potentially a murder took place. Who knows what the outcome would have been. And...bring pressure on the police to do the right thing. That's what we hope to do. And, that's the only...there's no...you know, we've got 18,000 police jurisdictions in this country, all of which are autonomous...authorities, in their local communities. There's no higher authority. We can't go to the next...you know, to the Division level, and say, "Would you please investigate this?"
MODERATOR: That would be the "good media"...looking at the role of the media...
JOHN RAMSEY: Yeah! Right! And...and not...I don't care...we've told people that we've...we've told the police: "OK, if we have our...if we could ask for one thing...take two of your detectives and say, OK...you go and investigate the Ramseys, keep investigating...YOU two, assume the Ramseys are innocent, and go look at...uh...
PATSY RAMSEY: Everything else.
JOHN RAMSEY: Everything else.
MODERATOR: In your book -
PATSY RAMSEY: We'd be thrilled!
MODERATOR: - you detail leads that remain...untracked...
JOHN RAMSEY: As far as we know. We don't know what's going on. So, if we can bring that kind of awareness to the surface...and bring public pressure to bear on the bureaucrats, which the police are, that's our only hope.
PATSY RAMSEY: The other thing is too...I mean, I'm not...sure I understand why the media wasn't all over Governor Owens like a cheap suit...when he made such an outrageous comment. You know...insinuating -
MODERATOR: Repeat the comment for the...you mean...
PATSY RAMSEY: Well...he implied that he knew that we were guilty! You know...
JOHN RAMSEY: - Despite what the Grand Jury concluded.
PATSY RAMSEY: This is the, you know, I mean I don't know how many times before we said, "God, can't we go to the State Attorney General? Or, Janet Reno? Or, somebody? And, then...here the Governor comes out (!) I mean, even if we are guilty..you know, he should not...be the justice system! To come out and say, (lowers voice to imitate Owens) "I have decided they're guilty!"
MODERATOR: You had the same kind of thing with the mayor?
JOHN RAMSEY: Sure. In the very beginning...
PATSY RAMSEY: YEAH!
MODERATOR: (garbled)..."our town is safe...there is no killer on the loose"...that sort of...
JOHN RAMSEY: A lot of people say that was the turning point...
PATSY RAMSEY: That was the pivotal...
JOHN RAMSEY: ...from that day on...and we, said...we were asked...what would you ask the people of Boulder, and we said, "Be aware that there's a killer out there." And, the mayor came out and said, "Oh, no...there's no killer...."
PATSY RAMSEY: (whispering in staccato counterpoint, in the background, imitating the mayor:) "Don't worry...don't worry...don't worry...don't worry...."
JOHN RAMSEY: ...the subliminal message is there.
MODERATOR: Yeah. And these are the people...in charge of the law enforcement infrastructure...
PATSY RAMSEY: Exactly.
MODERATOR: ...that you, responsible to the people...
PATSY RAMSEY: The media, to me, should have been saying, "Whoa! Wait a minute!" Who gave the Governor the right to do...you know, is this where we're going as a country? To allow our publicly-elected officials to do this? But, you know it was, you know...sensational...or sexy...
JOHN RAMSEY: Well, there's been a lot of investment in our guilt.
MODERATOR: Let's get to our students. Yes, you're on.
STUDENT QUESTIONER #9: My name's Danielle (redacted) and I'm not a student in Mr. Morrison's class...I'm a little further along. I'm in the law class right now, and studying something similar to what is sounds like your son is studying...and, we're studying the difference between public figures...and public people and private people. Do you consider yourselves to be public people, and where does the line get drawn?
JOHN RAMSEY: Yeah...we don't consider ourselves public people. I've always wondered why there was a distinction...why should the law look at citizens differently? A citizen is a citizen, under the law. In fact, that law, is a real problem...it's very protective of the media because they can, in effect, make you a public person...thereby protecting themselves from...the normal libel and slander laws...if you're a public person you have to prove it was done with malice. And, that's a very difficult...uh, threshold. I've always wondered, why should there be a difference? A citizen is a citizen, under most of our laws...why is there a difference in a class of citizen, relative to the media? So...are we considered a public figure by the courts? Probably...absolutely, yes. And I think that was probably...you know...we became that when we did our little CNN interview, in the beginning. Had I known...I mean, you can't know...but if someone who had been through this whole process, and took us aside and said, "Wait a minute. You've got to understand how this works."...It would have been difficult...because we couldn't have spoken out. I mean, the only public vehicle to speak out, is through the media. Really. I mean...how do you...how do you communicate today? It's gotta be through the media. Well, as soon as you do that...you're a public figure, therefore...uh....you have no...
PATSY RAMSEY: You're exempt from...
JOHN RAMSEY: ...fundamentally no rights...protection under the libel/slander laws...which is what the media will tell you IS your protection. So...I think it's a huge problem in our...structure. I don't think there should be a difference...public people...you're a citizen...period.
MODERATOR: Sarah, do you want to...
STUDENT QUESTIONER #10: My name is Sarah (redacted) and I'm actually one of Blake's students. But, you were talking earlier about how you've thought about this a great deal...how do we fix the problems of the media. How would you, from your perspective?
JOHN RAMSEY: Well, I don't...I don't have a good answer. I've mean, I've thought about it a lot...it's run the gamut from...you know...in the beginning I thought this would just be a public broadcasting system and...that's it. We realize, well, that's...not gonna work...the whole reason that we have freedom of press is that...is to keep the government accountable. So...long term,that was a bad idea. I think it's a...ultimately, the media...the bad elements of the media have to be held accountable. Financially. In court. That's ultimately the solution. I don't...uh...I...say about me what you want...but if you violated...me under the law...I expect accountability. I think that, pure and simple, is the way you address...you know...the bottom end of the problem.
PATSY RAMSEY: I think another way is...and this really didn't dawn on me until a journalist said, "Well, hey! If a police officer tells me something...am I allowed to report that? He should be a credible source." And I said, "Well...I guess so...you know...it seems to me like the problem is that the people in the justice system, or any kind of law enforcement, should not be allowed to have such a open dialogue...for communications in the press...if they do, you know.The Chief of Police of Atlanta can come out and say, "This happened. We know that, you know, ten people were killed in an office building on this day." And, that's it. I mean, there shouldn't be the ability for a cop, like Steve Thomas, to have these...you know, under the table, deep throat conversations with...I don't care who it is...whether it's Tom Brokaw, or Tony Frost from the Globe. That's a ...
JOHN RAMSEY: That's a violation of public trust...
PATSY RAMSEY: I think...a big...big thing. Journalists can just say, (changes voice) "Wh-h-h-a-t! Here's the Chief of Police and the lead detective! He's the Governor...why shouldn't I repeat that!" You know, I think that is probably where the biggest...there SHOULD be a law...somewhere, somehow eliminating that...scenario...
MODERATOR: Question here.
STUDENT QUESTIONER #11: Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Aton (redacted) and I'm a Freshman journalism major at Maryland. You spoke earlier about communicating through the media...I just wanted to ask, in your opinion, what's been the most effective mode of communicating your side of the story? Has it been through your book, or through appearing on shows, just 20/20...just what do you think has the best effect on letting the public know...you know...your side?
JOHN RAMSEY: Well, the book we wrote, so that there was a...one document that was complete...unedited...uncut, that would be around for anybody that wanted to read it...forever...what we've enjoyed...in terms of communicating, the most, is live television. And that's...because you can't be cut. And, it's embarrassing for the host to cut you off...you're trying to make a point. It also becomes a "numbers game." I mean, the book...you know, a good book in this country will sell, you know...the average book sells a very few numbers...it's about 60...65,000 books that come out every year, or something like that. And, the average book sells about 6,000 copies. A best-seller will sell about 200,000 copies...so, you reach 400,000 people. You go on the Today Show...you'll talk to 7 million people. You do a Barbara Walters' Special...and you'll talk to 20 million people. And, so that becomes a bigger...for us that was the issue...you know,for three years...hundreds of millions of people have heard that we were evil people, that killed our pa-...killed our child.How do you, how do you make a dent in that? And, um...
PATSY RAMSEY: I've always said in these litigations, that part of the settlement should be equal...inches. You know, if there have been...
MODERATOR: And, in the same place!
PATSY RAMSEY: Yeah!
JOHN RAMSEY: Yeah! Right!
PATSY RAMSEY: If there have been a hundred and fifty...you know, banner headlines that said, "Parents Did It!"...or, "Son Did It!"...or, "The Dog Did It!"...or, whatever. There should be...I want a hundred and fifty headlines, same size, type, same color that says, "Parents Are Nice People"...or, something! (laughs)
JOHN RAMSEY: Now...the problem is...
PATSY RAMSEY: I'd put them outta business!
JOHN RAMSEY:...it, it works on me...is that the first headlines...the first impressions stick with you. I was watching a biography about Ricky Nelson the other night. And, I'd always thought that Ricky Nelson was cooking up cocaine in the back of an airplane, it caught on fire...and it crashed. That was the initial headline. And, here, twenty years later, in this biography...I find out that that's not true at all. That the NTSB investigated it, and that was totally false!Yes...it was reported...but...I thought, "Oh, my God! That happened to me!" I thought, "That's what happened!" And I was...I had no...I wasn't aware of any follow-up information that came out that said, "no...that's not at all what happened." And, that's the problem in our situation. And, there...and we...I've always said we can find, convict, and...uh, uh...execute the killer...and there'll still be 15% of the people walking around there, who still believe the parents did it.
MODERATOR: Another question?
STUDENT QUESTIONER #12: My name is Dena...I'm a Junior, a journalism major at Maryland. And, your last question kind of, um...leads into mine, about the television. The TV moment that struck me most was when I saw you on Larry King Live with the detective...I don't remember his name...
PATSY RAMSEY: Steve Thomas.
STUDENT QUESTIONER #12: Oh, OK. He..like outright accused you of murdering your daughter. As I was watching it...I remember like, feeling the tension...you know...on the set; it felt very tense and awkward and I was wondering how you felt doing that, and when you were going into that interview, did it turn out the way you had expected it to? Or, did you feel like it...
JOHN RAMSEY: Well...
PATSY RAMSEY: (loudly...in a "Don't go there, Pal!" tone) You could have cut it with a knife! It was SO tense in there! (laughs)
JOHN RAMSEY: There's an old axiom that you should never argue with a fool in public. And, there we were. But, um...he was, he was our primary accuser. And, um...if we're going to address this head-on, you know...we've got to address him head-on. It was, for me, it was the last place in the world I wanted to be. I couldn't hardly stand to be in the same room with the guy. All the horrible things he'd done to my family. But, um...that was not a pleasant evening. Did it turn out the way I'd hoped? Um...I guess that's in the eyes of the viewer. I don't know...what our frustration has been, with...with a guy like that is that...uh, um...he, he is...can be...he's a poster child for all that's wrong with the justice system. And, unfortunately, it came to bear on us. And...uh...we'd hoped that people would...would see that. As we so clearly saw it.
PATSY RAMSEY: You should have been there during the commercial breaks. (John laughs in the background) You know, at least...at least when you're on the air, everyone is kinda doing something...you know...I mean, when it was silent... mean, even Larry King, was like, "Well...uh...how about those Braves?" And, mean Steve Thomas was fidgeting...and lookin' at his watch...and you know...I mean, I was closer than I am to you...and he was just...you know (laughing)...it was...
Voice from the audience: You can tell us!
PATSY RAMSEY: ...heh...
MODERATOR: ...Somewhere beyond weird...
PATSY RAMSEY: Way!
MODERATOR: One more student question, then we'll turn to our reporters. STUDENT QUESTIONER #13: Hi. My name's Chris. I'm a Sophomore at Maryland, a journalism student. My question's more about your role as parents, more than media figures. And, my question is: How do you deal with the ever-present negativity imposed by constant accusations, and suspicions, but still mourn, as parents, the loss of your daughter? 'Cause that gets seems to get lost so easily in the shuffle. Like, this is the most important part.That's not really addressed that much.
JOHN RAMSEY: You're absolutely correct. The one fact that everyone knows about us, for sure, is that we are parents of a murdered child. And, and that has been totally lost. And I could tell you, after losing two children now, that you never get over that. A hole in your heart that never goes away. You learn to live with it. (sigh) Um, but your life's changed forever. It's a...you don't laugh the same...you don't enjoy things the same as you did. What's been interesting, and thankfully it's given us a lot of faith in humanity, is that...uh,people that have approached us, when we're out...you know: traveling or grocery store, or whatever...100% of the time...not one exception...100% of the time have been kind...sympathetic...apologetic. And, people say, "How is it to go out in public?" And I say, "It's great! People have been wonderful to us!" And, and that's without exception. So, that's the good side we've seen...in dealing with this. And, the only people who've really been cruel to us...visibly...have been the Boulder Police and the media. And...(laughs) I hate to say "never", 'cause that'll give somebody the challenge to be...be the first. But, we have never...no one has ever come up to us and been anything but kind, and...uh, compassionate. And, that makes us -
PATSY RAMSEY: Thank you. Thank you for your question.
JOHN RAMSEY: - feel good.
STUDENT QUESTIONER #13: You're welcome.
MODERATOR: Let's turn to our reporters. Tell us who you are, and where you're from.
MIKE WALTER: I'm Mike Walter, I'm with USA Today Live. I've heard you mention Barbara Walters, Larry King, Katie Couric. I want you to draw a distinction, if you can, about the local media. Do you find that the Atlanta television stations are treating you a little bit better than the Denver TV stations? Or, is there any distinction?
JOHN RAMSEY: Um..I don't think so. I mean I think...it's...it's more of a tier...um. See, what I think...what I think happened in this was that the, um...the local...media in Colorado was getting information from the...the police...and, and drawing conclusions. And then, the national media was picking it up..as facts. So, they were kinda doing the investigative work for the national media. And, that's what kinda got replayed nationally.The...I think...at, at...at the level of local television stations, and local newspaper...I mean, the Denver Post has been pretty...uh, pretty heartless...frankly. Uh, and...and not objective. Where...where the Atlanta Constitution has been...probably more...more objective in the things that they report. With the exception of the "lavish lifestyle" we "had to give up"...I thought that was kinda of a cheap shot. But, um...
PATSY RAMSEY: I mean, is...is there a difference between the mindset in Georgia, and the mindset in Colorado? I know that I would say, "Definitely. Yes!" And, I think a lot of that is due to the fact that the media...has just...of how it has been reported in Colorado. I mean, if you look at...you know, polls...and this, that, and the other thing...I mean, Colorado (very emphasized, loudly) HATES us! You know? Um...
JOHN RAMSEY: Not everyone. We get some wonderful letters from Colorado people that say, "I'm embarrassed by what our Governor has said...and what has happened to you. I'm ashamed of our state." And we...and we knew wonderful people in Colorado.
PATSY RAMSEY: (sigh) Yeah..
JOHN RAMSEY: And, so...you can't...you can't categorically say that. But...
PATSY RAMSEY: But, by and large, the media out there has kinda manipulated the...the...balance...you know...
MIKE WALTER: Do you feel...I know you (garbled)...this will be my last question, because I know other people want to ask.... But, I heard you talking about leads that you've developed...and, and the police. Do you find that when you come to them with leads, that they just "poo-poo" it? Or...
JOHN RAMSEY: Pretty much. Pretty much.
MIKE WALTER: How frustrating is that?
PATSY RAMSEY: Oh, very frustrating!
JOHN RAMSEY: Extremely frustrating, because where...where else do you take them? I don't know. I mean...ah...
PATSY RAMSEY: I mean, I wish we could go to Atlanta homicide, and say, (assumes rushed, hushed voice) "Here! Look at this! You know, do something with this." Or, New York City. Or, LA. Someplace that...that does this a lot. But, all we have...the Boulder police...are...IT! You know. That's....that's...(slaps her hands together)..."The Wall!" That's it. That's all you have.
JOHN RAMSEY: Yeah...and, and our frustration is the lack of openness...
PATSY RAMSEY: - Expertise.
JOHN RAMSEY: ... and objectivity. I don't...they can investigate us for...20 more years, if they want...if they would just investigate the rest of the leads as well..
PATSY RAMSEY: And, they'll tell you that they've done that!
JOHN RAMSEY: ...objectively.
PATSY RAMSEY: They'll say, (assumes dopey-sounding voice) "Oh, yeah...we know all about that...we've done that." But...
JOHN RAMSEY: ...but, it's done with the objective of dismissing the lead. Their...their strategy in the beginning was...in fact, they said it publicly...that, uh...eliminate the defenses. In other words, here's the group of suspects; eliminate everybody and see who's left. And, of course, we were...the ones they wanted to have left. So, uh...that was their strategy in looking at leads.
PATSY RAMSEY: I mean, we've heard that they would...you know, interview you...and say, "OK, where were you Christmas Night?" (assumes silly voice) "Well...I was at home with my Mom..." "OK! Check. You know. Take his word for it." (laughs) "He was home...or, you know.
JOHN RAMSEY: Yeah. We've looked into a number of the alibied, so-called, interesting leads that weren't valid at all. That were accepted by the police..as...
PATSY RAMSEY: I mean, I've heard..on the few snippets that I have watched of some people being interviewed...I said, "I don't know what else they said...but, I know THAT is a lie." You know. Well...whatever -
JOHN RAMSEY: But, it is frustrating...absolutely.
PATSY RAMSEY: Really frustrating.
MODERATOR: A third of the murder cases aren't solved. I mean, realistically...since the FBI was...denied...early involvement, in this case. I take it, from what you're saying, it would have been better...had they, hat they been there. But, since it happened...you know, what are the chances that this is really ever going to be solved?
JOHN RAMSEY: Well, we've been told...I've asked these investigators that are working on it...independent of the police...who have lots and lots of experience. Collectively they've investigated like 500 homicides. I said, "How ya feeling? You feeling pessimistic, optimistic, or just kinda...neutral?" And, they said, "No...we're optimistic. This case can be solved. We gotta have the information the police have...or the cooperation of the police. But, it can be solved."
PATSY RAMSEY: One of the DAs, who was on the case when Lou Smit was there...told us, "If we had had..." and I can't remember whether he said, "two more weeks" or "two more months"...He said, "We were ALMOST there." He said, "We were so close, I could TASTE it." I'm not kidding you!
PATSY RAMSEY: He said this. And then, you know, Romer steps in...yanks the rug out...takes everybody off, and puts in three Special Prosecutors. He said, "We were CLOSE!" I mean, he said, "I could TASTE it!" How close is that?
MODERATOR: Um hmmm (affirmative.)
PATSY RAMSEY: Questions from our reporters?
SCOTT STREAMODERATOR: Yes. Hello, my name is Scott Stream, with the Chronicle of Higher Education. I was interested..you have spoken a little bit about accountability, and how you thought that the news organizations...really, the only accountability they had was financially.Interested to see what you thought about, a couple weeks ago the New York Times ran a retraction about...responding to their coverage in the Wen Ho Lee case, and acknowledging that they had been inaccurate in some of that reporting. Is that something that you would like to see, or would accept, as a form of accountability in this case...if that turned out that way?
JOHN RAMSEY: Well, I think that's a...that's part of it. I mean, certainly saying, "I'm sorry." Yeah. Absolutely. Or, "I was wrong." And, doing it in an equal...level of...exposure. Um...make it across...it doesn't really matter...it doesn't take a lot of...uh...uh...extract a lot of...pain, frankly, for the damage that was caused.
PATSY RAMSEY: I mean, the way these..you know, these publications...and you probably are...I'm not telling you anything you don't know...is that, you know, the possibility of being sued for libel and slander is a line item in the cost of doing business.
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