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Media circus comes to town a second time

I checked to see whether I was part of the problem. Whether I was a conclusion jumper, one of the horde who descended like locusts on the JonBenet Ramsey murder, speculating, theorizing or just plain nattering over the suspicion that her parents had something to do with her death.

American John Mark Karr was arrested in Thailand last week. According to a police spokesman there, Karr told authorities that he drugged the little girl, had sex with her and claimed her death was accidental. Ten years later and my skin continues to crawl.

I have written three columns about JonBenet, one in 1996 and a couple in 2000. I questioned her parents' relationship with Boulder investigators and an oppressive media. I wondered aloud about beauty pageants for tots.

While I never considered what I wrote as being part of the pack mentality, I'm here neither to grant myself absolution nor stand on principle.

For the media in general, however, JonBenet was another low watermark, ranking right up there with O.J. Simpson before and Princess Diana, Laci Peterson and a number of other cases after as pathetic paradigms for news coverage.

Still, they sold, attracting huge television audiences and giving us one more opportunity to fill-in-the-blank to "All (blank), all the time."

The question now is whether Karr will get the same treatment.

John Ramsey, JonBenet's father, has asked the public and media to do for Karr what it couldn't for his family: temper its near maniacal coverage of the case. (Patsy Ramsey, his wife, died June 24.)

The Ramseys have filed numerous defamation suits against news organizations, publishers and individuals. At least one person, a former neighbor, has also filed defamation suits against the Ramseys after they published a book about JonBenet's murder.

John Ramsey's comments echo those of the Boulder County district attorney, who said "much more work" needed to be done and that no one should "jump to conclusions."

Quite a good idea.

So I write, aware that even these 600-odd words could add to the coming din sure to swirl around Karr after he is returned to Boulder.

Wishing for the demise of the 24-hour news cycle - the host organism for such racket - is time poorly spent. We're better off trying to understand it and, if we're lucky, changing the face of news that must fill every minute of every hour of every day. Add the Web and blogs to the mix, and the term "saturation" only approaches reality.

The result is an accepted incessancy, repetition that covers the same ground or point at every turn.

From there, speculation, wondering aloud and unfettered guessing are not far behind.

Granted, the Boulder police said the Ramseys remained under "an umbrella of suspicion," and the couple's attempts to use the media to defend themselves were uneven at best.

But as Richard Jewell knows, once the juggernaut leaves the building, it gathers momentum.

Jewell found a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics and was instrumental in saving lives but became a suspect when police believed he fit a vague profile. Three weeks later, he was cleared but not before the attention nearly ruined his life.

The sword comes with two edges, however. When police have information that can protect the public or enlist its help to bring a killer to justice, people - through the media - should know.

Indeed, according to wire reports, both dogged and detailed police work and a private citizen who had been exchanging e-mail with Karr were instrumental in bringing about the arrest.

From the O.J. circus to John Kennedy Jr. to Natalee Holloway, too many in the media or online struggle for perspective, struggle not to become part of the problem.

Karr's story comes with a lot of questions. None of them should be about how we tell it.

George Ayoub is a columnist for the Grand Island (Neb.) Independent. E-mail him at george.ayoub@morris.com. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.