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JonBenet and Jumping to Conclusions

(Posted by guest blogger Valerie Strauss)

Upon learning that a non-family member is being held as a suspect in the slaying of JonBenet Ramsey, a friend told me that her first reaction was shame.

She, like so many of us, thought someone in the family was responsible for the 6-year-old's death 10 years ago.
The initial botched police investigation and the media leaks that came out over the years certainly fueled our interest--and our suspicions.

So too, perhaps unfairly, did the parents' sexualization of their 6-year-old in the world of young beauty pageants (so aptly portrayed in the current movie "Little Miss Sunshine."), something that seemed to be unusual at the time. Not anymore. Even if many of us disliked that whole scene, its defining characteristics have since her death become popularized throughout the culture. Walk into a store for young girls and look at the booty shorts and the shirts with come-hither messages written across the chest.

If there is an admittedly obvious but real lesson to learn from this turn of events (and assuming that the suspect will be found guilty), it may be that we too often jump to conclusions about important things with pretty much no evidence on which to base them.

My husband used to look at me increduously when I guessed who killed the little girl, pointing out, correctly, that nobody but the cops and the killer had any real clue.

Perhaps we ought to stop relying--and pretending to be--instant experts on every topic imaginable. Real experts on any subject are few and far between, and they know they don't know everything. But then what would the cable television industry do to fill all those empty hours?

By Valerie Strauss |  August 17, 2006; 1:37 PM ET
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Comments

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Good point!

It simply does show how the American Spin works in very dangerous ways.

I look forward to honest and patient journalism returns. (yeah right)

Posted by: Fran the Man | August 17, 2006 1:55 PM

Echoing FtM's comment: A very good point! Speculation and mis-information mongering rule as we grope our way through the day.

Posted by: Mark | August 17, 2006 2:06 PM

Let me get this straight: You preach a lesson about the importance of waiting for evidence and not jumping to conclusions and then, in an offhand parenthetical remark, you dismiss with the whole idea of due process and fair trials to tell us you are "assuming that the suspect will be found guilty."

Something tells me you haven't learned much of a lesson at all.

Posted by: Oregonian | August 17, 2006 3:31 PM

The commentator writes:
"[1]If there is an admittedly obvious but real lesson to learn from this turn of events [2](and assuming that the suspect will be found guilty), [3]it may be that we too often jump to conclusions about important things with pretty much no evidence on which to base them."

Am I the only one that sees the problem here?
Has not the commentator pre-judged and jumped to conclusions with regard to this somewhat apparently pitiful fellow? Is the press not repeating its past sensationalism in jumping to conclusions?
For crying out loud, let this guy have his day in court without "assuming" he "will be found guilty".
While I have always pretty much dismissed those 'experts' and commentators who previously suggested the parents were responsible for the murder of their daughter, for all we know, this recent fellow is nothing more than a whackadoodle nut case seeking attention.
Stranger things have happened.
Mr. Ramsey, in an abundant show of class and restraint, recognized the foregoing in his statement to the press.

Posted by: Bill | August 17, 2006 3:37 PM

Well, those pageant videos may no longer look shocking to you, but I was repelled anew when I saw them last night. And I don't know where you live but "booty shorts" on 6-year-olds are not seen among my children's friends--that's more a pre-teen, 11- or 12-year-old thing around here. It'still a sign of bad parental judgment, but not quite as creepy as making a six-year-old look like a Las Vegas showgirl.

FWIW, I don't think the Ramsey parents did it but I don't think they've got the right guy now. Most women with families can be pretty sure about where their spouses are on Christmas night, even years after the fact.

Posted by: Maggie | August 17, 2006 3:37 PM

Perhaps we should stop devoting so much of our time and attention on the latest spectacular crime the cable "news" shows have decided is essential for us to be informed about. If it's not in your area, you don't know anyone involved, and it doesn't affect you in any way, why do you need to care, gossip, or speculate about a criminal case? People are murdered every day all over the US. Why care so much, and have such strong opinions based on almost nothing, about a handful of selected murders?

Posted by: KCinDC | August 17, 2006 3:43 PM

I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about this guy who just confessed. His family says that he never lived in Colorado. The NY Times reported that he was obsessed with the case. It is not unusual for mentally unbalanced people to confess to crimes they did not commit.

Posted by: WP reader | August 17, 2006 3:53 PM

Although this guy did confess, this may not be an open and shut case yet. He claimed that he drugged the girl before she died but the authority said that tests revealed no alcohol or drugs in her body. This guy does seem mentally unbalanced and may be he did it and remembered the wrong details but he could just be a nutcase who imagined that he did this to the girl in his sick dreams and wanted to talk about how much "he loved her" in public. I hope that he is indeed the guy and her parents will finally be cleared.

Posted by: Another WP Reader | August 17, 2006 4:07 PM

There is zero chance that this nut job did it.

Over/under on the Denver D.A. clearing him of involvement in the case, and lecturing the media and general public on jumping to conclusions: three days.

Posted by: Burke | August 17, 2006 4:15 PM

Jump to a conclusion that they were guilty...now you jump to the conclusion that this guy did it.

Want to buy a bridge in brooklyn?

Posted by: Andrew | August 17, 2006 4:15 PM

I agree with the majority of commenters who don't believe that Karr's "confession" is of much value. Karr's ex-wife claims that not only is he obsessed with the case, but he was with her in Alabama on the night the murder took place. The guy is obviously mentally ill, hungering for attention, and will likely be cleared in a few weeks or less. I still think the parents were involved.

Posted by: Coulter | August 17, 2006 4:22 PM

Boy, Valerie, are you easily swayed by a "confession". No way this guy is the killer. He's obviously just a mentally ill pedophile who's infatuated with girls like JonBenet. The search for the real killer goes on.

Posted by: Tim Acton | August 17, 2006 4:29 PM

To follow up on "Tim Acton"'s comment, I don't know if he's guilty or not, but if arresting him was the way to get him away from the classroom of 3rd graders in Bangkok, I'm all for it!

Posted by: Cabin John | August 17, 2006 5:51 PM

1.My first impression after reading the report is that this guy didn't do it.
2.As far as this article is concerned,I believe the author is over-explaining what basically amounts to media sensationalism.
3.The author contradicts himself in the 4th paragraph,as many of you have pointed out.This annoyed me before I even noticed the comment section.

Posted by: Ugghh. | August 17, 2006 6:13 PM

Maybe we were so quick to jump to conclusions--that her parents were guilty--because we want to separate ourselves from this tragedy. If we believe her parents were involved, then we know that this can never happen to our own kids. Things are more frightening if this was a random event--or a wacko who looked for children to prey upon. How can we protect our kids then?

Posted by: LD | August 17, 2006 7:40 PM

I saw someone on a cable show this afternoon (can't recall which) who said, "This guy must be the one, why else would he confess?" After the other two guests explained Karr's obsession with the case, the phenomena of false confessions and the many holes and inconsistencies of the confession, the first panelists only response:

"Well, he sort of looks like the guy in the Ramsey's psychic's drawing."

I hope the media didn't hurt itself jumping to THIS conclusion.

Posted by: ErinSassy | August 17, 2006 8:53 PM

Maybe he didn't do it... sure no one's looking at him for the shooting of Tupac?

Posted by: rikasha | August 17, 2006 10:25 PM

I have to admit when this was big news 10 years ago my gut was the parents or immediate family had something to do with it and I stand corrected. I apologize.

However, I think a part of that was how creepy the whole pre-teen/post-toddler pageant world was/is to me, and how much it means to the parents. I still think it is, even more so, but whatever, that's my opinion.

If you agree that pageant scene is weird and ultimately meaningless, I'd recommend you go see "Little Miss Sunshine" - very funny but released in limited theaters. Donnie Darko visits the pre-teen pageant scene too but "LMS" is built around it.

Posted by: Looking back | August 18, 2006 3:24 AM

I think it is still more likely that the Ramseys were involved than that this poor sick sap did it.

The "rush to judgment" is just running the other way now. I'm not ready to apologize to anyone.

Posted by: Mark | August 18, 2006 8:46 AM

I felt the same shame as Valerie's friend, but I think that many aspects of the Ramsey case suggested that a family member or friend might have been involved. These include no forced entry, ransom note referencing amount of John Ramsey's bonus, likely familiarity of the killer with the house.

That said, the evidence of the case also suggested that the killer might well have been a outsider.

These contradictions were what made the case so baffling and so fascinating.

I have my doubts about John Karr, but I do think that the Ramseys should be treated with discretion and respect.

Posted by: anon | August 18, 2006 3:27 PM

Oh, yes, those sensationalist cable shows. Sure glad the print media didn't do that.

Posted by: Charles | August 21, 2006 12:37 PM

the commentator makes some good points. now if only her colleagues could take this advice and stop claiming that there are only two real contenders in the mayoral race.

Posted by: anon | August 22, 2006 2:14 PM

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