White, female, rich victims. Family members who are attractive and well educated. Fervent pleas to bring children home whom the police knew were dead right after they walked onto the scene. Homicide detectives who want to close cases quickly and neatly. Media moguls who want to drag out every last detail and create fantastical stories for as long as possible. This combination results in "real-life" crime TV.
Written by someone who got dragged through the mud himself due to the media spectacle surrounding the infamous OJ Simpson trial, this book is thought-provoking. Mark Fuhrman investigated OJ Simpson's murder, along with his partner, Brad Roberts, who recovered more evidence than him, yet he was never questioned on the stand at the murder trial. Fuhrman was branded a racist due to his past use of a racial slur in a screenplay.
However, Fuhrman is one smart cop, and I learned a lot about criminal investigative techniques by reading what he had to say. I have to admit that I am biased; I agree that the media sensationalizes events unnecessarily and sometimes to the detriment of justice.
The Murder Business: How the Media Turns Crime Into Entertainment and Subverts Justice by Mark Fuhrman, 2009
Media attention to a case can make it difficult to locate an impartial jury. Sometimes, information about the defense or prosecution strategy will leak to the press. The media's close attention to the investigation (i.e., cameras) can make homicide detectives' job more difficult. In some cases, the media will buy the information that it broadcasts. However, most reality shows are cheaper than sitcoms because no one pays the actors. Many news shows today are mostly chat sessions amongst the TV anchors.
The Caylee Anthony case in 2008 generated millions of dollars from all of the TV shows that were produced on the case. T-shirts with Casey Anthony's mug shot of them were even sold. Millions of people are hooked on the TV coverage of high-profile cases. It was clear to investigating detectives from the beginning that 2-year-old Caylee Anthony was dead. Her 22-year-old mother Casey's car smelled like death to her nurse mother and cop father, who definitely know what corpses smell like.
In 2004, former cop Drew Peterson's wife Kathleen was murdered. Peterson did not come under suspicion for her death until his fourth wife, Stacy, later disappeared. Peterson exploited the weaknesses of law enforcement officials who were investigating the case. He actually asked to enter the house to identify his wife Kathleen, and the cops let him. Therefore, his DNA now had a reason to be on the scene, and the scene was completely contaminated.
In some cases, the media can completely destroy a case. That is exactly what happened in the case of missing two-year-old Trenton in 2006. His 21-year-old mother, Melinda Duckett, was interviewed by Nancy Grace, a former prosecutor. Melinda Duckett was promised by the TV show's producers that the interview was designed to help find Trenton's killer and that it would not be combative. However, Nancy Grace was very dramatic and accusatory. Later, Melinda went to her grandparents' house and killed herself. Knowing this fact, CNN still aired the interview as planned the next day. The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against CNN. Melinda remains the prime suspect, but the case will likely remain unsolved. Josh Duckett, the boy's father, accused her of threatening to hurt Trenton in 2005. If she was not the killer, a killer went free. Because she is no longer alive, police can not obtain any further information on the case from her.
Mark Fuhrman wrote a book about the Martha Moxley case entitled Murder in Greenwich in 1998. The citizens of Greenwich, CT were not enthusiastic about Mark Fuhrman's visit to the town to research the book, and he was stonewalled by many people whom he attempted to interview. 15-year-old Martha was murdered in 1975, and her killer, Michael Skakel, was not convicted until 2002. Fuhrman's book actually prompted a reinvestigation of the case, which is a terrific example of how media can positively influence justice. In fact, in this case, some cops allowed a dog to eat some of the blood evidence. Greenwich is such a rich community that some of the cops literally work for the residents as security guards during their time off from police work. The murder weapon, a golf club, actually had Anne Skakel's name on it, but the handle where the inscription was mysteriously disappeared during the investigation.
In 2002, the Scott Peterson case captured the nation's attention. Scott's wife Laci and unborn son Connor were missing on Christmas in 2002, and they later washed ashore. Scott took a very unusual fishing trip around the holidays that year. It was immediately obvious to all cops investigating that it was a homicide, yet the media held a protracted search for Laci and Connor. Diane Sawyer interviewed Peterson on TV, which elicited sympathy for the suspect, which is unhelpful to the investigation. The media also does not know how to ask tough questions about unexplainable evidence.
In 1996, Patsy Ramsey and her husband talked to the media but not the cops about the murder of their six-year-old daughter pageant princess JonBenet. Potential jurors consequently got their information about the case from suspects, not law enforcement. The Ramseys gave a very detailed account of the time that was their alibi (the time that the murder occurred), which is unusual for an innocent person, but is typical for guilty suspects.
Vince Foster, White House Counsel, was found dead in Fort March State Park in 1993. The media reported it as a suicide, but the gun was found far from the body, and the many people appeared to have trod nearby, due to the state of the surrounding area. Sometimes, the media perpetuates falsehoods to satisfy people who do not want to face horror, and also to milk more stories out of unfortunate events.
There was constant coverage of the OJ Simpson case in the 1990s. There was missing evidence (a bloody fingerprint on the door lock), and a murderer was set free. Mark Fuhrman and his partner Brad Roberts investigated the case at first, and then it was given to the Robbery-Homicide detectives. Those detectives acted in an incompetent manner, partially out of a possible desire to be Hollywood stars in the high-profile case.
At first, there was a stack of fan mail on Fuhrman's desk, and people brought him gifts of food. Interestingly enough, everyone ignored the evidence that partner Brad Roberts found, to the detriment of the case. In one unrelated case, the media attempted to videotape his testimony. Unfortunately, the media turned on Fuhrman and called him a racist due to a slur that he had included in a screenplay.
Mark Fuhrman was a cop for many years; currently he works for FOX News. He speaks to cops about which information they would like him to report, and which information that they do not want reported. He says that the media only goes on the leads that it has, and it does not turn up new information. He criticizes TV journalists for not asking deep probing questions about holes in the suspects' story and using their vulnerabilities to get them to confess. However, this is not the job of the media.
The media can be useful in terms of bringing attention to cases and helping find suspects and missing children by publicizing photos of them. The success of the television show America's Most Wanted cannot be denied. In addition, sometimes the police feed inaccurate information to the media in order to draw out a suspect, such as highly egotistical serial killers or suspects that police suspect are closely watching media coverage of the case. This book has a unique take on the role of communication in this society.
I learned so much about the cases that were discussed in the book, and I was fascinated to read about the bungled police work. When I heard about Mark Fuhrman's testimony in the OJ Simpson case, which was always on television in my house, I did not realize what a cracker-jack cop that he was. I would put him on par with John E. Douglas, who pioneered the psychological profiling unit in the FBI, in terms of law enforcement authors whose work I am fascinated by.