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Another Feeding Frenzy For The JonBenet Ramsey Case

(AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)
Correspondent Erin Moriarty has been following the JonBenet Ramsey case for almost eight years for CBS News' "48 Hours," and she, along with many critics finds coverage of the story's most recent development to be "out of control," she told me. For the most part, said Moriarty, much of it seems focused on rumors. "It's a feeding frenzy," she said, something that tends to go with territory of a 24-hour news cycle in which information is often reported too quickly.

"There's all this stuff floating around that isn't being fully verified," but is still being reported, said Moriarty, citing recent rumblings about the significance of a plush Christmas bear – an issue that Moriarty says was resolved years ago as having nothing to do with the murder. "That's not what we're supposed to be doing," she said. "48 Hours" may or may not do an hour program on the story soon, she said, but right now she isn't comfortable going on the air with a story about the case, because there aren't any notable developments.

"There's a tendency on the part of producers – and I don't blame them," said Moriarty, "that when you see others reporting information that you aren't reporting, you ask, 'why aren't we reporting that?'"

"Our job is to report the facts," she said. "when the facts lead in a direction that indicates someone might be guilty, then that's what we report."

In covering the story last Thursday, Moriarty noted that she included in her story a piece of information that originated in the Associated Press and was widely reported -- that Karr's confession might present problems because "he allegedly told investigators that he drugged JonBenet before killing her, but the autopsy does not reveal any drugs," she said on the "Evening News." But Thai authorities later denied that Karr said he drugged JonBenet. By Friday, she was again urging caution, introducing her story on "The Early Show" by saying: "…I think we have to stop speculating. Everyone is asking me for my gut on this. So is this John Karr the killer or not? And I'm saying, forget the guts. Gut is what caused this investigation to go awry in the first place. Let's wait until there's enough evidence to decide guilt or innocence."

She said that "48 Hours" "opposed conventional wisdom at the time" when they reported in the late nineties that evidence indicated that an intruder, and not John and Patsy Ramsey, committed the crime.

Moriarty noted that when the Boulder police were first investigating the crime, they intentionally leaked both accurate and inaccurate information to the press to put pressure on the Ramseys.

Whether it was true or not, said Moriarty, "That information has remained in the public memory," and was part of the reason for so much speculation surrounding the Ramseys.

And when the current tone of the coverage suggests that Karr committed the crime, without an adequate degree of skepticism, "it's as though the same thing is happening again," she said. "It's like we haven't learned a thing."

When Patsy Ramsey died, "there was a change in the tone" of coverage, said Moriarty, that suggested maybe the Ramseys weren't responsible for JonBenet's death. Moriarty says that based on the evidence that she has seen over the years, it points to an intruder. "But at the same time, we still don't know that [the Ramseys] didn't do it."

But because the Ramseys didn't appear to many observers to be behaving appropriately given the circumstances, that gave rise to more speculation about them, said Moriarty, who interviewed Patsy Ramsey a number of times. "There were times when she acted differently than I would have expected someone in that position to act – but at the same time, how do we know how someone is going to act in that situation?" Prematurely casting a cloud over people "happens too much with stories like this," she said.

Karr is "obviously weird, but he may not be a killer," she said.