Hype Clouds <i>Jones</i> Verdict

By now your head may be spinning with all the "spin" emanating from those involved in the just-completed wrongful death lawsuit against the Jenny Jones show for its role in the 1995 murder of Scott Amedure.

Amedure was the gay show guest who was killed by another male guest after the taping of a show involving secret "gay crushes."

In the wake of the jury's $25 million verdict Friday in favor of the Amedure family, all the talking-head lawyers and spokespeople were prattling on in grand terms about what the verdict actually meant.

And virtually all of them were grossly overstating their case, the significance of the jury's decision, and the effect it may have on future cases.

For example, the plaintiff's case was not, as you might have heard Friday from Amedure family attorney Geoffrey Fieger, a slam-dunk cinch.

There were significant problems with proof of causation and forseeability, problems which may end up scuttling the verdict on appeal.

After all, it is entirely reasonable to argue that Amedure's murder was an unforseeable consequence of the show's actions, even if those actions were negligent. And it also is entirely reasonable to argue, as the defense did, that certain events that took place in the three days between the show's taping and the murder broke the chain of causation, something that is required in civil negligence cases.

Nor will the lawsuit, as Fieger claimed, begin to rid the world of the scourge of tabloidesque talk shows focusing on titilation and humiliation to lure in their audiences. The show, as they say, will go on.

Guests will be forced to sign waivers, or binding contracts, in which they promise not to sue in the event they aren't happy with all or part of the script. And lawyers for these sorts of productions will vet those scripts and screen potential guests a bit more carefuly.

But, unless this verdict begets dozens of similar verdicts in the future, there is simply too much money at stake for these shows to go away any time soon.

If the Amedure family's case was nowhere near as strong as their lawyers said it was, then the Jones' defense was nowhere near as noble as the show's lawyers claimed.

No amount of high-minded legal argument about the show's duty to its guests or the forseeability of the crime, for example, can hide the fact that what the Jones' folks did to the alleged shooter, Jonathan Schmitz, was not exactly honest and forthright.

They purportedly didn't tell him, for example, that the person who had a crush on him was a man, not a woman. After all, the plaintiffs forcefully argued, that would have ruined the show's drive for ratings based on embarrassment and humiliation, right?

Nor was the jury's verdict Friday some great slap in the face to the First Amendment, as the Jones' team argued. Defense attorney James Feeney said specifically that, "[A]nyone involved in the business of interviewing ordinar people... ought to be very concerned about the chilling effect this decision will have on them."

I suppose this is true, but only if the interviewer isn't leveling with the interviewee about the subject of the interview, which happens to humiliate and embarrass the interviewee to the point where he commits some dastardly act.

In other words, legitimate news organizations have absolutely nothing to worry about from the jury's verdict so long as they ask straight questions of their subjects and accurately report their answers.

Shows like the Jones' show, incidentally, typically try to wrap themselves in the cloth of the First Amendment and snuggle up with respectable news organizations whenever they get into legal trouble.

Sometimes these ploys make sense and work with judges and juries. Sometimes they don't. In this case, it didn't.

So, my warning about this verdict would be very similar to my warning about the show that spawned the case: Don't necessarily believe everything you heard, read and saw about it.