Few events in recent memory have inflamed the American imagination quite like the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. More to the point, it’s hard to recall a case where passion and profound ignorance of the facts came together in such an explosive mass media cocktail. Ramsey’s death remains unsolved, but how many dollars has it generated for the nation’s “press”?
When push comes to shove, we still don’t know as much about the case and the people involved in it as we think we do, but what we do know is this: JonBenet Ramsey’s murder and the incoherent frenzy it sparked tell us a great deal about America as a culture.
And what it tells us isn’t flattering.
University of Colorado’s Dr. Michael Tracey, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the director of the Center for Mass Media Research, set out, early on, to explore why JonBenet’s family had been so quickly tried and convicted in the press. He was struck by how appallingly wrong much of the press coverage was and how willing millions of people were to convict the Ramsey family on “evidence” that ranged anywhere from “badly distorted” to “pure fiction.”
What began as scholarly curiosity evolved, to the point where he and his colleague David Mills wound up producing three documentaries on the case. And along the way Tracey himself became a target of the very dynamics of blind ignorance he set out study.
Tracey is currently at work on a book chronicling the odd cultural journey that began on Christmas night, 1996 – a journey that has not yet concluded. The book has as its genesis a lengthy essay he’s been developing for several months now, and he has agreed to publish this essay in serial form with Scholars & Rogues.
Beginning Wednesday, Dr. Tracey’s “From Christmas to August” series will examine, in significant detail:
- His own personal motivation for exploring the case;
- The murder, the botched investigation and the media that distorted it all;
- The bizarre case of John Mark Karr;
- And finally, what it all says about the state of American democracy and culture.
We hope you’ll join us for a fascinating look into what one sensationalized murder case reveals about the darkest heart of America, circa 2008.