Problems with media crime reporting

Below is a transcript from a Georgene Rice KPDQ-FM interview with Mark Fuhrman, a retired LAPD Homicide Detective and author of the recent book, “The Murder Business: How the Media Turns Crime into Entertainment and Subverts Justice”.

Georgene: In the book you examine some of the most infamous and tragic cases of the last 20 years, and you focus on the inaccuracies, the faulty reporting, the unethical money making and the consequence which is, in some cases, distorted justice. Most people……would be mortified to learn that justice is deferred because of all of what goes into how these cases are prosecuted, either on television or elsewhere.

Fuhrman: A police department….could never compete with one national network in what they have for resources, information, personnel, and money…… They have one function: get ratings. The police not only have to do their job on that murder but on murders that occurred before and murders that occur after…….this is something the national media doesn’t understand…. this creates different logistical issues….the police need to cater to that news presence…..they actually have to take people out of other locations in their department to create a task force because no longer can just two detectives handle a case when the national media descends upon it….

Georgene: You make an important point in the book with regard to the Caylee Anthony case that what the media often looks for is a victim with star quality. You write, “A murder has to have the right components of luridness to awaken viewers’ ever-coarsening sense of horror and spur fascination bordering on obsession. In 2008, it was a two-year- old girl named Caylee Anthony. She was white, adorable, middle-class and, according to a myth the media milked for months, she was missing. It was clear very early in the case that Caylee was dead. The media created alternative realities that served their quest for ratings. The longer the story goes on, the more likely they are going to get the ratings, viewership, etc.” It sort of answers the question how some of these cases are picked and others are simply overlooked.

It’s the “American Idol” of murders. You have all of these people that turn out to actually audition for “American Idol”. That’s kind of like all of the victims and missing children and juveniles and wives and girlfriends in the country. They are actually auditioning via the news……..and the news knows what to pick that might have some legs. If you’re a white female, you’re cute, you’re middle-class or above, you come from a nice area in a nice home, it’s got legs…..they know what works.

Georgene: You make the point as well that in July 2008, at the same time when the Caylee Anthony story broke, there were probably 3,000 other juveniles reported missing in the state of Florida alone, but only Caylee’s story had the right ingredients to be blown up into national news.

Fuhrman: Right. At any one time in any one year there are at least 100 little girls like Caylee Anthony that are murdered… while this is all occurring, for 6 months, that means that 50 little girls or boys are totally ignored in the national media, and any possibility that there was really something that the media could do was completely lost.

Georgene: You write that the media and law enforcement work at cross-purposes. They really have very different goals, and one can make it very difficult for the other to function well.

Fuhrman: You have no idea how quickly law enforcement wants to close the immediate investigation, target a suspect, get enough evidence to charge that suspect, and then move on. People think that it’s a rush to judgment. What they don’t understand is other people are becoming victims—other people are murdered—and those same detectives have to handle those cases, so you can’t backlog cases forever. Now the media, conversely, wants something good to last as long as possible.

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