The Value of JonBenet

Oh, the oh-so-responsible media types are up in arms. They're peppering Romenesko lately, complaining about the excessive coverage of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case. The attention, complains Denver Post columnist Cindy Rodriguez put it, "won't improve public schools, solve the illegal immigration crisis, bring down gas prices, improve our economy or end the war in Iraq." Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz was contrite about it on his CNN show, Reliable Sources: "People now expect wretched excess in cases involving pretty young white women and, sadly, we deliver."

Yes, but if there's one thing more predictable than that, it's that folks like Kurtz will complain about the coverage the next day. The thing is that the JonBenet coverage does have meaning and value. Of course the coverage won't improve the public schools or solve the crisis in the Middle East, but it does spark the national imagination. It gets people thinking about issues like parenthood, pedophilia and pageants. It compels our attention, forces us to contemplate both innocence and monsters. And, yes, it entertains us.

And education reporters are still working and the reporters in Lebanon haven't fled to Boulder. Their work might not get the same play for a few days, but the work is getting done nonetheless.

Can it become too much? Yes. Ask MSNBC about that, especially after Rita Cosby's special last night on the L.A. jail. Why did Cosby spend an hour detailing the mean cells of the jail? Because it's John Mark Karr's new home. That's too much. But CNN has been responsible, it seems to me, and the newspaper coverage has been just about right. There's a reason this story has such long legs: People care about it and want to know more. The media is delivering a true service by at least trying quench, no matter what the the sticks in the mud might say.

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