Chuck Green (and his opposition)
By Katherine Rosman
Issue Date: February 2000


Chuck Green is a 32-year veteran of The Denver Post and an award-winning journalist. Green believes that "the evidence points to the Ramseys' being involved in their daughter's death," and he speaks with a preacher's cadence as he makes his argument that a rich couple has gotten away with murder.

As with Boyles, what Green believes-not what he knows-counts, because he writes an opinion column for the Post four times a week. Green says he has devoted at least 80 columns to the Ramseys. He admits that's a lot of ink for one murder case but says that morally he has no choice as long as JonBenét's killer walks free. "The system has failed JonBenét," he says. "The system will fail and fail and fail other kids as long as nobody cares how the system failed JonBenét."

Green's not just a talking head, though; he claims to have inside "law enforcement" sources. And he freely admits to having served as a conduit for their leaks.

Journalists on this story have covered the "breaking news" by broadcasting and printing the spin fed to them by sources, Green contends. But the longtime newspaperman is hardly knocking himself and his colleagues for having done so. "I don't care if you're covering city hall or a sports team....You report the spin that your best sources give you and by reporting that spin you get access to that source," says Green. A consulting contract with NBC has helped Green ensure that his brand of reporting isn't limited to a local audience. He has made regular star turns on Today.

"That's how journalism works," Green continues. "You report the spin that your best sources feed you and that's how you keep them as sources."

But what about verifying the spin before publishing it as fact? "You try, but you usually can't," he says. "You verify with the guy who's sitting at the next desk to the guy who's giving you the information in the first place. And they're usually working on the same team."

Certainly, reporting often starts with a source's telling a reporter what that source would like to see in the paper the next day. But the job of a journalist usually involves checking the information, especially if the leak comes from a police or prosecution source hoping to test a theory or create the impression that progress is being made on a case. Otherwise, a story may be technically correct-in that the police do believe or suspect such and such-but contextually wrong or completely unfair, as is likely with Footprints In The Snow and the tabloid revelation about John Ramsey's pilot.

But anyone who actually thinks that such verification takes place, Green claims, lives in a dream world. The onus is on the consumer, Green says, to decide if he trusts the reporter. "I think this system serves the public," he says.

Ridiculous, answers University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey, who coproduced a documentary that attacked the media's coverage of the case. "Boulder law enforcement put a ring in Chuck Green's nose and led him around on a leash," Tracey says. "Law enforcement used the media to build a case that law enforcement knew it couldn't construct in court. The role of the journalist is to assume you're being used, assume you're being lied to, and to double-check."

That has been an important rule in the Ramsey coverage, says Carol McKinley. Having reported the saga from the onset-first for Denver radio's KOA-AM before making the considerable leap from AM radio to Fox News Channel-McKinley had been fed a fair share of leaks. Back in late 1997, a Ramsey spokesman leaked her some potential news over lunch.

"There was something in the grass," McKinley recalls the spokesman telling her. "A cord? Some tape? A key?" McKinley says she asked. He wouldn't say, but he implied the news would prove that an intruder had been outside the Ramsey home the night of the murder. This could be a blockbuster, McKinley says the spokesman told her.

After lunch, McKinley returned to her office, got on the phone, and learned that the "something" found in the grass was a kneeprint.

A kneeprint? she thought. What in the world does that mean?

She called a forensic investigator, who, McKinley says, shared her skepticism. "'A kneeprint? So what?'" McKinley says the expert told her, who added that without some other indentation nearby-like a footprint or toeprint-such evidence would likely be unidentifiable.

He told her that there was no significance in a kneeprint in the grass. So she didn't broadcast it.

Such leaks-and people like Green, who say they let them into the public domain without verifying them-have led to the appearance (if not the reality) of "camps" within the Ramsey case: polarized groups of journalists whose work leans toward insinuating either the guilt or innocence of John and/or Patsy Ramsey. "It's defined by who talks to whom and who doesn't talk to whom," says Newsweek's Glick. "A lot of reporters were happy to have sources in one camp and stopped trying to get sources in other camps."

Glick spent six years in Newsweek's Washington, D.C., bureau, and he thinks the reporting of the Ramsey case mirrors Washington coverage in terms of close and longstanding journalistic relationships between specific political sources and reporters. "It's like the old Washington game," he says. "Almost everyone knew where these friendships were. It's not dissimilar in this situation."

Glick himself has been accused of being part of the pro-Ramsey camp. In fact, no national media outlet that runs news reports has been as castigated as much as Newsweek for this type of camp journalism. Consistently, Newsweek's Ramsey stories-usually written and reported by Glick and Keene-Osborn-have espoused a Ramsey-favorable point of view. Most of Glick and Keene-Osborn's "pro-Ramsey" coverage for Newsweek has criticized both the case that the police say they have against the Ramseys-and the press's often sensationalized representation of that case-rather than promoting a belief in the Ramseys' guilt or innocence.

The Newsweek scribes have taken their reporting multimedia; both acted as associate producers on professor Michael Tracey's British-funded documentary, which maintained that the Ramseys had been wrongly tried and convicted by the American lynch-mob media.

The documentary offers what no nonfiction piece at the time could: John and Patsy Ramsey appearing on camera to answer questions about the case and the media's behavior. Newsweek got exclusive rights to the interview and, using outtakes from that on-camera exchange, quoted the Ramseys in a July 13, 1998, article that chastised Boulder's law-enforcement community. The documentary has aired four times so far in the United States on A & E. Glick and Keene-Osborn split half the fee from the U.S. television rights.

Ramsey critics such as Boyles and Green have denounced the documentary as pure spin. Green labels it an "infomercial"; Boyles prefers "crockumentary." They insist that Newsweek and the Ramseys have a symbiotic relationship: Glick and Keene-Osborn get their Ramsey-fed exclusives and the Ramseys get favorable coverage.

To Glick, that kind of criticism shows the inherent flaw of the Ramsey coverage. He says he got access to the Ramseys not because of favorable coverage but because the Ramseys trusted he would not merely follow the spin of his best law-enforcement sources. He says he got access to the Ramseys because they saw that he was "questioning the orthodoxy" and "looking critically" at what law-enforcement sources were leaking. And Glick says that he became skeptical of the police investigation long before he had any access to the Ramseys. Keene-Osborn adds, "During the entire case, most of my sources were within the prosecution. To have labeled me as any kind of Ramsey pawn is laughable."

That Green and Boyles criticize Glick for maintaining a journalist-source relationship with the Ramseys astounds him. "What journalist in the country would say no to three days of on-camera, on-the-record interviews" with the Ramseys? he asks. "If that makes me pro-Ramsey, so be it."

Tracey defends the film against cries of "advocacy journalism" with equal ferocity. "What it was advocating is not being a megaphone for spin, and double-checking leaks from sources," Tracey howls. "If that's advocacy journalism, then, fine."
The way that newspapers work is to tell the masses what they want to hear.
I really like Charlie Brennan but am amazed at how he can look at the same documents that I do and come away seeing just part of the story.

I have seen Charlie go from what I felt was full-blown BORG to an honest guy who really can't believe the parents did this - - - he said something to that effect rght after the "subtract" interview. He saw and listened to them and couldn't believe... but then there were stories to write and he strengthened his resolve.

I really do wish Charlie had gotten to spend more time with the Ramseys - - but the way Lou was criticized for getting to know the suspects - - - I wasn't surprised when Charlie didn't go there.

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