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Time, Newsweek, and JonBenét Ramsey

Time has always been stranger than it knew

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 15, 1997.

Every Tuesday, I have made the journey to a 7-11 to get a Newsweek magazine, primarily because I like to get my weekly news at the beginning of the week rather than the alternative, which is waiting for the mail to bring it, late and irrelevant. This week, however, there was and apparently will be no Newsweek because of a cover story devoted to the JonBenét Ramsey murder on Christmas night. It’s sold out. So, I had to swallow my distaste and buy Time Magazine, which since the days of Henry Luce I have considered a most biased news outlet and a most odd social commentator. This is not the first time I have had to buy Time, I think I remember them all, and I have always resented it since that first deprivation.

That hallowed event was in the early 1970’s when I was behind a young woman at the checkout line in King Soopers. Just before I could reach the magazine rack, she took the entire wad of Newsweeks and proudly if inexplicably slammed them down before an enervated check-out clerk. While the woman literally glowed with an unknown pride, the tally was made, she paid and left, glancing around as if everyone were looking upon her as Jacqueline Kennedy bestowed with state secrets rather than a half-fried hippie chick who needed to be nudged downwind. On the cover that week was Patty Hearst, then a kidnapped victim, and this was the week later revealed that she was reported to have been in Colorado near Boulder. Whether that was the case or not, I have often wondered if the young woman was trying to leave that impression or it was true and she was bringing photos to the SLA, Hearst’s captors. At any event, she took my Newsweek. But this was not the worst, most annoying incident of deprivation.

That hallowed event was when Newsweek, I believe in the late 1970’s, suddenly discovered that Boulder may have a large population that used illegal drugs, primarily cocaine, and interviewed college students and locals at what was then called the Harvest House during a Friday afternoon drunk, then known as the FAC. One citizen opined about the Bolivia connection and this was widely quoted. I never saw the article, just read recaps of the repercussions, notably the garbled retractions of loudmouths trying to reposition themselves regarding their recent admissions of activities that were more than of passing interest to those filling quotas at Leavenworth. The most amusing upshot was that the local newspaper, which had never seemed to notice that a sizeable portion of the local citizenry had a foot chronically in an adjacent reality, became hysterical in its fear of which way to pander, eventually settling upon a social position to which George Babbitt would approve. You remember, the Cocaine Task Force, furrowed brow meetings, benefits, awards from the business community. And, of course, wide condemnation of Newsweek, which had the temerity to mention Boulder in a national publication that did not fan favorable notice among those likely to buy advertising. Well, drugs, shmugs, all I knew was, no Newsweek for me. Just Henry Luce and those annoying, really irritating illustrations in Time and those precious, incoherent editorials.

And it’s happened again. No Newsweek. And so I turned to the publication put out by the man who gave us Douglas MacArthur, Chang Kai Chek and fifty years of Asian conflict. There was an article by a new Boulder citizen, a former managing editor at Time, a Mr. James Gaines. He was taking issue with statements made by a beleaguered Police Chief Tom Koby, which in general were expressed concerns with national attention for a local murder, and how it was not helping. That this is obvious did not deter Mr. Gaines, who closed his editorial with the condescending note : “Give the rest of the country a break, Chief. And don’t kill the messengers. They work for you.” Please.

I cannot comment on the Ramsey case because, one, I don’t know anything, and two, I have a chemical animosity to stage parents that borders on murderous rage of my own. The hypocrisy and nauseating self-congratulations associated with beauty contests and the talent of prodigy* is too much for me. But I draw your attention to this sentence by Mr. Gaines. It is something that would be appreciated by the writers of any local booster. “Adding to the city’s sense of its own plundered innocence was that of the victim, a six-year old girl: a lovely six-year-old girl, a Little Miss Colorado, it turned out (an invitation to the tabloids if there ever was one), and the more we saw of her - her beautiful eyes, her coquettish smile, her perfect hair and makeup, her seductive walk - the lovelier she became, until the unwanted thought arose, like a shudder, that this crime could be even stranger than it seemed at first.”

Now, among the very interesting points in this unparsable sentence is the revelation that someone tried to get a six year old to have a seductive walk. And that some adults agreed. Enough said, except that I am subscribing to Newsweek for the first time. Twenty odd bucks a year at the offered rate.

*Yes, yes. I meant progeny. This was during my years on Probation and I sometimes had to get up at three to write and record the commentary and make it to work on time. Explanation, not a viable excuse, but I'm hoping you'll fall for it.