Monday, December 21, 2009

Fuhrman's Persuasive Polemic

By Laura James

There is much wrong with the portrayal of criminal justice in the media today. Even those who work for the crime media will tell you that the way it's done today, it's cheap, profitable, and wrong. In a scathing new book, FOX analyst Mark Fuhrman details his criticisms of "The Murder Business." "All the claims they make on these shows about justice and crime-stopping," he writes, "are a mockery of the English language." The book is The Murder Business: How the Media Turns Crime Into Entertainment and Subverts Justice.

He backs up his sturm und drang with compelling examples. Once I overcame the tinnitus caused by reading incendiary analysis by an insider who admits he played a "notorious role in the OJ Simpson trial," I found myself agreeing with many of his points.

Per Fuhrman, crime TV commits these sins. Do any of his criticisms ring true (or false) to you?

1. "They don't actually investigate... Facts have mostly been replaced with opinion, conversation, debate, and argument... Investigative journalists don't do much investigating. They stand in a pack outside Drew Peterson's house shouting, 'Did you kill Kathleen Savio?' I mean honestly, what did they expect him to say?"

2. They deliberately drag out stories, misrepresenting the facts if it helps to do so. It was obvious immediately that Caylee Anthony was dead, Fuhrman writes; but she was "missing" according to the press. "They want a big, loose time-line filled with "leads" and "possible suspects" and "persons of interest"... They didn't want a grim and depressing Search for Caylee Anthony's Body, but a suspenseful, heart-rending Search for Caylee Anthony. A story they could drag out for months, long after it was clear to me, the police, and every realistic observer or participant, that the child was dead."

3. They shell out huge sums for interviews and/or photos.

4. "They manufacture questions, but never try to answer them."

5. They relentlessly focus on attractive, middle class females as either culprit or victim. Haleigh Cummings' case fell from the TV screen because of the class of her family, which turned the story into "a white-trash nightmare, too much of a freak show."

Fuhrman goes on to analyze several recent cases of prominence.

Fuhrman on Drew Peterson: "He's got personality disorders they don't have a name for yet."

Fuhrman on Scott Peterson: "The media played along [with him]. They made his relationship with Amber Frey the centerpiece of the story, rather than the overwhelming evidence against him, mounting each day."

Fuhrman on his experiences as a true crime reporter in the Martha Moxley case: "I have never in my life been treated more shabbily than I was in Greenwich, CT. And that includes the Simpson trial."

Fuhrman on Nancy Grace: "She all but convicted the Duke University lacrosse players... and didn't apologize later when the accusations proved bogus... Grace flat-out declared suspect Richard Ricci guilty [of the abduction of Elizabeth Smart] several times on air... Grace didn't apologize for that one either... [Her interview of Melinda Duckett would] establish a new low, even by the standards of crime TV... Nancy Grace fired blindly. All she did was work herself into a lather and make Duckett clam up. The next day, Duckett was dead, and the investigation effectively died with her."

Fuhrman on the future of crime reporting: "Crime as entertainment has become so intoxicating, it's very difficult to go back. But all it takes is one person -- one journalist willing to step outside the circle and investigate the facts. One Woodward or one Bernstein could change the entire industry, remind reporters of their responsibility tot he public, and balance out the soap opera on the air."


FleaStiff said...

Those were the good old days...But when precisely was that?

Between 1860 and 1890 the crime rate increased at twice the rate of population increase. Our courts have long been blamed for being prone to favor the defendant and to prefer plea bargaining.

In truth more people go to jail now than ever before even though in earlier times defendants had far fewer protections. Plea bargaining has existed for centuries and is just about as common in clogged, financially strained jurisdictions as in relaxed rural environments.

Poverty? In 1884 over 43,000 families were evicted in New York City. Even near the close of the Roaring Twenties near sixty percent of American families earned less than the then current poverty level of two thousand dollars a year. And the wealthiest American community at the time on a per capita basis was Salinas, California. Yet our media constantly blame poverty for crime. And cops constantly rail against the media! Our media teach us great things about our society, probably none of them true!

Dodge City as an epicenter of homicidal violence? Its worst year was 1878 wherein there were but five murders. Indeed in the time period embraced by most oaters coming out of Hollywood, the five most notorious cow towns had between them but forty-five murders! Hollywood teaches us that Abilene marshal Wild Bill Hickcock killed six outlaws in the first of his famous endeavors. In truth he killed only three men, each of them at the time was unarmed.

So you complain that the media are not now properly educating us as to the truth about our society? When have they ever even pretended to do so? Were the newspapers that advertised Gold Paste to those who sought to become Forty-Niners overly troubled by journalism ethics? I wonder how many people actually arrived bearing some paste to rub on themsleves so they could roll down a hill and thus pickup the gold that awaited them? Though perhaps I should be addressing this question to those who invested with Bernie Madoff?

As a young boy it happened that some radio announcer broadcasting from a county fair selected me from the various children passing by and inquired if I intended to be a cowboy when I grew up. Much to her consternation I informed her that few cowboys existed in this day and age. When she persisted and made comments about there being cowboys out west, I told her that even in the western states most cattle were raised in feed lots and were not open range cattle requiring the attentions of cowboys. This did not endear me to the announcer or her listening audience but I naively thought the radio announcer should be focused on truth rather than fiction. As a boy of seven or eight at the time, I was naive about the role of the media in our society. I'm not now.

A work in progress said...

What a great subject to raise. I was up late baking cookies so I am about tapped out but something I heard today sprung from the TV it was so telling of modern journalism. A news reporter on a national show stated that something was in a court record so that made it true. 1+2 doea not equal 4. I wondered about where he went to journalism school. Being a true crime historian, I bet you know that the court records from the Plymouth Colony can give us insight into the lives of the colonists but they certainly aren't to be solely relied upon. I think that media coverage is part of the problem but not the core problem. I think we should end immunity and start believing again that we are all created equal. I think that is a core problem which needs to be solved.

Pat Brown said...

Is this the same ethically challenged Mark Fuhrman of the OJ trial? Is this same Mark Fuhrman who developed the ludicrous profile of the Martha Moxley case which he had no skills to create with the obvious purpose of fitting it to a Kennedy - Michael Skakel? Does he feel responsible for the charade of a trial that convicted this man with highly suspect circumstantial evidence? Is this the Mark Fuhrman who is about Mark Fuhrman and making a buck? He might have some points but he is one hell of a hypocrite to be pointing fingers at others in the media.

Janet Braunstein said...

Regardless of Fuhrman's credibility, he makes good points. It's naive, unfortunately, to believe one or two great reporters could change the 24/7 nature of true-crime reporting on TV.
The great reporters are out there, working hard. The public has to make a wee effort to find them. Listen to National Public Radio instead of Howard Stern. Read quality papers like the New York Times; the internet will take you to quality papers around the world.
See a true-crime piece on Nancy Grace and want more solid info? Surf to the local paper's web site. You'll find plenty, including corrections of errors.
One example of two great reporters whose true-crime work made a real difference: the Detroit Free Press's M.L. Elrick and Jim Schaeffer, who spent months digging up the facts that forced Kwame Kilpatrick out of the mayor's mansion.
Their work changed the nature and structure of politics in Detroit.
Want to sit on the couch and be spoon-fed quality news? Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Anyone that dogs Mark Furhman should step back and take a look at themselves. Furhman has great skills and abilities. Nothing ludicrous, he didn't convict Skakel-- a jury of 12 did with
what was presented to them by a district attorney prosecutor in a court of law. Is he trying to make a buck--you bet just like you and I and everybody else. He has the knowledge, skills and background to do so. He is no more of a hyprocite than MANY others who appear on national tv who put their 2 cents in to bring somebody down. It is so wrong. The media is out of control. What happened to being professional?

Delilah said...

I wholeheartedly agree with the 5 points stated above, whether they came from Mark Furhman or not. Our media is the circus, hellbent on putting on a great show, but even that is debatable.

Truth and justice are hidden behind the so called discussions of the talking heads. A 5 minute opinion,while talking over others is not presenting the facts nor reporting them.

Report the facts and let us make up our own minds instead of trying to cram a dancing elephant down our throats.

Anonymous said...

"Quality paper like the New York Times."

Speaking of naivete'! The Times does in print what the Graces of the world do on video. They just slant the other way. There's nothing objective about it.

The Freep, on the other hand, did it right.

Anonymous said...

Why are you defensive Pat? Does it ring true to what you do? Or is it that it blasts Nancy Dis-Grace who he was spot on about? And obviously she has you on her show a lot.

Skankel happened to be masturbating in the same tree where Martha was found? He confessed to no less than 3 people (make that bragged). They got the right guy and it has been obvious to most. Hell, I love the Kennedy's and I still know that he did it. And I didnt read Fuhrman's book. And he surely has more experience and knowledge about crime than you do. Even YOU must admit that. So he lied about saying the N word to a mostly black jury. He messed up with OJ. Doesnt mean all of his accompishments are for naught.

Anonymous said...

PS - It wasnt Fuhrman who screwed up the OJ case. It was a minor point. The prosecution screwed it up, not the detective who knew he had the right guy but went about it the wrong way. He was a wirness, not a part of the prosecution.

Anonymous said...

Mark Furhman's assessment (above) is right on. I agree with him 100%. The media brings trash into our homes daily/nightly. The Nancy Grace show is disgraceful. Why anyone would want to go on her show to be ridiculed, berated and put down by her on national television is beyond me.

Pat Brown said...

Anonymous, not defensive here. I have ordered Fuhrman's book and I am not necessarily disagreeing with all of his points. Even people I can't stand may have perfectly valid arguments. I am just amused Mark Fuhrman is now blasting the media for exactly what he has done for years and is still doing, possibly because he has a contract with FOX and is no longer a free agent. I will be curious to see if he attacks FOX or only the other networks.

Fuhrman may have felt shabbily treated by the police in the Moxley case; could it be it wasn't his case and he had no authority to work on it? I am not saying it wasn't a good idea to bring in another set of eyes after all those years, but Fuhrman seems to think he should receive special treatment simply because he is Mark Fuhrman. His book on Martha Moxley was disturbing to me as he twisted and ignored evidence. The main suspect whom the police believed killed Martha Moxley due to his ability and opportunity to commit the crime (and motive, in my opinion) failed two polygraphs and then right before the trial was given immunity. Skakel was convicted on very sketchy circumstantial evidence that relied on something a young idiot of a teenager said (himself) and some other questionable folks of the past, probably, because he wasn't a particularly likeable character. This wouldn't be the first jury to convict the wrong person of a crime. I am not saying they did, I am just saying I did not see the evidence was convincing enough to convict. My take on the Moxley case can be found at

Janet, I agree that we can choose other venues to gather our news if we prefer not to watch the major television networks. We have so much choice now in the world compared to years ago, we can find an option that appeals to us.

The media does not bring trash into our homes. The media may have trash in it, but we are the gatekeepers. No television emits shows without someone pressing the on button and turning to those channels. Likewise for the Internet, video games, DVDs, and music.

I am not a television viewer myself except for 30 Rock and Scrubs and an occasional show that catches my attention. I read the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, and get news from a variety of sources on the Internet. This is my preference and each person can make their own selection of media that suits their interests and style of delivery.

Anonymous said...

I dont see why you would be more qualified to profile the case reading your account of it. Basically you didnt profile the case rather than attack Fuhrman.

Michael's own words make Fuhrman's motive very plausible. And they were said when he was 39, not 15.

"Dead Man Talking: A Kennedy Cousin Comes Clean" in which Skakel, now 39, reveals that he tried to kiss the girl the same night she was killed with a golf club that belonged to the Skakel family.

"I really liked her," Skakel recalls in the book proposal. "I wanted to kiss her. I wanted her to be my girlfriend, but I was going slow, being careful." Skakel then invited Moxley to join him in his father's Lincoln, a vehicle that he and his siblings dubbed "the lust mobile."

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Women in Crime Ink said...

For our reader: due to the fact the feature that deletes comment is temporarily unavailable, I will repeat our policy that personal attacks on blog members is unacceptable and will cause your comments to be deleted. Such behavior discourages readers from enjoying discussing topics.

California Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
California Girl said...

Here's another problem. I will not name names but "Famous crime writer" (not anyone here) has a new book out. In the foreword, she names someone who is currently in jail awaiting trial and states the prisoner did the murder. As in we have had the trial and she has been convicted - which she hasn't. There is no doubt in my mind and I think most peoples, that this person IS guilty but she has not been convicted yet.
I think Furhman is out to make a couple of dollars. He says some interesting things now and then. The others that he criticizes are like everything else - follow it and make your own opinions. People seem to have some notion that anyone who appears in the public eye is infallible or supposed to be. I like Nancy Grace and I think many want to diss her because they don't like the idea of outspoken women. As they say, take what you need and leave the rest.

Pat Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat Brown said...

I forgot to say, Laura, thanks for the post. I didn't know about the book and now I have it here with me. As you saw by my first comment, I have a negative visceral reaction to this man, but I am not opposed to reading his points and I look forward to seeing where I agree or disagree. I may have to write a follow-up post as an insider.

California Girl, well, clearly Fuhrman likes to make a buck and I can't really fault him (except when he chastises others for making money off of the "murder business" as if he has not). Really, I think this is what bugs me...not so much that he brings up points about the industry he is in, but that he makes money off that industry just like everyone else and his own behavior isn't exactly pure as the driven snow.

As to Nancy, she definitely has a style. No one is forced to watch her show nor is anyone forced to go on her show. While sometimes media can make life more difficult for the police, sometimes the media can elicit information or behavior that is helpful to the police. It is a mixed bag. Melissa Duckett chose to go on Nancy's show. She knew who she was dealing with and all Nancy did was ask her where she had been all day and she couldn't come up with an answer. She likely killed herself because she felt she was going to be cornered eventually by the police and she wanted to go out like a victim, blaming others for her choices. No one has sued Grandpa for leaving a loaded shotgun accessible to a mentally disturbed woman, only Nancy gets sued because she asked a question Duckett didn't want to answer. Melissa could have taken a page from Prajean's appearance on Larry King and just told Nancy, "I don't like the way you are treating me; we're done here. Bye."

I don't agree with all of what media does nor with all of what the police do or all of what criminal profilers do. Sometimes we in these industries err and sometimes we need to fix our game. I will be curious to see how much I agree with Fuhrman. Stay tuned!

Anonymous said...

There was nothing personal about the post that was removed. If you let others read it I think most would concur. Except Pat Brown and her bartender of course.

A work in progress said...

I don't watch much TV and especially not much TV news. I don't like the repetition most of all. I contacted newspapers about my story and an editor at the State Journal Register in Springfield told me point blank that I had to show him why it would be a marketable story. Journalism for the sake of exposing problems isn't very common at the state and local levels anymore. I agree with much of what was cited here as being said by Mark Fuhrman. I am trying to get someone charged and have a ton of evidence and even I as the victim am having a hard time organizing and going through all the documents. I am forced to finish soon by a court deadline, with regard to the fraud. I can understand to an extent, with deadlines and pressure to come up with stories rapid-fire why reporters don't have the luxury of journalism for the sake of exposing people to new ideas and information. I don't understand the ratings system. I know I don't watch the repetition and I don't believe I am alone in that.

Anonymous said...

Pat Brown,
It wasn't just the questions NG asked Melinda was the "manner" in which the questions were delivered---the anger, the forcefullness, the demanding, the physical gestures of pounding and banging on her desk over and over until Duckett handed off the telephone to her grandmother.

Pat Brown said...

A Work in Progress: I am in agreement with you over the problem of repetition in the news....I find myself impatient with this. I like reading for the ability to skim and move as quickly as I like.

Getting the media to cover a story is truly difficult. It is a business and because of this money is the most important factor in making decisions on what stories are covered. I wish I could really know if the "good ol' days" would have given stories better coverage or did they have the same problem them: only so much available time or print and you can't cover everything. We have the advantage today with more channels, more hours, and the Internet but now, while more stories may have the opportunity to get covered, they also drown in the number of stories. So is that really better coverage? I would love to someone due serious research on this.

shthar said...

Who's his ghost writer?

They're great.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Pat Brown who seems to be obsessed with Mark Furhman should quit attacking him. In my opinion he is an outstanding investigator with superior skills and very well qualified.

kanishk said...

Journalism for the sake of exposing problems isn't very common at the state and local levels anymore.

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Anonymous said...

"Perhaps Pat Brown who seems to be obsessed with Mark Furhman should quit attacking him. In my opinion he is an outstanding investigator with superior skills and very well qualified".

Outstanding investigators solve murders and crimes, can you name one that Fuhrman has solved?

He didn't solve the Moxley case, it was given to him by Dominick Dunn from a report that Rushton Skakel made of his two sons to find out for himself. Dunn didn't have the time to write a book about it because of his daughters murder trial and most likely depression, so he gave the report to Fuhrman. The report spelled out the most guilty Skakel son and it was Michael.

The only thing I admire in Fuhrman is he somehow got his face back on television.....again.

Did you know the Simpson case was his first homicide case? Can you name one murder case that he has actually solved? There are none, that is why it's hard for me to read his murder books.

Ann Rule writes about murder but she doesn't own the "Homicide Detective" thing either, especially when you have only been one for less than 6 months before being forced to retire because you weren't honest on the stand.

I'm not saying he's a liar, he's good at not telling the truth. I met the guy in Chicago and the one impression I got from the man was... p#ss! He's not what he's cracked up to be, or pretends to be. More power to him, he's pulled it off for years, although his books are not best sellers anymore. But then again we have Perez Hilton on TV.

Anonymous said...

Six months or six years it doesn't matter either you have it or you don't. Furhman was an outstanding detective, is an excellent author and great problem solver.

Anonymous said...

"Six months or six years it doesn't matter either you have it or you don't. Fuhrman was an outstanding detective, is an excellent author and great problem solver."

And can you name one case that gives him the title that you feel he deserves..."outstanding detective" ? Oh please, he is logical but far from an outstanding detective or problem solver!

He was convinced that the McCanns were guilty in their daughter's disappearance because of the DNA match in the McCann's wheel well of their rented auto. What he overlooked was that the surviving McCann twins came from the exact same DNA deposit from the parents. So Madeline McCann's DNA is almost identical to the younger twin siblings because they all came from the same DNA deposit by the parents. A GOOD INVESTIGATOR would investigate the scientific aspect of how that could change the dynamics of a DNA deposit and he ignored it, knowing these children were all invitro.

He is so wrong on the Jon Benet case. NO WAY, would the mother have strangled her precious daughter. Plus there was two different DNA profiles found in her underwear and they were not her parent's. So please see that he was just backing up his detective buddy Thomas that wrote the book that the Ramsey's successfully sued to have printing stopped because he could not prove his assertions. The same one that Fuhrman was a consultant on.

As far as the Simpson case, I do not believe he planted any glove, however, his denial of saying racist comments earned a "Suspicious" stamp on his head by the mostly minority jury. Had he come clean and admitted that he wasn't perfect, the jury may have come to a different conclusion.

Lastly, as far as his last failed book..... he is a hypocrite in that he states that all media is guilty of promoting murder/sex/money murder stories except Fox News. Oh please, I only watch Fox and I see it every day how they benefit from ratings on others people's misfortunes.

Fuhrman didn't want to bite the hand that feeds him. He is as guilty as the people he points his finger at. He may have ridden the road to redemption but he clearly hasn't reached his destination. He has hurt too many people with his lies and denials and he will always be known as a racist's unfortunate but true.....

Too many woman think he is this perfect outstanding detective and we all know it is because he used to be a handsome man and they let their sexual attraction over-rule the truth. Get real ladies, he is a liar and a racist and the facts prove it. His first 2 books were great but he just rode the infamous highway while it was hot, it's clear that he isn't HOT anymore!

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