Debra J. Saunders

Some reporters resent the Peterson story because it entails a lot of time for precious few developments in the story. They've spent days, hours, hanging around, waiting for press conferences at which authorities won't answer even the simplest questions. (CoCo County sheriffs' spokesman Jimmy Lee, for example, wouldn't answer if the adult body had a head. Readers may find that question macabre, but it's an important question to ask if you don't want to repeat an incorrect allegation.)

And there is always the fear that the press may serve to convict husband Scott Peterson of a crime he didn't commit. Yes, his actions are questionable. Yes, it's odd that he traded in her Land Rover for a Dodge Ram a few weeks after she disappeared -- even as he maintained that he believed she was alive. Yes, it's hard to believe, as Scott Peterson claimed, that the very-pregnant Laci wasn't angry when she learned of her husband's affair with a Fresno woman.

I'll admit it -- there were mornings when I'd open my Chronicle wondering what new smarmy thing I'd read about Scott Peterson.

The reporter from another paper says there should be media panels to determine what criteria make a crime story deserving of national coverage. "There's an absence of critical thinking among the editors and news directors, " he explains.

Yuk. A panel of experts to tell me that I shouldn't be interested in this tragic, real-life soap opera? A panel to pronounce that I shouldn't care if Peterson trades in his wife's SUV for a pickup because it has no impact on my life?

Phooey. Newspaper readership has been declining; 72 percent of Americans read Sunday papers in 1970, but 66 percent read Sunday papers in 1997, according to the Newspaper Association of America. That trend isn't likely to turn around if editors listen to solons who sniffle at stories that actually intrigue the public.

Debra J. Saunders

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