WASHINGTON -- I see that John Mark Karr has gotten back into the act. The act, of course, is being a personage on national television, in "the tabs," in the gossip columns of major newspapers, possibly even being a referent in the nationally syndicated column of Maureen Dowd. She is a pop culture Grotius.
It is being part of the media whirl of fools and rogues, perverts and defenseless public figures (some distinguished) who are all gasped over by our talking heads, or purred over or otherwise pronounced upon sagely. Increasingly the vernacular employed by the sagacious talking heads is that of the pompous high school know-it-all. Anderson Cooper is given to the construction, "that is sooo uncool or un … " whatever the negative might be. And the other day Miles O'Brien greeted his own news story about the American population passing the 300 million mark with some variant of "Why am I not impressed?" I suppose they learn this lingo from their teenaged children. Or maybe they have never quite left high school. Will Anderson and Miles have a smirk for Karr soon? JMK is not admired by the networks, but he is avidly sought after.
JMK is that odd, misshapen little fellow who turned up in Thailand and found himself accused of the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. He quickly admitted to the foul deed, and chose his words with the proper hints of mystery, romance and perversion that suggested to those of us who follow the vulgarity of the media whirl that JMK was going to make it to primetime, if only he could somehow avoid the slammer. He did when no evidence whatsoever linked him to the murder and he was shipped off to California on an old child pornography charge. Admittedly, JMK is a revolting specimen, but that is just what primetime is in need of these days and so soon we read reports of ABC's "Good Morning America" courting him and NBC's "Today Show" too.
"Good Morning America" got the leap on its competitors when, the day after JMK's Oct. 5 release from jail, ABC producers lured him into a limousine and drove him by a San Francisco school where he had been a teacher's aide. I guess they thought this would make a dramatic staging area for whatever they planned to coax out of him, somewhat like bringing former Congressman Mark Foley to a Gold's Gym or Osama bin Laden to a pig farm. Apparently JMK got out of the car, ventured toward the playground and did some disturbing things: things that "gave us serious pause and ABC decided not to proceed with the interview." Thus spoke Jeffrey Schneider, an ABC spokesman with high standards. Nonetheless his colleagues let JMK back into their limousine and off they went.
Then "Today" made its approach. The show has a credentialed self-help author and "therapist" of the magnitude of Dr. Phil (whoever he might be) by the name of Keith Ablow (or is it Elbow?), who is launching his own morning show; and he interviewed JMK for an hour or so, the first installment appearing on "Today's" Friday morning segment. Apparently that caused controversy. Elbow insists that he is "on the side of the angels," claiming that the interview serves a high public purpose. "It's a rare chance to see what's inside the mind of someone who has expressed a desire to have sexual contact with little girls," Elbow told the Associated Press. "I am baffled," he went on, "as to why anybody would consider this anything other than a public health or communications victory for the American people and parents everywhere."
So Elbow is a serious fellow. His staff flew JMK to New York and paid for his lodgings, but nothing more, just standard talk show procedure, according to Laura Mandel, a program official. Still, questions remain. The New York Post reported that JMK was plied with strong drink before appearing with Elbow, who disputes the charge, insisting he was "stone-cold sober." Well, perhaps they both were, but Karr had asked for white wine and even Elbow's staff admits they gave him white grape juice instead. Now did NBC staffers deceive their guest? Have journalistic ethics been breached here? What damage might this do to Elbow's journalistic reputation?
Next JMK appeared on Fox's "On the Record With Greta Van Susteren" and on CNN's "Larry King Live." What did these networks promise this immediate primetime phenomenon? How about a life-size teddy bear? A life-size anatomically correct teddy bear? As I suspected when first we saw the petulant Karr in handcuffs in Thailand, this guy was made for primetime, the media swirl and more. Suggestive of the future already carved out for him was a dramatic question posed by King the other night: "Anybody proposed a movie about you?" "Not yet, not yet," was the cryptic reply. "Would you be interested?" probed the Edward R. Murrow of our time. "Yes," a pregnant "yes" from Karr. This guy is not going to disappear any time soon. I wonder if he is planning to adopt an African orphan.