Slander in the Age of Post-Truth: Burke Ramsey Files Defamation Lawsuit
JonBenet Ramsey rests in eternal peace alongside her mother and half-sister Elizabeth in St. James’ Episcopal Church Cemetery across the street from my daughter’s school. It happens to be my church’s cemetery, as well. It is a small, quiet cemetery. I pass it at least twice a day during the school year. Every time I drive by, I think of JonBenet. Her murder was a tragedy that persists because no one has ever been arrested or convicted for the crime. Americans with their fascination with true-crime books and TV shows are consumed with her death.
Twenty years ago 6 year old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey was murdered in her Colorado home. Her parents, John and Patsy, along with her brother, Burke, were suspects early on in the investigation. All three were cleared (see http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/29/us/jonbenet-ramsey-murder-fast-facts/). However, this didn’t stop one “documentary” from naming Burke as the killer. The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey debuted to lukewarm reviews capitalizing on the public’s infatuation with this tragedy. Ultimately, CBS may pay substantially for its recklessness.
The 2-part production was riddled with slanderous accusations. It was clear that the network merely sought to capitalize on ratings and advertising dollars. Producers dismissed the conclusions of law enforcement and multiple witness testimony concluding that Burke, who was 9 years old at the time, committed the murder. They’re wrong, but in the age of “post-truth,” this did not matter. All CBS saw were dollar signs. Hopefully, they will pay—and pay dearly. Burke Ramsey filed a staggering $750 million dollar defamation lawsuit this past week (see http://variety.com/2016/biz/news/jonbenet-ramsey-cbs-lawsuit-1201949899/ for more information).
Shortly after the series aired several “news” outlets suggested that JonBenet’s body was exhumed. It wasn’t; however, it sold a lot of tabloids. According to The Oxford Dictionary, post-truth means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Although routinely applied to political arguments, post-truth is when facts are ignored and replaced by emotional opinions. Needless to say, this is dangerous territory. By making an emotional appeal that someone—anyone—should be held accountable for JonBenet’s death, the producers believe that they can get away with framing Burke. They shouldn’t though.
Media is rampant with slanderous comments. There are numerous laws against and related to slander. However, law enforcement routinely avoids charging someone. Often the only recourse is civil court, which is expensive. To some, it is easier to defame and to get away with it while profiting. That is why this case is important. If Burke’s legal team is successful, they may be able to set a precedent for others seeking remedies in similar actions. Similarly, they rely on Hulk Hogan’s defamation case against the now defunct Gawker Media to bolster their case. These cases may pave the way for others with limited income to successful sue for defamation.
The paranormal community has its share of profiteers who slander others in order to make a quick buck. This article is meant to place them on notice. Don’t make up stories about the living or the dead. (Yes, the dead cannot sue for slander, but it’s unethical just the same.) In addition, don’t repost or share stories that you suspect to be fake. Paranormal researchers should hold themselves to higher standards. By doing so, they establish credibility and limit their exposure to potential lawsuits.