Friday, July 25, 2008

News outlets compete to determine who can reach new low with Drew Peterson

I’m not sure which Chicago news outlet is most pathetic this week in its attempt to garner attention from the antics of Drew Peterson.

Is it the Chicago Sun-Times for trying to peddle as its very own a Joliet Herald News story that Peterson’s neighbors wore electronic surveillance devices to try to get him to make incriminating statements about the death of one ex-wife and disappearance of another on tape?

OR WAS IT the Chicago television stations (yes, you Fox News Chicago) that felt the need to put Peterson on the air Thursday so he could say as little as he could in as colorful a manner as possible.

I’m inclined to say it is the TV geeks who bothered to interview Peterson live, even though it was obvious that he would say nothing of substance. Nobody who shows up for an interview with his attorney present ever says anything interesting.

The purpose of the attorney is to cut off the person if it sounds like he might start to say something interesting or factual. The result is nothing but a bunch of platitudes, which are never necessary on television.

Of course, the reason the TV geeks bothered with Drew this week was because they were instigated by the Sun-Times, which gave a big splash earlier this week to a story dug up by their sister newspaper in Joliet.

THAT NEWSPAPER PUBLISHED claims that neighbors and one-time friends of Drew wore the wiretap devices at the request of police, who were hoping Peterson might open up and say something incriminating if he thought he was speaking privately.

Police are refusing to confirm they ever did such a thing (although that doesn’t mean they didn’t do it). It just means they would have preferred the existence of audio to remain a mystery for awhile longer.

That didn’t stop the one-time neighbors from grabbing at their moment of glory, as they appeared on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” program earlier this week to bolster their claims that Drew said things to them about his two most recent ex-wives (he’s had four, in all). One of those ex-wives, Kathleen, is the one who was found dead in her bathtub, while the most recent, Stacey, remains missing nearly a year after her disappearance.

Not that the neighbors limited themselves to the one national program. They also did their share of local television, where one neighbor (the male one) gave WBBM-TV the dubious exclusive that he used to impersonate a woman (named Ashley) on the Internet to try to entice Peterson and draw his attention - perhaps to incriminate himself.

KATHLEEN IS THE former wife whose body was exhumed earlier this year by investigators, who wanted to do more studies of the remains, and wound up changing her cause of death from accidental to homicide.

Peterson is considered a “person of interest” in both the death of Kathleen and disappearance of Stacey, although he does not yet face criminal charges.

Peterson claims he will never face any charges if people give these alleged audio recordings an honest listening to, although the excepts that are coming out appear to be intended to drum up as much negativity toward Drew as possible, so that if/when he is someday arrested, people will be seeking his immediate conviction.

The line that seems to be getting people the most worked up was the Peterson wisecrack that he wished he had had Kathleen’s body cremated (while also calling her a “rhymes with witch”).

PEOPLE WHO WANT to believe in Peterson’s guilt interpret that crack as a desire to cover up evidence of a crime. To me, it sounds like a pathetic attempt at humor from someone who would rather not have gone through the process of watching his ex-wife’s body dug up from her grave.

Considering that Drew Peterson is the guy who earlier this week deflected a female reporter’s questions about the investigation by telling her, “God, you’re hot,” it sounds like a lame attempt to say nothing. Reading any more into it is wrong.

With Peterson’s former friends going on television, we had to be subjected to the sight of him Thursday on various morning news television programs.

While I understand he did NBC’s “Today” show and also made an appearance for CBS’s “The Early Show,” the one appearance I saw live was his local appearance on WFLD-TV, Chicago’s Fox affiliate, which means Fox affiliates across the nation and the Fox News Channel will get to see Drew with his attorney, trying to sound like a cocky, confident man, instead of a boastful jerk.

WITH JOEL BRODSKY (the attorney who is being paid to ensure Peterson never has to do time in prison) at his side, Peterson said a whole lot of nothing, which shouldn’t be surprising. In fact, it seemed like Brodsky spoke more than Peterson did, spewing legalese in response to questions from Fox News types that naively were intended to get Peterson to break down and confess.

Since that clearly was not going to happen, it just made for dull television.

But it is the kind of dull television that was repeated over and over throughout the day. Within 10 minutes of the end of the interview, WFLD newspeople were doing stories summarizing what we had just seen.

Broadcast reports informing us that no real news was made just moments ago, but that non-news took place right here in WFLD-TV studios, were soon on the air. What is worse is that this same interview will get WFLD its moment of national exposure for the day, even though their people didn’t get Drew to say anything of interest.

I’D SAY THAT television people have no shame. Except that the instigator in all this is the Sun-Times, which took advantage of the fact that the remains of their parent company still own all those suburban daily and weekly newspapers to take the Herald News account of the tapes.

All across the country, we are learning that the Sun-Times has broken yet another exclusive (try reading through the stories appearing in newspapers across the United States, I have yet to find one crediting Joliet), giving us some dirt that can be twisted in ways to throw more suspicion on Drew.

I literally had to read through the package of copy in the newspaper three times before I finally noticed that it was a Herald News reporter whose work was on display.

Of course, if something were to go wrong with one of the details, it would suddenly become the Joliet newspaper’s fault. I wish there was a similar place I could use for this weblog – stealing their best stories for myself while shifting the blame for any mistakes I might make.

MY POINT IN going through all this is to note that too many people in the news business are peddling trash like the Peterson saga, trying to craft a definitive account from the trivial dreck that has managed to ooze its way into the public record.

For what it is worth, no one who is talking really knows what happened to Stacey Peterson – despite the rants of those people who are prepared to electrocute/castrate Drew.

Peterson may be a jerk, but the last I checked, being a jerk (or even stupid) was not a criminal offense.


EDITOR’S NOTES: I’m not alone in being skeptical about the contents of the tapes made from alleged wiretaps conducted by police to try to get Drew Peterson to convict ( himself in the minds of the public, and possibly in the minds of a future criminal jury.

One of Chicago’s media critics dings the Sun-Times for stealing credit for a Joliet Herald News story ( that may not be all that substantial in its content.

Attorney Joel Brodsky issued the following statement earlier this week questioning the legitimacy ( of any comments that might exist on any tapes made of Peterson though electronic surveillance.

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