Yesterday, Boston – and the nation’s news outlets – barraged us with stories of Philip Markoff, the Boston University pre med student who has been charged with the murder of a 26 year old masseuse in the swanky Copley Marriot Hotel. Markoff hooked up with his victim using Craigslist and will most likely be known as ‘The Craigslist Killer’ for the rest of his life.
Markoff is your typical, smart, handsome, all American kid that 'may have' a jones for meeting strange women in random hotels, tying them up, robbing them and disappearing into the night. In the case of Julissa Brisman, he 'allegedly' tied her up and shot her multiple times in the chest because she had the audacity to resist. Guess he didn’t get the happy ending he was expecting.
I won’t bother with the details of the case as you can find them anywhere. Nor will I get into the entire debate on why meeting strangers you find online in random hotel rooms – by yourself – is a bad idea. Just ask around to find how many times things work out well. It may take you some time.
What is bothering me about this story isn’t that, by all accounts, Markoff seemed to be a well adjusted, well liked, about to be married, intelligent, white male who 'may have' been on the verge of becoming a serial killer if not for diligent police work.
What bothers me is that these news stories aren’t even questioning that this is the guy that killed Brisman. I’m not saying he is or isn’t, but it concerns me that this guy’s name, personal history, home town, student enrollment are suddenly all over the news. For fuck sake we even know when he was supposed to get married!
What bothers me (A LOT, if you couldn’t tell) is we are now living in an era of instant judgment. This guy was arrested for the crime, he looks like the guy that was seen on sub par, grainy surveillance cameras in the hotels, so he must have done it. Never mind that he looks like a lot of other dudes here in Boston. 'Here, American public! We caught the Craigslist Killer!'
Yes, the news stories all use the proper, legally protected phrases to cover their asses: ‘police say’, ‘allegedly’, and ‘may have’ are peppered throughout (as I did above), but the gist of the story is crystal clear. This guy killed that girl! Case closed.
Again, maybe this is the guy, but shouldn’t we all take a step back and ask ‘What if he isn’t?’
What if he didn’t kill this girl? Will Boston University allow him back to his classes? Will his friends talk to him again? Will his neighbors still shy away from him when they pass him in the hallway? Will people whisper about him as he walks down the street? Allow me to answer: Not with out legal action, maybe, hell yes, and absolutely. Just look what happened to Steve Bartman and that was over a fucking baseball game! And he didn't even do anything!
There is no such thing as innocent until proven guilty any longer unless you manage to keep your crime out of the grasp of over eager, nearly rabid news producers. Everything – and I do mean everything – needs to be instantly analyzed, instantly opined (ad nauseam), and (oh, reporters can only wish) instantly debated and settled in a neat, three minute segment.
This doesn’t just apply to murder stories, either.
- Our super hyper information gathering society needs to figure out what’s wrong with the Red Sox and Yankees when the season isn’t even a week old. Barely 10 games in and it’s obvious to everyone that the Pirates and Orioles are going to the World Series, but only if they can get through the Reds and Blue Jays first.
- According to King Dipshit, Dan Shaughnessy, the Celtics season was over because they lost Game 1 of the Bulls series. And, no, I won’t link to it out of principle. Google it if you want to read his intelligent, rational thoughts (that was sarcasm).
NOTE: The series is over now, but only because Leon Powe is now out for the rest of the season with torn knee ligaments. Keeps getting better and better. Maybe Ray Allen’s wrist tendons will come flying out like party ribbons on New Year’s Eve during Game 3.
- Editorials and political analysts were criticizing Obama for how he’s handling the Presidency when he wasn’t even in office for a full month. CNN.COM has an entire section on Obama’s first 100 days that was posted on day 1. During his inauguration.
- ESPN has such a hard on for a Cavaliers – Lakers finals they are breaking down both team’s performances in their first games of the playoffs AT THE SAME TIME! One thing I can tell you is if a network wants something to happen in sports and all the experts are absolutely, positively, one hundred and ten percent sure it will happen; it won’t happen. Look for the Lakers and/or Cavaliers to not make the Finals this year for the sole reason that everyone thinks it will happen.
- Every weeknight we can get mind numbingly detailed accounts of where Britney Spears went for dinner, who she was with and what she was (or wasn’t) wearing. Entertainment Tonight got two week’s worth of stories regarding the death of John Travolta’s son which included reading viewer’s emails of condolences on air.
- Soldiers now don’t just come home from war. News stations rig ‘surprises’ for the kids of these soldiers, tape them for the ‘awwww’ factor, then run them every half hour. If I came home from being at war for 11 months and was told ‘You know what we’ll do? We’ll keep you from your family for just a few hours more and surprise them instead. It will be great! Let’s just wait for the camera crew to arrive.’ My response would include two words and my fist hitting something with great force.
- We are in the midst of the worst economic disaster EVER!
- That captain who saved the crew from those Somalian pirates is the best captain EVER!
- Except for the captain of the US Airways flight that landed safely in the Hudson. He’s the best airline captain EVER. The other guy is the best boat captain ever. Just so we’re clear.
- This past Super Bowl was the best EVER!
- The 2007 Tampa Bay Rays are the best under dog story EVER!
- The Iraq War is a disaster!
- No, wait! It’s a success now!
There was a time, not so long ago, when the news would simply give us the news. They would tell us what happened and that would be it. There would be no wink to the viewers while the anchors muttered ‘allegedly’ that said ‘But we all know he did it, don’t we? We’re no dummies’.
Only we are. We really are. People at work are talking like there is no doubt this guy did it. None at all. We can discuss Markoff using phrases like ‘Did you see what this psycho did?’ or ‘He seemed so normal, too’ because the news convinces us he IS the guy. We can dispense with the formality of ‘allegedly’ because we’re just shooting the shit at the office water cooler.
It doesn’t matter to us if he really did it or not, just that it’s something to talk about.
It should matter. Consider yourself in the same scenario only you really didn’t do any thing. You are the wrong guy who looks like some generic police sketch. Consider the husband of a missing wife who was tagged ‘a person of interest’ by police to the media. The media than scrounged up whatever dirt they could for two days on this guy; asking friends about the status of the marriage or if he had a girl friend.
They found his wife in her car, still alive. She had lost control on the highway, crashed through a guard rail and was trapped, out of sight from passing cars, until police finally decided to track where her cell phone was. In a way it was a happy ending. Husband and wife are reunited, she survives and recovers.
But was it? No apology from any of the local news channels was issued to the vilified husband. The police offered no apology. The national news sites just shrugged and said ‘we were getting our information from the local outlets’ and moved onto the next story. Meanwhile, friendships were broken, relationships between family members will probably never be the same and the reporters will just ‘report’ on their next assignment. Just doing our jobs and we put ‘police say’ in front of everything, so don’t blame us.
Indictments and arrests are front page news; especially for public figures or high interest stories like Markoff. Acquittals from juries years after the arrest are not. Markoff may sit in jail for nearly a year before his trial comes around. By that point we’ll be on to some other murder story or terrorist plot or young starlet panty scandal and half of us won’t know what the verdict was. We’ll just know that Markoff was the ‘Craigslist Killer’.
Again, I’m not saying he did or didn’t commit this crime. He probably did.
But what if he didn’t?
Today’s distraction: Quotes from one of the most respected television journalists of all time. There are several relevant ones, but none more so than ‘To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.’
Sadly, I don’t think this is true any longer.