Exposing the tragedies tabloids cause | VailDaily.com

Exposing the tragedies tabloids cause

When the Globe supermarket tabloid published a photo of who NBA player Kobe Bryant allegedly raped, people all over the country expressed shock and outrage.Jeffrey Scott Shapiro was not one of them.It also didn’t surprise Shapiro when in January 1996, the Globe published stolen autopsy photos of slain child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey. The photos were illegally purchased by a private investigator working for the Globe who was later convicted for illegal information brokering.If you think the tabloids have been rough in the way they’ve covered the Kobe Bryant case so far, Shapiro, who was in Eagle County to investigate the case for the CBS magazine show “48 Hours,” said you haven’t seen anything yet.Shapiro was an investigator with the Globe for two years, digging into the JonBenet Ramsey case. He left the tabloid world in a blaze of glory, handing the Globe to the FBI on a silver platter. He provided 75 hours of tape recorded conversations with his editors that led to charges ranging from attempted bribery of a defense counsel expert to the extortion of police officers.Globe editor Tony Frost lashed out at Shapiro for turning over the tapes and exposing some of the tabloid’s methods. Shapiro said that in one recorded conversation, a livid Frost claimed his publication had more of an interest in proving the Ramseys were guilty than the Boulder Police Department or the Boulder County district attorney. Frost declined to be interviewed for this story, and said he wanted nothing to do with Shapiro.”It seemed that no single act, regardless of how uncouth or classless, was beneath them,” said Shapiro.This is the same Globe that ran a cover photograph of the alleged victim in the Kobe Bryant rape case, with her eyes covered by a black bar.It’s also the same Globe that published autopsy photographs of JonBenet Ramsey’s body with the cord that strangled her to death still wrapped around her neck.In the Ramsey’s book about the JonBenet case, “Death of Innocence,” they said Frost discussed the autopsy photographs without emotion or remorse. “The Globe is a supermarket tabloid. We deal in checkbook journalism. We buy sensational photographs and stories, and we publish them,” Frost is quoted as saying.”Frost had given the world his conditions as well as defining the role of the newspaper. If we didn’t like it, tough! It wasn’t his daughter,” wrote the Ramseys in their book. “The fact that the dignity of our daughter was violated, our family’s well-being assaulted, and an innocent child turned into a spectacle did not make any difference to Frost. Selling tabloid newspapers was all that counted.””Libel for profit’Attorney Lin Wood, who has successfully sued the tabloids for libel and is preparing a libel case for former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit of California, called tabloids, “Libel for profit.””They will go where they can to make the most money, and will not let the truth stand in their way,” said Wood. “Tabloids are not going to let a law or two get in the way of a good story when they can make a lot of money on it.”Shapiro explained that tabloids are not new. The first one, called “Confidential,” popped in Hollywood in the 1950s. The celebrity community at the time banded together to put it out of business, even making their cause part of political campaigns.Modern tabloids have their roots in Great Britain, where British tabloids feast on class warfare fueled by working people who delight in seeing the aristocracy brought low.Shapiro explained that it’s really pretty simple, outlining what he calls “tabloid magic.” Tabloid reporters and editors take disconnected information, then pay “experts” to comment on it. They weave the disconnected information together with the comment, and create stories.Tabloids will also pay sources to accept attribution. For example, Shapiro said when Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise were having upheavals on movie sets, tabloids would pay sources to accept responsibility for quotes and stories the tabloid’s reporters had already written.”People who thought they were friends stabbed each other in the back for the sake of a quick buck,” said Wood. “You can expect some of the same in Eagle.”Hopefully what’s happening to her will not interfere with what’s happening with the legal system, which is the pursuit of the truth.”Throwing money at potential sources is just the tip of the iceberg, said Shapiro.Tabloid journalism depends on shock value and manipulating information and people, said Shapiro, and obtaining information to which they might not be legally entitled.Shapiro said that during the JonBenet case, the Globe paid computer hackers to illegally pull credit card records to track John Ramsey’s shopping habits, looking for something – anything – incriminating. Chances are they’ll try something like that in the Kobe Bryant case, as well, Shapiro said.That information makes people easier to track.Wood said when the public began losing interest in the JonBenet case, and subsequently the tabloids’ revenue started sliding, so did their standards. They started putting out stories accusing Burke Ramsey, JonBenet’s 9-year-old brother, of being involved with his sister’s death.Shapiro said tabloids don’t have that much to offer because they aren’t reputable news organizations. They don’t offer trips to big city studios or other subtle incentives like mainstream major media outlets. Network morning shows have flown local residents to places like New York and Los Angeles, put them in hotels and chauffeured them around the cities. Flying interview subjects to other cities gives network news organizations control of the sources, and the story, for a few days.Tabloids don’t do anything that subtle, The can, however, offer money and do so in sometimes huge quantities.The National Enquirer offered a local teen-ager $12,500 for her story about a trip she and Bryant’s alleged victim took to Austin, Texas, to audition for the television show “American Idol” in the past year. The offers are likely to get richer.Shapiro said a handwriting expert in Evergreen was offered $30,000 for a ransom note connected to the JonBenet case. Shapiro said the Globe offered to buy John Ramsey’s home, with its $1 million price tag, for the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, just so they could take it apart to look for anything that might implicate Ramsey. Shapiro said they also threatened a Boulder detective, by suggesting they would publish a story about the officer’s mother who had killed herself.Taping cell phone conversations, digging through trash – all standard procedure, Shapiro said. He explained that cell phone conversations can be overheard on police scanners. All the equipment you need you can buy at a neighborhood electronics store.Setting trapsAmong tabloids’ favorite techniques is calling in misinformation to police officers, lying about a fight in some celebrity’s residence, then skulking in the bushes until the police show up to check it out, Shapiro said. They jump up, snap a couple of pictures, then splash a huge, shrieking headline about it.Roseanne Barr was investigated for child abuse after a tabloid reporter called 911 and said there was child abuse going on at Roseanne’s house. The police showed up at Roseanne’s house to check it out. When Roseanne was led outside to talk to police, the tabloid reporter jumped, fired off a few frames of photos and ran.The next week’s headlines screamed that Roseanne was being investigated for child abuse.When former President Bill Clinton was trapped by Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress, the tabloids pounded Lewinsky, then Clinton. Shapiro said you can expect the same treatment of Bryant and Bryant’s alleged victim, especially as the tabloids begin paying for stories from other women with whom Bryant may have been intimate.Wood said it’s not uncommon for tabloid reporters to sometimes misrepresent themselves and who they work for. Shapiro said they’ll lie about their identity, claiming to be from Newsweek or some other “legitimate” media.When Shapiro was with the Globe, they chased the Frank and Kathy Lee Gifford all over Cordillera, Vail and Beaver Creek. The family became tabloid fodder when Frank got caught having an affair with a flight attendant the Globe had allegedly paid to seduce him. As an interesting sidelight, the Globe and the National Enquirer got into a spitting match when the Enquirer wrote that the Globe paid the woman $250,000 to seduce Gifford. The Globe shot back, saying that, among other things, the Enquirer was revealing trade secrets.Shapiro recalled the time a photographer dressed like an on-mountain photographer and acted like he was snapping photos of skiers as they got off a lift in Beaver Creek. He shot more than a dozen chair loads of people before he got to the Giffords. By the way they were waving at the camera, the Giffords, along with everyone else, were apparently fooled into thinking the guy was just providing another guest service.Getting outFor Shapiro, the turning point was a conversation with CU journalism professor Michael Tracey.Tracey was working on an investigative piece about tabloids and the JonBenet Ramsey case for “48 Hours.” It was finally Tracey who led Shapiro to turn his tape recorded conversations with his Globe editors over to the FBI.”He finally decided what he was doing was wrong,” said Tracey. “He became very upset when he thought about it. He actually came to tears.”Shapiro was 23 years old when the Globe offered him $150 a day plus all expenses and sent him to Boulder to cover JonBenet. Two years later, he’d had enough. He said he had no idea what he would do or where he would go, but he knew he was through with tabloid life.”Sometimes you must jump, even if you have no parachute,” he said.Shapiro embarked on an anti-tabloid crusade that still energizes him.Since then, those tapes that were the foundation of the FBI’s case have been made available online through Editor & Publisher, a newspaper industry trade publication, as well as other Internet outlets.”They’re bullies, and like any other bully on the playground, they’ll back down if you stand up to them,” said Shapiro.Finally, as part of cutting his ties completely, Shapiro called John Ramsey to apologize for the connection to the tabloids, and for what the tabs had done to the murder victim’s father.The tabloid effectShapiro said the tabloids are slipping in popularity, not because they’re doing anything different, but because so much of the mainstream media has become so much like them.These days, Shapiro is a second year law student at the University of Florida. His goal is to launch a foundation to help people who have been victimized by tabloids.”There has to be some sort of institution that stands up to them,” he said. “They’re bullies, like the bullies in the schoolyard. If you stand up to them, they’ll back down.”Wood said the conduct of certain members of the media has been nothing short of outrageous.”I stand on the presumption of innocence,” said Wood. “I would also stand up and give this victim the presumption of privacy.”Sadly, I’m afraid the nightmare she’ll suffer at the hands of the media is only just beginning.”Tracey said Shapiro was the first to lay out in detail the sheer length to which tabloids will go to get stories.”Many people had always suspected it, and he gave them the facts,” said Tracey. “In Boulder with the JonBenet case, they destroyed lives, destroyed careers. Very nasty.”Tracey said Eagle and Eagle County can expect no less.”They’ll drown it in personnel. They’ll throw money around. They’ll threaten,” said Tracey. “What’s happening there is what happened in Boulder. No one there is prepared for this inundation of the media.”Fighting backWood pointed out that the alleged victim in the Kobe case is not accused of any crime.”I’m sure she thinks she is doing what’s right by not doing anything about this,’ said Wood. “She doesn’t want to appear that she’s only after money.”But, said Wood, she should defend and protect herself.”She has a right to go into a court and seek compensation and should be encouraged to do so,” he said. “There are ways to go after those who are doing this to her, and the most effective way is to hit them where it hurts them – in the pocketbook.”Wood said a lot of money will be changing hands out there in Eagle, a lot of it buying quotes and information about the alleged victim.”You have a young person, a 19-year-old child, and for members of the media to be speculating and attacking her based on speculation, leaked information or information from questionable sources is damnable,” Wood said. “They really have no dignity, and clearly no sense of professionalism, in my opinion.”Somebody needs to stand up for her, and the tone of the conversation would change immediately.”Tracey said the media’s fascination with this story is a bit disturbing.”The Kobe story is not an important story,” he said. “It’s a big story, but it’s not an important story. The JonBenet story is also a big story, a tragic story, the death of that little girl. But it’s not an important story, either.It isn’t just the tabloids now. It’s everyone. It’s an army that follows these rather banal stories. It’s amazing. It’s very telling about news values these days.”GLANCE BOXTabloid tricksAmong the tricks former tabloid investigator Jeff Shapiro says Eagle County can expect from tabloids:- Pay sources to accept attribution for quotes and information the tabloids contrive.- Paying computer hackers to illegally obtain credit card records to track people’s spending habits.- Outright paying for people’s stories.- Misrepresenting who they are and who they work for, claiming to be from some legitimate media outlet.- Taping and listening to cell phone conversations, which can be done on police scanners you can buy at a local electronics store.- Calling in misinformation to police, then grabbing incriminating photos when authorities show up to investigate.Enquiring minds want to payThe National Enquirer’s Michelle Caruso made four trips to Lindsey McKinney’s house on a Sunday in July, each trip increasing an offer by the tabloid to buy exclusive rights to any information McKinney had about overdoses by the 19-year-old woman accusing Kobe Bryant of sexual assault.In those four trips, Caruso had increased the Enquirer’s offer for information from $200 to $10,000. By the time the National Enquirer’s representative rang the doorbell the fourth time, around after 7 p.m., the offer was upped to $12,500.Here’s a transcript of that Sunday night conversation:- NE: “Jerry upped the offer to $12,500, but the interview has to be tonight or tomorrow. For that we need exclusivity. You can’t talk to anyone else in the media.”We’ll want a picture, preferably a picture with the victim.”- Dad: “What is it you’re looking for?”- NE: “We want the whole truth, and what she knows to the best of her knowledge. But we must move tonight. We think the story has about a 24 hour shelf life.”- Dad: “Haven’t you talked to any other kids?”- NE: “We’ve talked to several other kids, but none with her level of knowledge.”- Dad: “We’ll need to talk about this, but I don’t believe we’re interested.”- NE: “Call me before you go to bed tonight. Does that amount of money make a dent to you at all?”- Dad: “No, not really.”- NE: “It’s more than I’ve ever seen them pay for anything. Stories on Julie Roberts only pay five grand. Are lawyers from the case calling you?- Dad: “No.”