Justice, Privacy, and JonBenet Ramsey
By Julian Dunraven
What is your favorite freedom this year? That is the question one of my dear friends asks my salon every 4th of July. It is interesting to listen to the answers. In 2003, my favorite freedom was privacy, and the right given to all people, both heterosexual and homosexual, to develop their most intimate relationships free from government intrusion. Lawrence v. Texas, 539 US 558 (2003). This year, only a month removed from Independence Day, I again think privacy is one of my favorite freedoms—but I no longer see government as the only mortal threat to it.
Tonight, my salon again considered the importance of privacy as we learned of the latest developments in the JonBenet Ramsey Case. One honorable gentleman argued quite passionately that the entire media system owes the Ramsey family a very good apology. It is hard to argue with that. The news media overtly accused the entire Ramsey family of murder, and splashed their morbid theories across the front pages of nearly every paper in the country for weeks. Meanwhile, countless books flooded the presses, excoriating one Ramsey after another. Yet, there was never any trial of justice. No court of law or rules of evidence ever governed the accusations hurled at the Ramseys by the media. Now, it seems the Ramseys may finally be vindicated. My honorable friend is correct to say that the media has done this family a horrible injustice to add to their terrible loss.
Yet, if the media acted villainously, it did so only because such behavior was selling papers—and books and magazines, and all manner of tripe. Offering readers a window into the glamorous lives of the wealthy, all the intrigue and deception of a mystery novel, and the self satisfying illusion of moral superiority to the rich, the JonBenet story appealed to the basest voyeurism that has been one of this country’s most disgusting vices for more than a century.
Not so long ago, the media would publish intimate details and itineraries of celebrity figures. The population loved it—and so did assassins. They used the timelines to target Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy, F. Roosevelt and Reagan, as well as notables such as George Wallace, Robert Kennedy, and John Lennon. Most recently, their intrusive tactics have directly cased the death of Lady Diana, Princess of Wales. Though these tragedies have finally convinced at least the U.S. media to stop publishing celebrity itineraries, the media seems to have found new ways to ruin lives. I speak of the life dissecting trial by press, which indulges in the most gruesome and appalling speculations no court of law would ever allow, and Justice herself would recoil in horror. My honorable friend has called this most frightfully un-Christian, and yet this mostly Christian population cannot seem to get enough of it. “Love your neighbor’s misery as yourself,” seems to be the new Golden Rule.
The great political heroine, Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt and icon of the Republican Party, dedicated much of her life to the cause of privacy and ending these invasive and life threatening practices. She set a marvelous example. It would be so nice to hear politicians trumpet that cause once again. And yet, when it comes to matters of privacy, it is Alice’s own party—the Republican Party-- that betrays the cause most terribly. It is the Republican Party--the devoutly Christian Republican Party—that stands most ready to comment on the private lives of others and to overtly condemn the constitutional right to privacy. For the sake of Justice, for the sake of decency, and for the sake of liberty, the Republican Party—my party—needs to honor the memory of its great mistress and make privacy one of its favorite freedoms too.
Julian Dunraven, J.D., M.P.A.