I do a live true crime talk show every Saturday, and we have our own approach to the topic, guests, and content. One thing we avoid doing is having a panel of talking heads offer their opinions and speculations on current high profile unsolved cases.
The reason for this policy isn’t simply that there are other established shows both on radio and television that use that as their basic format, and there is no need to cover the same ground they already do so well, but because I have concerns about what can become “trial by talk show” and “indictment by sound bite.” That doesn’t mean that I turn down guest appearances on some of these programs, but rather that I personally will not speculate on an ongoing investigation because of the concerns expressed by the FBI at an important symposium, and published on the FBI website.
The public’s interest in serial murder cases makes serial murder an attractive storyline for the media. To further the public’s interest in these cases, the media uses people who are willing to speak as experts on the topic of serial murder and more specifically, individuals willing to comment on the current, featured case. These commentators are commonly referred to as talking heads, and it appears that there is no shortage of people willing to do this.
Individuals utilized by the media to comment on serial murder cases include both experts and pseudoexperts. Experts are identified as academicians, researchers, retired law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, and retired law enforcement profilers who have developed specific knowledge and experience in serial murder investigations. Pseudoexperts are self-proclaimed profilers and others who profess to have an expertise in serial murder, when, in fact, their experience is limited or non-existent. The media will recruit talking heads, whether true experts or pseudoexperts, to offer their opinions on current cases, when they have no official role in the investigation and no access to any of the intimate facts of the case.
When individuals appear in the media and discuss ongoing cases, they have an enormous potential to negatively influence investigations and may even cause irreversible damage. They often speculate on the motive for the murders and the possible characteristics of the offender. Such statements can misinform the public and may heighten fears in a community. They may contribute to mistrust and a lack of confidence in law enforcement and, more importantly, may taint potential jury pools. These statements may also impact the behavior of the serial murderer, because it is unlikely that an offender discriminates between a talking head and a law enforcement official actively involved in the case. When offenders are challenged by statements or derogatory comments made in the media, they may destroy evidence, or more tragically, react violently.
What is your opinion on this topic? Feel free to leave your comments.\ I love hearing from you.