American Murder Meets American Idol

Former Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) detective Mark Fuhrman was convicted of perjury in 1996 for lying under oath during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. A defense attorney asked if he’d referred to a black person as a “nigger” in the last 10 years, and Fuhrman said he hadn’t. Several witnesses contradicted him, including screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny, who produced recordings of Fuhrman using the word.


Simpson’s lawyers played the race card to defend a man who’d brutally murdered two people, and they succeeded. Fuhrman had found the infamous bloody glove Simpson wore during the murders, and the defense accused him of planting it. Blamed for Simpson’s subsequent acquittal, Fuhrman apologized in his New York Times bestseller Murder in Brentwood for using the slur, and documented errors the LAPD and the prosecutors made that undermined an otherwise strong case against Simpson.

Fuhrman followed up with several more books and now works as a Fox News consultant on criminal cases. In his latest book, The Murder Business: How the Media Turns Crime Into Entertainment and Subverts Justice (Regnery), he exposes the media’s inaccuracies, faulty reporting, and sensationalism in eight high-profile murder cases, including Caylee Anthony, killer cop Drew Peterson, Martha Moxley, Scott Peterson, and the case that started it all, O.J. Simpson.

“The media have become major players in the criminal justice system and their power increased dramatically in recent years,” Fuhrman writes. “By studying the media’s behavior in specific cases, criticizing their errors and applauding their successes, I hope to raise public awareness of a serious problem in our society, and begin a discussion of possible solutions.”


Law enforcement and the media have different agendas. The police want to apprehend the perpetrator and seek justice for the victim, and the media want to prolong cases and produce high ratings. They do nothing to try to help solve the case. Fuhrman lays most of the blame on cable news shows. It might surprise some readers to know that he acknowledges the kind of victim the media love and is critical of their fixation:

Typically, the victims are female. Without exception, they are white and very pretty. In a ghoulish moment, American Murder meets American Idol, as America chooses its prettiest corpse, onto whom our collective horror is projected. It begins with a photograph that quickly becomes iconic in our culture, a name we adopt into our national conversation as if we were speaking of someone we all knew. JonBenét. Caylee. Stacy Peterson. Laci Peterson.

When two-and-a-half-year-old Caylee Anthony disappeared in 2008, there were probably 3,000 other juveniles reported missing, Furhman notes. Only her story had the right ingredients for national news coverage. While it was clear early in the case Caylee was dead, the media pushed the “missing” child meme to fuel ratings and keep the story alive.

Does Fuhrman see the irony of being part of the media he criticizes? “Even though I now work as a journalist, at heart I’m still a cop. I try to balance the often-conflicting responsibilities of truth, justice, and the public’s right to know. … The greater good of helping law enforcement solve the case outweighs any other considerations.”


Fuhrman’s media criticism is familiar. The more interesting material is a behind-the-scenes look at police blunders from the perspective of a man with 20 years experience in law enforcement. Furhman’s Murder in Greenwich helped prompt Connecticut to convene a grand jury to re-examine the unsolved 1975 murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley.

One of the Moxleys’ neighbors in upscale Greenwich was Rushton Skakel, brother of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy’s widow. Two of his rowdy teenage sons, Tommy and Michael, befriended Martha, whose family had recently moved to the neighborhood. She preferred Tommy, and Michael was jealous. Returning home from a party at the Skakels, Martha was bludgeoned to death.

Looking at evidence more than 20 years old, Fuhrman said it was obvious she was murdered in a rage killing likely committed by a neighbor who had some kind of relationship with her. The murderer used a Toney Penna golf club to kill her, a rare type of club owned by no one in the neighborhood but the Skakels. The club that killed Martha was missing from the set. Incredibly, the police did not get a warrant to search the Skakel house.

Thanks in part to Fuhrman’s independent investigation, 41-year-old Michael Skakel was convicted of Martha’s murder in 2002. A case that should have taken three days took 27 years. “In Greenwich, the police are like a civil service security force. The wealthy residents they serve tell them what to do and when to do it. The cops are their employees — literally.”


What did the local media do during the half-hearted Moxley investigation? According to Fuhrman, they wrote articles mostly based on press releases and police statements:

[T]he way the media covered Martha Moxley’s murder is another prime example of journalists simply following the leads they’re handed, instead of looking at the facts and trying to draw their own conclusions — never mind create their own leads. So much for the “watchdog” media.

Fuhrman also reveals incompetence in the Drew Peterson case. In 2004, the police officer was suspected of killing an ex-wife, Kathleen. In 2007, fourth wife Stacy Peterson disappeared. Fuhrman learned that during the investigation into Kathleen’s death, a six-person coroner’s jury of citizens with no medical or forensic training who may or may not have ever seen a dead body determined that Kathleen, found dead in a dry bathtub with contusions and abrasions on her body, had accidentally drowned. The jury, which included a cop who knew Peterson, ruled an obvious homicide an accident.

The Murder Business ends with the Simpson case, and Fuhrman reveals gross mishandling from start to finish. Fuhrman’s writing is unadorned and to the point, and his insider look into high-profile cases is worth reading.



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