|Written By Rick
Ellis, Thursday, September 14th, 2006
It was sadly inevitable.
Two weeks after telling police that her son had been snatched from his crib, Melinda Duckett, 21, killed herself just hours after taping a September 8th, 2006 interview with CNN Headline's Nancy Grace.
While Duckett may have indeed been acting suspiciously, while she may have believed she had some idea of what awaited her in the Grace interview, she apparently was not prepared for a interview that made her look as if she had something to hide, as if she were guilty of murdering her son.
In the years since the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, prime time cable news programming has subsisted largely on a diet of missing children and unsolved murders. While in theory it's great that such cases are highlighted to a national audience, the reality is that the shows are filled with gossip, rumors and a level of speculation that borders on fantasy.
What makes the programs even more dangerous is that they are hosted by people who possess both sharp legal minds and a flair for controversy. Nancy Grace, Greta Sustern, Rita Cosby and the rest have the ability to bring light to a case. But they also have the talent to intimidate guests who don't possess the faculties to defend themselves against an aggressive intellectual attack.
In some ways, the Duckett interview wasn't that unusual for Grace. It was a mix of confrontation, interrogation and blindsiding. It was a masterful job of entertainment. But it was a useless and potentially dangerous news event.
The interview--like many similar ones---spent a lot of time focusing on facts that don't really matter to law enforcement. There seems to be an unspoken assertion by Grace that it's just as important to act innocent as to be innocent.
If a parent doesn't immediately volunteer to take a polygraph, if they don't spill every feeling and detail of the case to the press, if they even consider hiring a lawyer, then somehow they have something to hide. She consistently falls back on the "well, something seems fishy" argument, which might be a legitimate interrogation tool for parents investigating a curfew violation. But it's lousy police work and illustrates a shading of the process of law that is truly cynical.
Grace is a smart woman. She understands the law and how to conduct both a vigorous prosecution and defense. So for her to conduct the following interview illustrates her worst tendencies towards hyperbole.
GRACE: Melinda, have you taken a polygraph?
MELINDA DUCKETT: I've spoken to the investigators, and Joshua is on the outside loop of it, and as far as the investigative techniques are concerned with polygraph, stress test, physical searches, interviews, et cetera, my family and I have fully cooperated with local law enforcement and...
GRACE: Have you taken a polygraph?
MELINDA DUCKETT: ... the federal and everything...
MELINDA DUCKETT: And locally, they don't have enough necessary experience, and that's why the FBI was called in to begin with. I've been instructed to only speak with them, with their unit, and anything that they release to the media or public is up to them. Now, as far as...
GRACE: Have you taken a polygraph?
MELINDA DUCKETT: ... or anything -- like I said, I mean, anything that I do or anything is in cooperation with them. I'm doing everything they want me to. But as far as details and everything, I mean, I'm leaving everything up to them.
GRACE: Right. Have you taken a polygraph?
MELINDA DUCKETT: I've done everything they've asked me to.
It's difficult to see why Grace focuses on the polygraph, other than for the reason that it is "good" television. It's not admissible in most courts, and the failure to take one is by no means an admission of guilt. But because it sounds bad, because it fills time and makes for "hot" TV, it's a fact that Grace returns to again and again.
Grace also hones in Duckett's reluctance to spill every last detail of the case to the television audience. In Grace's world, if you don't want to talk to her, then obviously you have something to hide. And she is then going to beat you like a piñata until you either spill the details or appear guilty.
GRACE: Well don't you think it would be a great idea, for instance if you were at a local JCPenney's or Sears Roebuck to tell the viewers right now this is where we were. Did you see anything? Did you notice anything? Here's your child's picture? Here's my picture. Help me. Where were you? Why aren't you telling us where you were that day, you were the last person to be seen with him?
MELINDA DUCKETT: And we have already gone out and distributed the fliers and spoken to --
GRACE: Right, why aren't you telling us and giving us a clear picture of where you were before your son was kidnapped?
MELINDA DUCKETT: Because I'm not going to put those kind of details out?
MELINDA DUCKETT: Because I was told not to.
GRACE: Ms. Duckett, you are not telling us for a reason. What is the reason? You refuse to give even the simplest facts of where you were with your son before he went missing. It is day 12.
MELINDA DUCKETT: (INAUDIBLE) with all media. It's not just there, just all media. Period.
GRACE: Let's go to Dr. Lillian Glass, psychologist. Weak spots?
GLASS: This doesn't make any sense to me. And the fact that she's skirting around the issue and can't get to the point concerns me a lot. Her reaction is not the typical reaction of a mother who has a missing child, whose child was taken from the bed when she says I don't cry my eyes out. Most people would be emotional about it and the fact that she's been skirting the issue through this entire interview concerns me.
Grace might indeed believe that Melinda Duckett was a guilty woman. She certainly has the broadcasting chops to make it seem that way. But it is morally reprehensible to cut back-and-forth between the Melinda Duckett interview and people who argue that somehow because the mother is "not clear" in some of her answers, that she is thereby implicated in the child's disappearance.
Despite what Grace and her news channel competition might believe, they don't possess some special "sense" that allows them to distinguish fact from fiction. They might be correct when they say that the added news coverage helps some cases.
However, the track record with this type of programming paints a different story. All the sordid coverage in the world didn't crack the Holloway case or a dozen other high-profile missing person cases. It's compelling to watch--in a scary sort of way--and it's difficult to turn away from.
It's certainly quite possible Melinda Duckett might have killed herself even if she had never given an interview to the press. Nancy Grace didn't pull the trigger. But she helped to create an environment that made that death more likely.
Anyone who thought the death might make Grace more reflective of her show probably didn't count on comments Grace made during her show on Monday. Her comments implied that somehow Grace had gotten to the "truth" of the case, and that Duckett's subsequent guilt led to the death
"I do not feel that our show is to blame for what happened to Melinda Duckett," said Grace. "The truth… is not always nice or polite or easy to go down. Sometimes it's harsh, and it hurts."
The truth does hurt, Nancy. I only wish you had the self-awareness to see it.