If the increasingly pathetic saga of John Mark Karr proves anything, it's this: A media obsessive can stretch his fifteen minutes of fame to twenty, or even half an hour, if he can manage to portray himself as a victim of the media attention he seeks yet claims to despise.
Fingered by CU professor Michael Tracey as the latest prime suspect in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, hauled from Bangkok to Boulder on the strength of an absurdly detailed yet badly flawed confession to the crime (see this week's cover story here), exposed as a prodigious liar by a DNA test, then acquitted on a child-porn case in California marked by several prosecution blunders, a lesser man might want a break from the infamy for a little while. Not Karr. In the past few days Karr has blitzed the airwaves, reconfessing on one talk show to a murder he didn't commit, hustling to another cable outlet to denounce the first interview — and then spending an entirely vacant hour with Larry King, the vizier of vapidity, explaining that he really can't talk about anything.
The morning shows and cable yakkers have been gunning for Karr since the California case collapsed two weeks ago. Some ABC producers scooped him up in a limo and took him around San Francisco, presumably for a Good Morning America fugitive-comes-home tearjerker, but that went wrong somehow when Karr was spotted strolling outside a school where he used to teach. Not to worry; others were willing to woo Karr, and he was happy to be wooed, even while denouncing the media attention as a "painful" intrusion in the life of a "very private person."
The contradictions were apparent in Karr's much-hyped and excruciatingly boring debut on Larry King Live last night. His lawyers won't let him talk about Tracey or any criminal investigations, he said. No, he's not going to talk about his ex-wives or his interest in having a sex change; that's his business. Basically, he was appearing on national TV to let everyone know how much he hated the media attention. King, never the most probing of interviewers, was reduced to asking him how he liked the flight from Thailand.
Some light was shed on Karr's reticence by his appearance the same night on Fox's On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. This time Karr's attorney, Rob Amparan, did most of the talking, leading a frustrated Van Susteren to respond that Karr was just "sitting there like a prop." But Amparan and Karr had sought this interview, not the other way around; the whole purpose was to denounce Karr's upcoming appearance on Dr. Keith Ablow's talk show as a fraud.
Amparan charged that Karr had been plied with booze by Ablow's people and told he was just doing a "test" shoot of some kind, with no film in the camera. "Mr. Karr was wined and dined by a production company, taken around New York City, taken to dinner, taken to Phantom of the Opera, taken back to an office for wine and cheese," the lawyer said, clearly outraged. "We have made a cease and desist request on Mr. Karr's behalf."
Amparan also hinted that legal action of another kind might be in the offing. "We're in the process of seeking return of some of Mr. Karr's property from Professor Michael Tracey right now," he said, probably referring to the pile of e-mails and phone calls that produced the confession — as well as the autobiographical manuscript he wrote for Tracey.
He even implied that Karr was running a game on Tracey —not the other way around: "Not everything that's said in an e-mail is true. There are some reasons to produce fiction to get a response."
Ablow has denied getting Karr drunk to make him talk. But his performance on Ablow's show aired this morning was so bizarre you can see why Amparan didn't want it to see the light of day. The most damaging moments came from a late-night session in a producer's office that Karr didn't know was being filmed; Ablow calls it "the informal interview." (Betrayed by Tracey, Karr seems quite willing to be betrayed by other sneaky undercover media types, as long as he can complain about it to Larry King.) In the session, Karr claims to still have JonBenet's underwear and waxes creepy on the sexuality of children, much as he did in his dialogue with Tracey.
Where Karr goes from here may depend on how well his lawyers can control him. They appear to have schooled him on the danger of continuing to boast that he was involved in JonBenet's murder; at the very least, he could risk charges for interfering with an investigation. But even if he has nothing to say, can anyone shut him up? —Alan Prendergast