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Jewish World Review May 17, 1999 /2 Sivan 5759

Larry Elder

Larry Elder
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Did "Jenny Jones" commit murder?

(JWR) ---- (
IN PERHAPS THE BIGGEST OUTRAGE since the Holyfield/Lewis draw, a Michigan jury ordered the producers of the "Jenny Jones" show to pay $25 million in a wrongful death lawsuit. Three days after appearing on the show, a guest shot and killed another guest. The family of the deceased sued the producers of "Jenny Jones," holding them responsible for intentionally setting up the killer for embarrassment and shame.

In a show on secrets, Jonathan Schmitz learned, in front of a studio audience, that his secret admirer was, in fact, another man. Now, the show warned Schmitz that his secret admirer could be male or female. Also, as the defense pointed out, the guests knew each other, were friends, flew back from the show on the plane together and even went shopping before the murder.

Yet, apparently, so embarrassed and humiliated at having a known-to-all male homosexual admirer, Schmitz shot and killed the man. The show never aired.

Plaintiff's attorney Geoffrey Feiger said the folks at "Jenny Jones" all but killed the guest, "They solicited a victim. They picked a murderer and provided a motive. They did everything in this case except pull the trigger." Yeah, except "Jenny Jones" didn't pull the trigger. The killer did.

But the jury felt that "Jenny Jones" should have and could have foreseen the killing, and should have known that an unstable homophobic guest might erupt and murder his admirer.

Who is laughing
now, Jenny?
Don't you think that we're expecting just a bit much from a tabloid show talent booker? Hell, we don't know how soon the Dow is gonna hit 12,000 or when Milosevic will cave in. But we're supposed to tell that a guest is a) mentally unstable, b) homicidal, and c) that the stigma of having a homosexual admirer would be so debilitating, insulting and offensive that the homophobe would gun down his secret admirer. What is a booker supposed to do, call the Psychic Friends Network?

Professionals can't even determine whether and when someone may kill. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the gunmen responsible for the Littleton massacre, got a clean bill of health from juvenile authorities. After getting arrested for theft, they underwent a year-long "diversion" program at juvenile hall.

After Harris completed the program, which included anger management sessions, his report read, "Eric is a very bright young man who is likely to succeed in life. He is intelligent enough to achieve lofty goals as long as he stays on task and remains motivated." Klebold, too, received a positive evaluation, "Dylan did a very nice job on diversion. ... Dylan is a bright young man who has a great deal of potential. If he is able to tap his potential and become self-motivated, he should do well in life." We all know what happened.

According to the "Jenny Jones" jury, the show "set up" the guest, with the consequences predictable and foreseeable. Foreseeable? How many tabloid shows have paraded across our TV sets in the last 20 years? Donahue, Povich, Williams, Winfrey, Perez, Leeza, Lake, Raphael, Springer, Jenny Jones and others. Now, add up all the shows, and the number is probably in the tens of thousands.

Out of all those hosts, all those shows, all those hooks, angles and "gotchas," how many guests have murdered other guests? To my knowledge -- until "Jenny Jones" -- none. Yet "Jenny Jones" should have foreseen this killing. And was the killer really blindsided? This is, after all, "Jenny Jones," not "Masterpiece Theatre." What did Schmitz think would happen on the show? That they'd announce his scholarship to Cal Tech? That Ed McMahon and Publishers Clearing House were giving him $1 million?

What's next? A lawsuit against Dan Rather, because had the media not focused so much on Littleton, Colo., we would have had no copycat crimes?

Should, God forbid, another such tragedy happen on campus, can survivors and family sue CNN because of its 24-hour coverage of Littleton?

What about those high-speed chase broadcasts on local news? Some say suspects flee in order to get on local news. If a bystander gets hurt, should he sue the guy who flies the skycam helicopter?

According to the instructions in the "Jenny Jones" case, the judge advised the jury that it need only find that "Jenny Jones" was a contributing factor to the murder. Well, so were the tires attached to the wheels attached to the car driven by the killer to the airport to appear on the show. Let's sue Goodyear!

Why didn't the survivors sue the man who killed their loved one? That's easy. Deep pockets, babe.

Well, "Jenny Jones" intends to appeal. Who knows? Maybe the appellate court might point the finger elsewhere.

Starting, and ending, with the killer.

JWR contributor Larry Elder reads all of his mail. Let him know what you think by clicking here.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate