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The Circus: 2007
There is a perfectly rational excuse for the newspersons’ seeming callousness: stories change with each retelling. Even a person really trying for the most faithful recital of events is almost invariably susceptible to slight modifications, certain little embellishments, with each recital. Accuracy of a story is in direct relation to how soon after the event it is recorded, and how frequently the story has been retold.
—Walter Cronkite, A Reporter’s Life (1996)
“Did You Murder Your Wife?”
So there they were, phalanxes of camera wielders, light techs, earphoned sound mavens, harried producers and their teenage sandwich holders, along with their fronts, the beautiful people perfectly coifed and clad, with makeup and microphones and pre-scripted nosy questions usually compiled by their cigarette-smoking behind-the-scenes producers who thought they knew what sold, but whose own visages were too real or too old to make the photographic cut. The rolling carnival came from broadcasters, cable networks, radio stations, bloggers, and even a few newspapers.
The media gaggle overran the short cul-de-sac and choked it off from normal suburban life. There were no tricycles or skateboards on this particular day—the neighborhood kids were outside the media perimeter, ogling in the background as the event unfolded.
Sometime in the afternoon, while the light was still good, the man of the hour finally emerged from his two-story house, looked around, and grinned. He held up a video camera and panned the scene, recording the media mob recording him. The crowd of so-called “content providers” went wild with hilarity.
The amateur reeled off a few quips, grinning. The reporters were gratified. It didn’t much matter to them what the man with the camera actually said, only that they had the image of him taking pictures of them, the picture itself telling the whole story. “Did you get it?” a producer would demand of the cameraperson. The amateur with the video camera smiled and went back inside his house. He had what he wanted: visual proof positive that the electronic media marauders had invaded his privacy, had invaded his life, had destroyed his suburban neighborhood, which made it almost impossible for him to get a fair trial, if it ever came to that. It was the dark side of being under the spotlight, of being In the News.
As it happened, a little before Halloween in 2007, a report came to the attention of someone who was likely a twenty-something producer for a cable network headquartered in New York, Washington or Atlanta, scanning local news feeds from around the country. He or she probably recognized the “elements,” as they’re called in the news racket: a young mother, very attractive, vanished mysteriously. Cue the spider webs, the jack-o-lanterns, the costumes, the candy, the kids. Is this a story for the mythical national village, or what?
The vanisher was twenty-three-year-old Stacy Peterson, mother of Anthony, then four, and daughter Lacy, then almost three, as well as stepmother to two older children of her husband, Drew Peterson, a small-town cop in the suburb of Bolingbrook, a former bean field some miles southwest of Chicago, Illinois. Stacy was cute, white, easy on the eyes: definitely a qualifier, as far as the national media calculated its ratings demographics. And of course there were the little kids—where’s Mommy?
Once the first cable network’s researchers understood that Drew Peterson had been the husband of another woman who had been found dead in a bathtub more than three years earlier, in which the circumstances of death were in dispute, the starting gun fired.
By the time the entire saga had saturated the nation over the next two years, as many as six hundred people had become potential, if peripheral, witnesses, and the responsible authorities were left to separate the grains of truth from the chaff of media-driven gossip. It was a classic example of how a small story, without many facts, becomes a big story almost overnight, driven by modern media speculation.
Welcome to the unhappy new world of Drew Peterson, retired small-town cop, suspect in two, maybe even three or four murders.
Excerpted from Cold As Ice by Carlton Smith.
Copyright © 2010 by Carlton Smith.
Published in September 2010 by St. Martin’S Paperbacks.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.