Can I Interest You in a Murder?

With each passing day, it looks more and more likely that Lori Hacking was shot by her husband, Mark, on July 18. Having learned that he’d falsified claims of being accepted to medical school in North Carolina, police believe Lori’s confrontation of the facts led Mark to kill her in a rage, then dispose of the body and bloodied evidence in a Dumpster.

With Mark having confessed the murder to his brothers Scott and Lance less than a week after Lori’s disappearance, I have only one question. Why the hell should I have cared in the first place?

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The murder of a woman is not national news. People die every day; some of them, unfortunately, are victims of crime.

Such crimes, however, are purely local matters. The police investigate, a family mourns, a suspect is tried. It happens every day in every region of the country. There is nothing unique or special about these cases save the tragic death of someone whose time came too soon.

Depending on where you live, the same crime could have just played out nearby. You’ll neither hear about it on television or radio nor will you read about it in the newspaper. This casualty of fate will never even enter into your subconscious, yet every scandalous detail about Lori Hacking’s final hours will replay endlessly on pundits’ lips and in the pages of tabloids.

This media mentality only further serves to distance people from their own community and their compassion. After all, if the only crime you hear about is six states or half a world away, it’s hard to feel an impact. This isn’t a woman killed three blocks over, this is a death so far removed from the lives of most Americans that it easily feels like a curiosity.

Laci Peterson is perhaps the ultimate example of a need by the press to scandalize the trivial. This is a pregnant woman who may or may not have been killed by her husband in Northern California. It has zero bearing on the lives of the rest of the country. It’s not even particularly scintillating; aside from the fact that Peterson was pregnant, what’s so remarkable about a cheating husband being the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance? If it was an episode of Law and Order, I’d have changed the station before the first commercial break.

It’s so frustrating to people who look to our at news sources for actual instances of news when something as idiotic as these murder investigations take center stage. I’d like nothing more than to tune into CNN, FOX News or MSNBC and hear the talking heads debating something substantive, or take a real gamble on local news and hope and pray that something interesting happened locally (a guy can dream). These tabloid affairs sap valuable airtime from educating the public on things they might actually need to know.

Modesto and Salt Lake City are by and large quiet cities… no longer. Thanks to these two overblown media “events,” more press has been devoted to such abhorrent non-news than to Dick Cheney’s possible indictment by France for presiding over Halliburton while massive bribery was going on. Remember Chandra Levy? I bet you remember more about her than the terror warnings brewing in the summer of 2001. The media selects this fluff to keep people from thinking about controversial issues — number one of which is why the media is so hopelessly complicit in dumbing down the average American.

That lies at the heart of my discontent with these ridiculous stories. Instead of learning that recent Al Qaeda plans to attack banking institutions were instead a shameful misrepresentation of four-year-old data, we’re finding out that Mark Hacking admitted his deceit on videotape. Instead of living in the here and now, the public is continuing to nurse on the teat of a murder that was pretty much solved three weeks (or, in the case of Laci Peterson, two years) ago.

If you were given the option, would you prefer to learn about things of importance in your world or pointless crime stories? What appeals to you — melodrama and barking dogs or hard news? Both can be equally depressing, but only one is useful.

Most important, though — if a crime has been investigated to satisfaction, why is it still being peddled as news?

In this sense, I actually feel for the suspects. I can’t claim to know Scott Peterson’s culpability in the death of his wife, but his vilification by the press all but assures him a prejudiced jury and no possibility of a life should he be found not guilty. As for Mark Hacking, he may indeed be a loon who runs around his hotel room naked, but any salacious details about his life that spring up in The Enquirer don’t help him mount whatever defense he has.

But you know who I feel for the most throughout these situations? Not the family of the victim, although I can sympathize with the need for privacy during these troubled times.

No, the person I feel for the most is me.

I feel for my brain for absorbing any part of these useless dramas. I apologize to my eyes whenever I go to buy a carton of milk and see tantalizing headlines like “Lori’s Final Minutes!” — right above the photo of Paris Hilton’s embarassing pimple and Mary-Kate’s weight-gain testimonial. I pray a silent prayer for my ears that they never have to hear another detail about these poor women who in death are nothing more than a media fascination.

There is no reason these stories should be picked up like marionette puppets and played with by a media hoping to enthrall its audience. There is nothing important to learn, there are no lessons to be had. Treatment like that should be levied at vacuous celebrities — at least they sign up for the fame.

I do not care about wedding photos of the “happy couple” in better times. I do not care about corrupt secret lives. I do not care about the motivation of the murderer. I care that someone is dead, and that the killer is being brought to justice. That is all.

Next case.