Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Criminal Profiling Topic of the Day: Good for Heather Mills!

I just saw Heather Mill's television interview on GMTV and I have to applaud her newest campaign. Heather is fed up with lies produced by the tabloids and is working to get laws in place to stop them from publishing outright lies and from displaying harassing behaviors equivalent to stalking. Rarely do I spend much time reading stuff from European tabloids but having a interest in the Madeleine McCann case led me to witness their brand of "reporting." I found myself rather stunned at the amount of stories that came out that included information completely contrary to stories from other tabloids or even from their own reporters just a day prior. If one story is the truth, a story with the opposite set of "facts" must then be a pack of lies. Apparently, the lies have gotten so out of control, the tabloids don't even fear lawsuit so they just print any inflammatory thing they want. This is egregious and I hope Heather succeeds in her campaign to stop this abuse.

I only disagree with Heather concerning the court of public opinion. When a person is indeed in the media, they can expect to have certain aspects of their behaviors scrutinized. She expresses sympathy for the McCanns for getting negative feedback from the public but this antipathy is not based on lies from the press but on the McCanns themselves because of admitted and observed behaviors. There is no question that when one puts themselves out in the public eye, one must be very cautious not to stoke fires of contention. Interestingly, some celebrities get no negative press at all because they lead polite and proper lives. The more one is flamboyant, outspoken, tantalizing, controversial...the more one has to accept there will be negative responses as well as positive responses.

As a criminal profiler who does a lot of media, I know the problem. I am outspoken and I am a bit of a renegade in the industry. I am working to change concepts I believe are outdated and damaging to moving serial homicide investigation and criminal profiling to a higher level and with better outcomes. I fly in the face of traditional FBI thinking and certain academics. In return I get called, "self-proclaimed profiler" (a label I guess you get if you didn't come up through the FBI), media whore (yes, I do a lot of television; it helps promote my concepts and programs), a fraud (FBI thing again, I think or some think I lie and say I AM with the FBI or have BEEN with the FBI), lacking in education (I have a Masters in Criminal Justice from Boston University but I did get into the field through self-training and reading hundreds of books on the market in forensics, investigations, profiling, psychology, etc), racist (this was because I wrote an article on Hurricane Carter, an African-American boxer, that some didn't like - they ignored the fact that I opened the article by stating I was married to a Jamaican and had two mixed race children and one African-American son), anti-police (even though my daughter is a cop and my son is in security and joining a police force soon), anti gun (even though I own two) and on and on. Some of this stuff is based on outright lies and some from careless reading and poor analysis, and other bits of scorn and hatred come from the fact some people just don't like me or what I have to say.

All of this comes with the territory of being in the public eye. I try to keep what I can under control and other stuff I just have to accept as part of the life I have accepted. Anytime I want out of it, I can give up my media work and live quietly. It is pretty easy to do. No fuel, no story.

But I admire Heather for going after those who print straight up lies. This should stop. The only time I get really bent out of shape is when I see something about me which is some supposed "fact" and it is simply not true. If somebody calls me a racist just because I think Rubin Hurricane Carter should still be in jail for murder, oh well, it is just their opinion. However, if someone says I used the "n" word while talking about an African-American, this will send me over the edge because it is not something I would ever do and if it is out in the public as a "fact," then I am forced to defend myself which is always a nightmare to have to do.

However, Heather, some of the stuff you probably did bring upon yourself by doing nude photos (no matter how long ago) or by marrying a big celebrity (a REALLY big one) and by speaking out (whether what you say was wonderful or not and I am a fellow vegetarian so I am on your side in that fight). You can't be in the world of the stars without being viewed as one and you can't be outspoken and not expect to be noticed (which is exactly why we speak out if we are going to be honest about it).

I wish you luck with the fight, though. I would be happy to see tabloids and reporters being held to some accountability. If it isn't true, you shouldn't be printing it. Period.

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown


preraphazon said...

I can't believe the media has been allowed to stalk and cause such a crush as to endanger pedestrians and motorists. It isn't as if there aren't laws in place to do something about it already. I think the prevailing attitude is that these celebrities asked for it, and I don't think that should have anything to do with it. The laws should be enforced regardless. As the Paris Hilton case pointed out clearly, public consensus can rapidly turn into a witch hunt and justice delivered unevenly and for all the wrong reasons, while other more obvious infarctions, such as media blocking one's way to go anywhere. When these celebrities say they couldn't get to the courthouse on time, I believe them! How could they short of a helicopter drop? Anyway, enforcing the law shouldn't hinge on public opinion. Nor should it be cowed by an army of cameras, and that is often what happens.

So I say start with enforcing the laws already in place, which includes slander laws. If a big celebrity prosecuted all the slander offences against them, they would get nothing done in their chosen career because they would have a new career going to depositions and court. That's why you don't see them doing any more than they do. No one wants to give up their chosen life to become a martyr.

Ms. Brown, I'm sure you've gotten more than a little taste of what comes with the territory yourself. I used to work with musicians, and I've seen how even a much more contained celebrity than those in the news can fence you in and hinder you in countless ways.

There's stalking laws in place and traffic laws and slander laws. Let's roll some heads!

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown said...

So far I have only had slander concerns with one person who made statements about my work that were outright lies. This person did not bother to find out if what he was saying was true, but simply made an assumption and put his assumptions out as facts. For example, he claimed that I, and I alone, investigated a man in a serial homicide and that no one else considers the man a suspect. Yet, this man was brought in by the police investigators, polygraphed (he failed), and DNA was taken. I was told by the investigator they believed he was guilty and, although the DNA evidence was degraded and not strong enough for prosecution, he is still the one and only suspect in the crime, according to law enforcement on the case. Yet, out on the net, this slander remains. This is not the only lie he has put out there, but I have not taken legal action simply because it is not worth the hassle.

Other than that, most of the negative stuff surrounding me is opinion. Some of that opinion is based on erroneous information and some is based on misinterpretation of information. This could be considered slander but I recognize that this is just a human trait to believe what is out there or read it wrong or jump to an erroneous conclusion. I let this go as the price of publicity. Finally, there are people that just dislike the hell out of me and they say nasty stuff about every aspect of my personality, work, intelligence, personal life, and so on. Again, I am in the public eye so I just live with it. Also, some is indeed my fault because I have a big mouth, I am very open about my personal life and feelings, and I have strong opinions about certain issues. I do dish a lot out and I have to expect some backlash in return.

But, stalking, physical endangerment and outright lies should be illegal and those in journalism should not be claiming stuff to be facts that are not and should not be crossing the private line of the lives of public figures.

preraphazon said...

On the internet, you get people attacking who would never have the nerve to do it in real life. For a coward, the internet is the only place they are powerful, and tearing down people more distinguished than them makes them feel better about themselves momentarily. I've seen it every celebrity board on the net I've been to.

When journalists do it, whether on the net or in print, they are not doing their job well, either not doing their research or not being objective, or both. And their employers should have to pay for keeping them on staff. There's a difference between expressing editorial differences and printing outright lies to discredit someone and get themselves a story.

I'm not sure whether your slanderer was an actual journalist or an internet person (or both), but these days anyone who writes on a blog is some incarnation of a journalist, in a way, but with no one to hold them to a standard.

If your slanderer is part of the online profile forum community, I would say that overall, this is a better than average civilized community, but I've heard stories of a few competitive ones who are trying to seek recognition for profit who have a history of snarkiness toward better-known profilers or indeed anyone becoming visible on the boards, and constantly try to debunk their work.

And I'm sure you've noticed that high-profile women are more often the object of ire than high-profile men, on all fronts.

transfattyacid said...

A couple of points.

If the papers have printed outright lies, as heather mills claims then she can sue them. THe fact is that she has never done so, and neither has she made a complaint to the press complaints commission.

Second, people in Britain know they are being lied to, and generally just buy the paper for the crossword and know what is on the tele.

I personally don't buy tabloids manily because I have no idea who any of the celebrities they write about are, and frankly don't want to know.

Though on a serious point about lies, America is currently at war in Iraq, partly based on a dodgy dssier that was produced to feed the tabloid newspapers in Britain and seel the idea of war here.

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown said...

Preraphazon, you would be accurate that women do tend to get more attacks than men. I am not sure why that is but, perhaps, it is just a continuation of sexism in the form that men are seen to have more authority, especially in fields that are traditionally male.

The worse slander I have had to deal with is someone in my profession. After that, the biggest problem is journalists misquoting or grouping me in with others. There was one article written by a very prestigious journal which trashed criminal profilers as having completely been wrong about the Washington snipers, especially in that the profilers said they were white. I have tape of my appearances where I specifically refute the idea that the snipers had to be white, noting that there are many African-American serial killers in the country, but they get less press. I also stated that it was likely the snipers would be obsessed with weaponry and would have a stack of Guns and Ammo magazines and it turned out that the snipers were caught because of a fingerprint of Malvo's on a Guns and Ammo magazine.

But, these points I made were ignored and it was claimed that I was completely wrong about the snipers. Now, I am not saying I am always correct (especially with television commentary based on limited information), but, in this case I was dissed because the writer didn't bother to do the required homework.

And, yes, there are many on the Internet to deal with as well, but, these one just has to ignore.

As to Heather suing, Transfattyacid, yes, she could, but it becomes such an unbelievable nightmare to do so, that most of the time it isn't worth it. I am not saying Heather Mills is totally blameless for the stories about her (but, quite frankly, I don't know much about the woman and her media problems), but she is correct that no one should be allowed to simply make up "facts" or print "facts" said by somebody without making sure the information is true.

Lizzie1000 said...

This is an interesting debate about the British Media
There are several strands at work here
It is largely in the control of one man, Rupert Murdoch who owns (please correct me ;-) the Times, the Sun, News of the World and other newspapers. These papers reflect his interest in controlling UK politics
It is ridiculous the contradictory stories that appear in the newspapers, as though the only thing that matters is newspapers sales. eg with the McCanns - one day the sell to the pros the next day the antis.
Thirdly, any attempt at investigative journalism has long since died. We will never have a Watergate in the UK, or if we do, it will have nothing to do with journalists.
Despite relatively strict libel laws in the UK, the newspapers by and large get away with printing what they want. As you say, this is largely because most people can't be bothered. Others such as Maxwell kept a very strict eye on the press and did sue regularly, consequently the press kept their distance.

There are a lot of strands in this debate. Heather Mills has brought a certain amount of this on herself, but she is right. The British Media have absolutely no regard for the facts, only for what they can get away with.