December 29, 2017
I did not go to journalism school. I took one journalism class at Columbia in the spring of 2006, and the only lesson that has stuck with me is something that according to my professor, is the first rule of journalism and that is: do not be the news. In other words, do not make the story about yourself. When a journalist implicates himself or herself in the story they are covering, their sense of objectivity is compromised and they cease to be an effective observer. As an analog, think about what would happen if a pharmaceutical science researcher was simultaneously a participant in a clinical drug trial they were in charge of.
Yet at the risk of coming dangerously close, or perhaps even breaking that rule, there are a few items in Renner’s post I would like to clarify regarding my intentions and regarding elements of my interview with Mr. Murray that he touched upon, including 1) a statement claiming that Fred lied to me; and 2) a reference to the unsavory allegations against Mr. Murray.
Re: Claims that Fred Lied: First thing’s first. Renner states: “Fred lies to Erinn a couple times. I think astute readers will pick up on this, especially his version of when and how he spoke to investigators.”
It is difficult to disprove Renner’s claim unless he is willing to actually lay out the charge for those of us that are not as “astute” as we might like to be. However, having spent a fair amount of time fact-checking I can say with confidence that I believe everything Mr. Murray told me was truthful.
Ironically, the question of “when and how he spoke to investigators” was precisely why I contacted James several weeks ago. I was inquiring about a statement from his book that was brought up in the interview. That statement reads: “Healy and Scarinza told me that Fred refused to sit down for a formal interview with homicide detectives for two and a half years. When he finally agreed to do so, he brought his lawyers with him.” (Page 79)
For me, not enough context was provided to understand the implications of this statement. For instance, Maura’s case is classified as a ‘Missing Person’ investigation – not a homicide investigation. So it’s unclear what purpose Mr. Murray would have had to speak with homicide detectives to begin with. Beyond that, I was hoping James could answer questions such as, what was the nature of his “refusal?” What is the difference between a formal and an informal interview? Who are these lawyers?
Without proper context, we are more or less free to interpret this statement however we choose. For example, I feel as though “Fred brought lawyers,” was stated as if to imply that Fred brought criminal defense attorneys, which would of course lead the reader to draw the conclusion that Mr. Murray had something to hide from homicide detectives. Now, nowhere in the text does it directly state that Mr. Murray has something to hide. However the context and tone of the surrounding text leads me to draw that conclusion anyway. I grant that others may have interpreted this statement differently. But the point is that without more background and proper context, it is left ambiguous.
Given the timing (2.5 years into the investigation), such ambiguity could be viewed as unfair or even misleading. I say that because this is precisely when Mr. Murray was in the middle of suing the ‘state’ of New Hampshire. And as far as I know, Timothy Ervin is the only legal representation Mr. Murray had in this case. Perhaps then, the “lawyers” being referred to was actually Timothy Ervin.
As we know from the interview, Mr. Ervin is not a defense attorney. On the contrary, he represented Mr. Murray in the civil lawsuit he filed against the state – the process of which commenced in January of 2006 (1 year and 11 months into the investigation), and continued well into the following year (over three years into the investigation). In other words, it would seem logical to conclude that the context in which Mr. Murray sat down with his lawyer and with homicide detectives (2.5 years into the investigation) was one in which it was actually the state of New Hampshire that was ‘on trial’ here (so to speak) – not the other way around. Of course without clarification of James’s statement, it is impossible to know for sure.
I personally believe that if Mr. Murray had anything to hide, the last thing he would do is sue just about every law enforcement official in the state of New Hampshire. Moreover, there are a number of documented accounts of him speaking to (and about) the police in this case. But the important point that I want to emphasize and reiterate is that I have no reason to believe Mr. Murray lied at any point, and I stand behind every statement made in the episode.
Re: the “Unsavory Allegations Against Fred”: While it appears James and I disagree about the reason why Maggie had to ask Mr. Murray about the “unsavory allegations,” we do agree that Maggie was just ‘doing her job’ by asking Fred the tough questions. Below is a transcription of the conversation between Maggie, Art, and Fred Murray from Episode 3 of the Oxygen show, in which the topic is discussed. My interpretation is that Art and Maggie’s question is a direct response to the insinuations made in Renner’s book. Others may interpret the line of questioning differently. Everyone should decide for themselves.
Finally, James is correct when he states that I have picked apart of lot of his research. He is the only person that has published a book about the case, and is therefore considered a de facto authority on the subject. I truly respect how much time and energy he has put into this case over the years, and it is because of his effort that he is a voice that people listen to. That is why it is so important that all of his claims (and mine for that matter) are subject to review and debate. It is not about him. It is about Maura. And it is not personal.
To that point, in the post, Renner mentions his desire to sue me for libel, claiming that he “had a good case.” Since he brought it up, I will say that this was not news to me. He made it clear he had the financial means to pursue costly legal action both before I released the episode (that is, before he had even heard it), and again immediately following its release. While I cannot know his motives, I interpreted this and other threats (for instance, to contact my employer) as an attempt to intimidate me into removing any negative commentary about him from the episode.
I would note that false statements made by spoken word would actually be slander, not libel. Regardless, it is disappointing that someone who considers himself a journalist would respond to perceived criticism with the threat of legal action. I believe James is well aware that no slander (or libel) has occurred, and engaging in such a frivolous pursuit would only serve to enrich lawyers and waste both of our time. He is free to respond to whatever I post, but he is not my editor and the threat of legal action will never change that.
We can and should have honest disagreements, but as I said before it is not about him or me. It is about Maura.
Transcript Snippet from Episode 3 of Oxygen’s "The Disappearance of Maura Murray":
Maggie: Some people say that your family is hiding something and that you in particular are not telling the truth.
Fred Murray: People can say stuff like that but you know, they’re just slowing us down. Go ahead and say it, I don’t really care. I only care about finding my daughter, and I care about the people trying to help me. I’ll be forever grateful.
Maggie: Why did you not talk to Renner for his book?
Fred Murray: [Be]cause I anticipated it would go the way it’s gone. I had a hint with his earlier book that he actually sent me. I didn’t think that he’d be consistently dealing with the facts. I didn’t trust him.
Maggie: And that’s understandable now that the book has come out and there have been some pretty horrific allegations in it. And I do need you to answer one of those allegations and this is probably going to be the hardest question that I have to ask you. Did you sexually assault Maura?
Fred Murray: No. How can you even ask me that, ya know?
Maggie: It was alleged in the book.
Fred Murray: Between the lines or something like that?
Fred Murray: Is there anything I can do about that?
Maggie: You can answer the question.
Fred Murray: I resent being asked the question. No of course not! Of course not! This is my daughter! For Crissake. This is my daughter. Did he actually put those words in there? I wasn’t aware of that.
Art: There’s no direct reference that he says. He’s making inferences in the book about that incident possibly could have happened.