by | Apr 18, 1999 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Alot of people think the Jenny Jones trial is about murder.

Others say it’s about free speech.

I say it’s about responsibility — which nobody wants to take.

The parents of Scott Amedure, who was shot to death by Jonathan Schmitz several days after both appeared on a taping of the “Jenny Jones” show, believe the Jones people are responsible for the tragedy. They say had Schmitz not been duped into coming on the show — only to learn that Amedure had a gay crush on him — their son would be alive. They are suing for $50 million.

Meanwhile, Jones and her show’s owners — Warner Bros. and Telepictures Inc.
— believe responsibility begins and ends with the man who pulled the trigger. Schmitz knocked on the door. He fired the gun. End of story.

“Nobody made him,” they say. “He acted on his own.”

It’s a case that has attracted international attention, with testimony as wild as anything you see on TV.

But to me, the most telling part is being vastly overlooked: It isn’t how quickly, angrily or vehemently each side has pointed the finger at the other.

It’s how impossible each side finds it to point the finger at itself.

Nothing but trashy TV

Jones, in this regard, was almost unbelievably aloof. During testimony last week — in which she smiled like a Stepford wife — she denied that her show exploits its guests. She claimed “they have a right to be on TV,” as if she were defending the Constitution.

When asked by lawyers, rather sarcastically, if she thought an episode of her show called “Pregnant Women Who Cheat on Their Husbands” was intended to
“help” those marriages, Jones actually said yes.

And “Mom Stole My Boyfriend” was aired only to encourage mothers not to steal their daughter’s boyfriends?

“Sure,” Jones replied.

They should do a new episode: Sleazy talk show hosts who think they’re Florence Nightingale.

Jones couldn’t possibly be this thick. More likely, she is fudging to save her show, her profits and her career.

But to deny that tears, anger, sex and humiliation aren’t what drive these shows is insulting. Of course that’s what they’re about. The country has turned voyeuristic. There is money to be made by broadcasting people’s dysfunction. That’s why Warner Bros., Telepictures and Jones are in it. Trust me, if Jenny wanted to cure people, she’d be working at a clinic.

But instead of taking some responsibility for this, instead of saying, “Look, we shocked the guy, and obviously it upset him,” instead of saying, “Yes, we should have checked Schmitz’s background and seen he had three suicide attempts” — none of which means they are guilty of murder — instead, they play dumb. Deny, deny, deny.

This is as delusory as Jones’ saying her show doesn’t exploit people. The meaning of the word exploit is “to utilize for profit.” Which means, unless they’re giving all their money to charity, they’re exploiting.

They know it, but they deny it. Must be someone else’s fault. Completely blameless are we. How audacious.

Sex lives on TV

But Jones and Co. are not the only ones shirking responsibility. It was, after all, Schmitz who took the gun and killed Amedure. And it was Amedure and a female friend who encouraged Schmitz to go on the show, knowing full well what was to be revealed. They were supposed to be his friends. Is that how friends treat one another?

But instead of taking that position, instead of saying, “Our son should have known better than to take his sex life to a TV show,” instead of saying, “Our son should never have revealed fantasies about Schmitz and whipped cream before a national audience,” instead of saying, “Jonathan should have known humiliation does not justify murder” — instead of that, they all point fingers.

So the Amedure lawyers say of Jones: “She knew what she was doing.”

And the Jones lawyers say of Schmitz and Amedure: “They knew what they were doing.”

In other words, both sides blame the other for acting under free will. But how can you say the other guy is responsible for his actions while believing you somehow are not?

Easy. It’s the world we live in. Even most of Jones’ pathetic programs feature people who want to shout, “He (she) made me do it!” We have evolved into a country where, from self-help books to law firms, we always can find a way to blame another party.

Hey. I have a new show idea for Jenny. It’s called “People Who Take Responsibility for Their Own Actions!”

Nah. Forget it. Too unbelievable.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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