The focus of the June 17, 2019 edition of NBC’s “Dateline” was a Bloomington, Ill., murder case. That meant my The Unforgiven co-author, a newspaper courts and crime reporter at the time, was among the case’s best-informed, objective observers.
So that’s why Dateline interviewed Edith Brady-Lunny and used her clear-eyed description of the facts to help tell, in a compelling one-hour segment titled “Before Midnight”, the story of the Pam Zimmerman murder investigation and trial and acquittal of her ex-husband, Kirk Zimmerman.
I’ve personally worked with Dateline producers and reporters on at least three stories over the years and found they approach each report with a definite point-of-view. Not so much this time. It left viewers with an unfinished “whodunit” feeling.
I’m guessing Kirk Zimmerman and his children are pretty happy with the story. Two other persons-of-interest, Pam’s final client and her finance, probably are not as happy because the report lingered on the embarrassing admissions they were forced to make about their romantic lives, and it didn’t take them off the hook as possible suspects.
Also likely unhappy: Bloomington’s police department, which declined to have anyone on the show. Dateline let stand the defendant’s attorney’s accusation of sloppy police work. And it seemed to criticize the way police informed the Zimmermans’ three children of their mother’s death.
If Dateline omitted any salient fact, it was investigators’ testimony that they believed they had evidence Kirk Zimmerman had driven to Indiana shortly before the murder and that he bought a gun there.
Zimmerman didn’t want to be interviewed by Dateline, but his kids were—and they came off great, so much so that maybe their father forgot about any resistance he may have had to the idea of their being on-camera. They’re three bright, young adults now, believing in their father’s innocence and fondly remembering and missing a wonderful mother. Some viewers may have raised an eyebrow about why they didn’t more aggressively follow up when their mom went missing. There’s no doubt the case has left them divided from members of their mother’s family. They generally believed Kirk killed his ex.
A couple close-to-home observations: The exterior of our local law and justice center sure looked grimy in the NBC footage. The portrayal of Bloomington made it look more rural than we really are. And I had to smile when they referred to our city as “the small suburb of Bloomington”. Later on they described the city as being two or three hours from Chicago, which is true. But Bloomington’s too small to have “suburbs” and we’re sure not a suburb of Chicago. So “the small suburb of Bloomington”?
I’m being picky. Overall Dateline did a really good job of telling an interesting story. Edith says she detected no factual errors. I think she did a great job, too.
And I’ve been reliably told that she placed a copy of The Unforgiven in the Dateline producer’s hands.
I came away believing the story was incomplete. Lots of things seemed to be ommitted.
Will Bloomington ever be properly characterized? Maybe someone should write that up and putting it out there fof all to see.
I’m guessing residents of most every medium-to-small community find themselves less than fully satisfied with the way “big-time” media portray them.
I was not familiar with this story so I watched it last evening. Since they didn’t mention Normal, I too wondered about the suburb comment. The Zimmerman children did a great job telling the story and I believe their Mother would have been very proud of them. I do hope that the police are still looking for the person who took their Mother’s life. Thanks for the comments and observations.
Well, we can be assured the people of Bloomington don’t think of themselves as living in a suburb of Normal. And vice versa!
Dan Swaney says
I agree with everything you said, Steve. “Small Suburb”? A power wash of the L&J “block”.
I also thought this piece may have been hurried to air. There were some parts of the story that played better with video (ie the “witness” losing it on the stand, for example). The defense attorney came off as formidable and yes, the BPD came across as being less than good. (Not the first time one of our departments have been accused of that).
Finally, I did chuckle when Zimmerman ‘s attorney claimed Kirk had a “quarter million dollars” in his 401k and was making $90k/yr at State Farm. I’m believing he HAD a quarter-million dollars, PRE-ATTORNEY.