America’s fascination with murderers has existed for decades. Yet few journalists have spoken to this type of criminal as often as Keith Morrison. He is synonymous with the advent of true crime programming thanks to his numerous interviews on NBC‘s Dateline.
Morrison brings sincerity and curiosity to his work that gives the imprisoned the chance to explain their thought process, no matter how illogical. His empathetic approach is also helped by his incredibly soothing tone of voice.
In addition to his TV work, Morrison hosts a new podcast to further investigate one particularly bizarre and grisly crime. In it, he shares one of his career’s most intense and “gratifying” conversations.
Keith Morrison was a respected reporter before joining NBC’s ‘Dateline’
A native Canadian, Morrison began his media career in the country’s Western provinces. He joined the CTV Network in 1973, where he worked as a reporter, producer, and weekend anchor. As The New Yorker reports, he won awards for his coverage of the Yom Kippur War and the Boat People refugee saga following the Vietnam War.
Morrison then joined the CBC as a co-host and Chief Political Correspondent for The Journal before moving to the U.S. in the mid-’80s. After a stint at KNBC-TV, he became the West Coast correspondent for NBC Nightly News and Today. He was a key contributor to their coverage of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and other NBC News documentaries and magazine segments.
He returned to Canada in 1992 to host the leading national morning news program, Canada AM on CTV. Morrison returned to NBC three years later as a correspondent for Dateline. He eventually became a celebrity journalist for his work on the program.
Having worked at NBC now for 27 years, Morrison has enough perspective to talk about his work and what he makes of the suspects he interviews. In a piece for Vanity Fair, the reporter revealed how he prepares himself for conversations with alleged or convicted killers.
His interviews have changed his attitude on potential murderers
Even if Morrison privately believes they are guilty, he attempts to enter the room with as few judgments on his subjects as possible:
“When I talk to somebody who’s been accused of a crime, or even been convicted of a crime, I don’t like to assume automatically that they’re guilty. After conviction, even after a confession, they still have a story to tell. Their story may not be the one that has received all the attention or the publicity or become the official version. But they have their own version and they want to tell that. So I like to just give them a place to do it and to feel safe doing it.
And when they’re obviously confabulating or trying to blame somebody else or avoid responsibility, I push back on them. But I want to hear the story. I want to hear what their explanation is. And it’s always fascinating, no matter how bad they may be.”
Considering the trail of alleged and proven violence that leads these people to Dateline in the first place, it’s impressive that Morrison can still hold such a fair outlook on their actions.
One interview that still sticks out in his mind is with Jaime Ramos in 2010. Ramos was a married Californian who had an affair with his counselor, Patty Presba, who was also married and 25 years older than him. Their relationship spun so far out of control that the two of them murdered Presba’s husband Ed and staged his death in a car accident.
It was never a big story nationally, but Ramos’ detailed memory of the events. His willingness to be honest about his role in the tragedy stunned Morrison. The NBC host calls his talk with Ramos after the criminal received his 25-year prison sentence to be “one of the most gratifying conversations” of his career.
“Here was a guy who simply remembered every single solitary detail of this story, chapter, and verse, over the whole period of time,” he said. “And he didn’t hold back. He didn’t try to avoid blaming himself. He didn’t try to push blame onto anybody else. It was extraordinary.”
Morrison’s new podcast gives him more time to explore why such crimes occur
Morrison has also hosted four podcasts for Dateline. The first one, The Thing About Pam, was so popular that NBC adapted it into a limited series starring Renee Zellweger. (Morrison also provided narration.) In 2021, Morrison hosted three true-crime podcasts, The Thing About Helen and Olga, Mommy Doomsday, and Killer Role — all well-received.
His latest, The Seduction, focuses on the Ramos case with the goal of further explaining to listeners who these people were before the situation unfolded, and how the two lovebirds could commit such an atrocity.
“The podcasts allow us to take this volume of material that we have collected when we report a story — there’s tons of it, many interviews, and lots of reporting that never has a chance to get on television — and we’re able to let it live in a podcast,” Morrison explained to Vanity Fair. “You can just wax eloquent — or inelegantly, as the case may be — and just live in the details much more than we’d otherwise have a chance to do.”