A grateful letter to the Mercury News:

It wasn't 'peeping Tom' journalism, was it?

Sex, lies and audiotape headlined the Mercury News on Aug. 11, pushing a report on a debate between California's U.S. Senate candidates off page 1A. "Fighting rages into depths of Shiite cemetery in holy city" appeared on page 10A.

Dear Editors:

Thank you sooo much for all the intimate details about Scott and Amber's tryst. What a night! Champagne? Strawberries? "Going all the way" on the first date. And the sexy details -- Amber's red strapless gown and the skintight leopard print pants and red boots!

Your reporter slipped us right past the bedroom door when she wrote: "He seduced her by candlelight with the tip of a red rose caressing her face, and kisses cascading down her neck."

Ooooh-la-la!

Such a welcome distraction from the New York Times with its gloomy stories about how American troops are entering a pivotal stage in their battle to suppress opposition forces across southern Iraq. That war will be going on for months, maybe years! Amber will only be on the stand for a week or two.

Plus when the Times or NPR reports on the presidential campaign, or how President Bush is rewriting mining or timber regulations for business -- I think it's the "No Nature Left Behind" initiative -- or when the National Academy of Sciences warns about California becoming a desert as global warming continues, I feel agitated. Like I should write my congresswoman or become politically active.

But reading about Scott, Laci and Amber requires nothing from me. It's great summer reading -- a sexy whodunit. How it turns out doesn't really matter.

I'm sure you cover all the stuff that matters too. But you don't push it at me on the front page. So I don't feel like I have to read it to be informed. Know what? You make me feel like I'm out of the loop if I'm not up to speed on the Petersons. Thanks for helping me avoid feeling like this story is a guilty pleasure.

Still, I have to confess. For a moment when I was reading about Scott and Amber's dalliance, I felt a little ashamed of myself. Almost like a peeping Tom.

the Mercury News wouldn't invade anyone's privacy unless there were a really good reason, right?

But it wouldn't be on the front page of the Mercury News day after day if it weren't something we all should be paying attention to, right?

I guess as long as it's in a courtroom, journalists can expose intimate details of an everyday person's life. In any other context, I suppose they 'd be sued for invasion of privacy or people would say it's unethical.

I think if you were reporting the details of my sex life, particularly my most embarrassing moments, I'd feel humiliated. But the Mercury News wouldn't invade anyone's privacy unless there were a really good reason, right?

I mean, if Scott didn't murder Laci, would he have ordered the champagne? And the strawberries and the use of the rose -- those were pretty telling. And if he tried to make his life seem more exciting than it was to impress a lover, well that ruins his innocent plea for me.

I too wondered whether Amber might be promiscuous. Thanks for anticipating my questions and describing her previous affairs. You guys and gals are real pros!

I feel a little bad about Amber's reputation. Assuming she didn't kill Laci, she merely dated a handsome guy she thought was available. But wherever she goes from now on, people will know she's been a sucker for married men. And strawberries drenched in champagne. I guess that's what editors call "news you can use." Wives will know to watch out for her, and for strawberry stains.

Reading so much about Scott and Amber has really got me interested in the trial. I don't have much time to spend on news, but every day there's the story on the front page saying "come hither." How can I resist?

Other papers have covered the trial, but you've been devoted to it. You've sold me! I've become so interested -- it's like a reality soap opera -- I've discovered how much is available on other media. .

I've found I can hear many of the same experts you quoted both on cable TV and our local stations' newscasts. And rather than seeing just photos of Scott and Amber and that clever lawyer, Mark Geragos, I can see them move and speak on television. It's so much more life-like. And easier than reading.

Your reporters are really good, but seeing Amber and that creepy Gloria Allred live on TV is even better. The emotion really comes through on the tube. Plus I don't have to wait a day to find out the latest juicy details.

Thanks to you I realize I can save a few bucks a week on my subscription to the Mercury News. And I won't have to lug all those papers out to the curb for the recycling truck! Thank you so much for opening my eyes to all the great journalism I can get for free.

John Q. Public

Gratefully,

John Q. Public
Bay Area