KATIE, HOW COULD
15 March 2003
There are many wonderful things about the discovery of Elizabeth Smart. The biggest is
the obvious: The little girl abducted from her bed, lost for 9 months, is alive and back
with her family. Is there anyone in the country (with the exception of her captor) who
isn't overjoyed to know that the search has ended on a happy note.
Another wonderful thing is that coverage of Elizabeth's return has pushed
all-war-all-the-time off the front pages. I think the entire Today Show yesterday--and
most of today--was devoted to Elizabeth's return. Happy news to take the place of gloom
and doom, if only briefly.
But with the happy return of this young girl has come the now inevitable media circus.
Circus is too mild. I don't know that there is a word strong enough for what must be
going on in and around the Smart home.
Starting with Elizabeth's father, the joy on his face so sincere, politely standing
before microphone after microphone being dissected for his feelings, what Elizabeth said,
what she did, "how is she doing?" (How would you be doing after being
held captive for nine months?) Mr. Smart handled it all with grace, saying over and over
again that they were just so happy and grateful to have her back that they didn't want to
dwell on what had happened to her.
Still the press pressed. "What has she said?" "What did she go
Every single news report I've seen has left hanging, unsaid, the question that it is so
blatantly on every reporter's tongue: "was she sexually abused? Give us all the gory
Does it matter? Do we have a right to know that? It's probably a given, but how does
that affect my life? And does the media--all pasta-bazillion of them, each asking their
questions in turn, have the right to rape this child again and again and again, pressing
for answers to questions that should be dealt with in their own time, in privacy of
Elizabeth's family, in the privacy of whatever therapist will be helping her to try to
adjust to life as it has now changed forever.
In this era of 24 hour-a-day news coverage, all the media is so hungry for ratings that
each wants to be the first to break the story--and if they have no story to break, they
will dissect the current story to death. And if there is nobody left to interview--if
they've already interviewed the parents, the friends, the classmates, the teachers, the
neighbors, the paper boy, the child's dentist, and the grocer who used to see the family
occasionally--if they've already interviewed every child psychologist and abduction
specialist in the country--if they've already assembled all the talking head to speculate
about what might have happened to her, then they'll rerun the tapes again. And
again. And again.
I can only imagine what it must look like in her neighborhood. Thank God the police
have given them some protection and blocked off the street. You can imagine that somewhere
there is a helicopter, or two, or six circling, hoping to catch a glimpse of an aunt or a
cousin entering the house, which then gives them a new angle--what the relationship is
between Elizabeth and that person, and perhaps rerun old interviews of that person
pleading for Elizabeth's return.
Too much! Too much! Give me back the war. Let Elizabeth enjoy her first day at home in
I am thinking back to the huge mistake I made when Ned returned from Brasil. He had
spent a year living in Rio de Janeiro and we were so excited to see him again, we had all
of his friends waiting to meet him. He couldn't handle it. He had to debrief, to adjust to
living in this country again. He had a wonderful year, was happy to be home, but still he
couldn't handle a few friends showing up.
When I think of that, I try to imagine what this circus must be doing to Elizabeth. She
has not had a wonderful 9 months and she's not dealing with a few friends, but the entire
world demanding to know every detail of her captivity.
Tell us! Tell us! The world MUST know! Leave nothing out! Strip yourself bare yet again
for the world to see!
I think I was most disappointed in Katie Couric this morning, a reporter whom I admire
and whom I watch each morning. They had run out of the direct information to dissect and
so she was interviewing the family of kidnapper Brian David Mitchell. His ex-wife and his
three children. There were the probing questions, mainly "did he physically abuse
you?" Over and over again, in various forms. What was the abuse like? How long did it
go on? Not one of those four people could make eye contact with the camera, none of them
gave information willingly. I felt so sorry for them and, as "gentle" as the
questioning was, I was so disappointed in Katie Couric, a woman who has certainly seen her
own share of personal tragedy.
Then there was Matt interviewing Patty Hearst--a natural interview, of course. I
admired Hearst for stressing again and again the necessity of letting Elizabeth recover in
her own time outside the eye of the media.
But as I type this, Katie has just said that next up on the show will be discussing
"the emotional and psychological recovery of Elizabeth Smart." Another major
I know it's a news story. But I disagree strongly that the public has the right to know
everything. Leave the poor girl alone. Hasn't she been through enough??