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Smart Bombed
March 19, 2003 8:58 AM   Subscribe

How much coverage of Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping is too much? I don't know if any of you have been as bothered as I have by this blanket coverage -- not that it's anything new by our media. But it's disturbing nonetheless. From Slate Magazine.
posted by {savg*pncl} (36 comments total)

 
i like the very last thing in that article...

Don't bother sending e-mail to pressbox@hotmail.com. I can't read another word on the topic.

you realize of course that this thread is automatically not about your topic, but about why there is another Metafilter thread about the topic, right?
posted by th3ph17 at 9:02 AM on March 19, 2003


The world will never tire of pretty, young rich girls.
posted by four panels at 9:11 AM on March 19, 2003


I understand that her parents went on TV to get the word out that she was missing, and I also understand them going back on to tell the world how happy they were she was found, but the entire family has become a mess of media whores.
posted by archimago at 9:19 AM on March 19, 2003


kathleen parker expounds on ed smartl.
posted by quonsar at 9:21 AM on March 19, 2003


er, smart.
posted by quonsar at 9:23 AM on March 19, 2003


Elizabeth who?
posted by Foosnark at 9:24 AM on March 19, 2003


But it's a good way to take people's attention away from the fact that we'll start killing thousands of innocent people in a few hours, isn't it?
posted by luriete at 9:24 AM on March 19, 2003


Her life will never be back to normal.

And we helped.
posted by konolia at 9:31 AM on March 19, 2003


12 months, and it'll be "elizabeth who?"

never underestimate the molecular thinness of the human attention span.
posted by UncleFes at 9:37 AM on March 19, 2003


Doh! Foosnark! Wait a few months!
posted by UncleFes at 9:37 AM on March 19, 2003


This is just another National Enquirer-style media feeding-frenzy, much like JonBenet, O.J. Simpson, Chandra Levy, Robert Blake etc.; This frenzy will soon pass after people lose interest. Afterwards, all of the news organizations that participated in the frenzy will beat themselves silly on whether they gave the story too much attention or whether they exploited the little girl for ratings....and them move on to the next one.
posted by Durwood at 9:38 AM on March 19, 2003


What's particularly annoying are stories without any real news. "Elizabeth Smart spent her 23rd day at home," etc. If there's an actual development in the legal case, fine, tell me about it (succinctly, please). Otherwise, let's drop it.

Of course, the made-for-TV movies are already in the works, alas.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:39 AM on March 19, 2003


Geez. Snarkfilter. There's at least three tacks of potentially interesting discussion here, and no one has picked them up.

I was in Utah at my parents house when she was found.... TV programming on KSL, the dominant local station, was completely pre-empted for hours as they focused on the story. Didn't bother me much, but I did wonder if it was healthy for (a) society and (b) Elizabeth Smart. I mentioned this to my mom, who countered with "People are happy. Parents are especially happy. Someones child is home again, against all odds." I still didn't think that justified 6 hours of news coverage, but I could see her point. The Smarts won the lottery. Her reappearance is a remarkable story, and has a great human appeal. As the story gets weirder and weirder, the human interest also goes up (and it is getting weirder).

I still think it's past the obsessive point, just like Elian Gonzales was, and sometimes the various people-trapped-in-mine-or-mountain stories are. Does society have nothing better to do than obsess over these stories? I cringe when the radio commentator says that he felt like it was almost his little gilr being found. But then again, most humans are empathetic, imitative animals -- in fact, I seem to recall an article somewhere that said it's a basic feature of most primates. And curiously, I never tired of the Kursk drama. And I still never tire of the Mann Gulch Fire -- for a treat, go pick up Cry Cry Cry's album and listen to track #2, Cold Missouri Waters, while reading Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire. Or there's things like John Krakauer's Into the Wild or Into Thin Air -- again, examination of disasters/deaths of people. You can argue that the presentation is much better in those cases, much less vapid than TV news, but the underlying principle is that people, for whatever reason, are interested -- sometimes obsessed -- with the stories of what happens to other people, and what those stories signify.

Finally, (1) konolia, you could argue she may not have been found if it weren't for the widespread attention to the case. To me, that's enough to justify even the high levels of inconvenience and annoyance people may have had to put up with. And (2) four panels, that means the Smart case isn't an argument for less media coverage of kidnappings, it's an argument for more. The first thing I caught on the TV was Ed Smart saying something like "We got lucky. We got help. There's thousands of other parents and kids who aren't and don't. We need more alerts and coverage for them," which was pretty darn classy if you ask me (take note archimago). Yes, it's impractical to report every kidnapping at the same level as Elizabeth Smart's. But we can do better than the milk carton, and the media realizes this now, and maybe it will be better.
posted by namespan at 10:01 AM on March 19, 2003


This is just another National Enquirer-style media feeding-frenzy, much like JonBenet, O.J. Simpson, Chandra Levy, Robert Blake etc.;

Let's see:

Elizabeth Smart = pretty young girl
JonBenet = pretty very young girl
Chandra Levy = pretty girl
OJ Simpson = killed a pretty girl

I sense a pattern...

Robert Blake = killed a not-very-pretty girl

The exception that proves the rule?

The fact is that Americans love stories about horrible things happening to pretty girls. They enjoy hearing about them. There's something so disturbing about that.
posted by jpoulos at 10:03 AM on March 19, 2003


jpoulos, I must throw the flag on Chandra Levy. Not pretty.

Enough about her kidnapping already, lets get to the sex!

You know that is what everyone really wants. Crazy 3 ways with 2 VERY abstract looking people.

(not serious about really wanting the sex part folks)
posted by a3matrix at 10:13 AM on March 19, 2003


I mentioned this to my mom, who countered with "People are happy."

No offense to your mom, but that's a total crock. Plenty of good things happen every day--children cured of cancer, eyesight to the blind, whatever--that people give barely a nod to. It's the bad shit that people want to hear about.
posted by jpoulos at 10:13 AM on March 19, 2003


...the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world...
-E.A. Poe
posted by mr_roboto at 10:27 AM on March 19, 2003


jpoulous, I'm not saying I thought that my mom provided a scintillating justification of turning the top local TV station into the Smart Channel for 6 hours (of that day alone). I'm saying I think the sentiments that motivated the action are understandable, and to some degree human, and to some degree, worth indulging. Stories about coming out on top against all the odds are good to hear. I hope the hundreds or thousands of mothers who went to bed with that happy thought in their heads that night have something less vicarious to live by, and I hope that TV news learns to restrain themselves -- whenever they focus on something for more than 5-10 minutes, the noise/signal ratio almost always goes waaaaay up. But I hope the news doesn't stop telling individual stories, even ones that turn out well, and the fact that Elizabeth's return has played so well shows people do like to hear good news.
posted by namespan at 10:58 AM on March 19, 2003


The world will never tire of pretty, young rich girls.
12 months, and it'll be "elizabeth who?"
Pattie Hearst ring a bell. 1974 kidnapped, heard from Ford administration up to the end of Clinton's who pardoned her. 5 Presidents, 7 administrations, when will it stop, not now with Smart, since similar stories. Now 6 Presidents.

My two cents about Smart; she was taller than her captures. She even had people ask her if she needed help but refused. Some folks thought she was such an oddity they video taped her to show their friends and family, not knowing whom she was. This story just adds bizarre by the minute. The bizarre sells.

Plus you add the fact, that these same suspects had attempted to kidnap Smart's cousin a month prior to her kidnapping but failed. What's next to this tale?
posted by thomcatspike at 11:04 AM on March 19, 2003


Elizabeth Smart = pretty young girl
JonBenet = pretty very young girl
Chandra Levy = pretty girl
OJ Simpson = killed a pretty girl


Pretty young white girl
Pretty very young white girl
Pretty white girl
OJ Simpson was liable for the death of a pretty white girl

But then I've made that point before

It's the bad shit that people want to hear about.

"The whole world loves a sad song they don't have to sing."
-- X, More Fun in the New World

Enough about her kidnapping already, lets get to the sex! You know that is what everyone really wants.

That was the big draw in the San Francisco dog fucking trial.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:12 AM on March 19, 2003


I'm more concerned about the media's focus now that prosecutors have chosen to file sexual assault charges against them. The Smarts did not want that charge filed and now that this part of what happened is now part of 'the story', it makes her recovery a bit more complicated.
posted by yonderboy at 11:13 AM on March 19, 2003


namespan: Didn't mean to make it sound like an attack on your mother or her reasons for watching. In fact, I'm sure there are plenty of people who want to hear these stories because they have a happy ending. I just think that many, many people--including moms and dads and gradma's everywhere--are watching this stuff because of the car-wreck factor. And they're all pretending that it's a feel-good story.
posted by jpoulos at 11:13 AM on March 19, 2003


the entire family has become a mess of media whores.

Tom Smart, the 15-year-old's uncle and a family spokesman during her abduction, is a staff photographer.

Also part of the sales of the homecoming photographs went to the Amber Alert.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:14 AM on March 19, 2003


you and slate
just contributed
to your own complaints

seems pretty blank
dont you think?
posted by Satapher at 11:23 AM on March 19, 2003


Pattie Hearst ring a bell. 1974 kidnapped, heard from Ford administration up to the end of Clinton's who pardoned her. 5 Presidents, 7 administrations, when will it stop, not now with Smart, since similar stories. Now 6 Presidents.

Not to mention her appearance on the Today Show the day after Smart was found to explain to America the mentality of the brainwashed captive.

I'm sorry, but everyone in that family paraded themselves on camera at some point from beginning to end. There was never a single family spokesperson.

And I have yet to see or hear anyone issue an apology to the wife of the man they suspected who died while in custody. As far as I know there is no connection between him and her kidnapping, unless I have missed something.
posted by archimago at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2003


The fact is that Americans love stories about horrible things happening to pretty girls. They enjoy hearing about them.

Kinda in the same vein:

if you look objectively at it, you'll realize this country's not obsessed with most serial killers—only the ones that have the good tastes to kill young women. Look at books written about serial killers. Look at John Wayne Gacy versus Ted Bundy. Bundy outsells John Wayne Gacy a hundred to one. Why? Because he was more of a monster? Of course not. He was more interesting? No. He killed young women.
posted by Cyrano at 12:12 PM on March 19, 2003


Not to mention her appearance on the Today Show the day after Smart was found to explain to America the mentality of the brainwashed captive.

Not to mention her various appearances in films and television shows.
posted by keli at 12:42 PM on March 19, 2003


I'd briefly wondered if Elizabeth had been sexually assaulted and had decided I didn't want to know, but the press told me anyway.
posted by alumshubby at 12:46 PM on March 19, 2003


namespan: Didn't mean to make it sound like an attack on your mother or her reasons for watching. In fact, I'm sure there are plenty of people who want to hear these stories because they have a happy ending. I just think that many, many people--including moms and dads and gradma's everywhere--are watching this stuff because of the car-wreck factor. And they're all pretending that it's a feel-good story.

point taken and no offense taken with it jpoulous. : )
posted by namespan at 1:42 PM on March 19, 2003


I think Gacy - and certainly Dahmer - have gotten at least as much press as Bundy.

The real question isn't why kidnappings of "pretty girls" are covered too much. Girls are sexually abused about twice as much as boys; it would make sense that they make up most of kidnap victims, although I'm not sure if that's actually the case. What we should really wonder is why domestic violence somehow doesn't fit into the neat category of "horrible things happening to pretty girls" that we supposedly are obsessed with. A study I read recently on Media News - can't find it now - showed that domestic violence was grossly underreported compared to its frequency among arrests.
posted by transona5 at 1:43 PM on March 19, 2003


I'm sorry, but everyone in that family paraded themselves on camera at some point from beginning to end. There was never a single family spokesperson.

you know, I didn't enjoy watching the parade any more than you did. But I can see why they did it -- the public's attention is fickle, and if my daughter were to be kidnapped, I'd do damn near everything I could to make sure that the case continues to be in the public eye.
posted by Vidiot at 2:11 PM on March 19, 2003


The answer is simple: this family has a plan, they've gotten Elizabeth back but they want more so they have a plan. It's a simple plan, some might call it a bizarre plan but they've got it and you can't argue with it 'cause it's a Smart plan. This family is Smart.
posted by DBAPaul at 2:18 PM on March 19, 2003


this family has a plan, they've gotten Elizabeth back but they want more

You could argue, based on statements from their attorney, that they don't want more attention, whatever it is they want more of.

Also, that some participants in the media are aware of their invasiveness, but some are willing to defend their right to cover anything.
posted by namespan at 2:25 PM on March 19, 2003


I bet no one asks this kid to her senior prom.

Gee thanks, media.
posted by konolia at 2:48 PM on March 19, 2003


All the coverage I needed was, "Elizabeth Smart has been found." Everything after that was superfluous.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:20 PM on March 19, 2003


And I have yet to see or hear anyone issue an apology to the wife of the man they suspected who died while in custody.

Actually, from day one since Elizabeth was found, her parents have talked about how sorry they were that the guy died. His widow expressed how happy she was for the Smart family, and how the Smart family were actually asking police to back down off the guy before he died in jail. It was amazing to hear her talk about this, ecstatic because her husband's name had been cleared and really gracious toward the Smart family, considering his death the police's mistake and not theirs.

The worst part of the whole media coverage: Everyone I know is waiting to hear all the details of what happened to her over those nine months--they are expecting that we will find out. The problem is that we and the media feel as if we have a right to know in the first place. I hope the family doesn't say a word.
posted by troybob at 3:36 PM on March 19, 2003


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