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Nary a Chappaquiddick anniversary can pass without a consideration of dead and / or abused females.
At the exact moment Samantha Runnion was abducted, it could have only been a certain mixed feeling of anticipation and dread that washed over Greta Van Susteren, instinctively forcing her from her desk chair to the computer room, where she anxiously awaited the latest Associated Press news wire, not unlike the way a dog waits for a treat. None of her waiting was for nothing; finally word came of a five-year-old being kidnapped in Stanton, California – at last, Van Susteren had the topic that would dominate the first half of every one of her shows this week: “Where’s Samantha?” And not a moment too soon, from a broadcasting standpoint; although Richard Ricci has been (or will be) charged with everything other than the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping, some odd goings on in Lincoln, Nebraska caused the Smart case to grind to a halt. (Besides, Runnion was much younger than Smart … not old enough to give consent in California, anyway, which makes for better copy.)
And so, let the idiocy begin! On Thursday, Van Susteren asks Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona, Is there anything in this case to lead you to believe this is a copycat of the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping? Were that I could hear Mr. Carona’s reply over my own irritated groans; hopefully he said, “Do you mean because there are absolutely no parallels whatsoever?” No Greta, goddammit, except for he fact they were both females, or is that what she meant?
The reader shouldn’t misunderstand the early point: kidnapping can be and should be a legitimate news story, as it lends significant credence to the concept of one watching out for his children at all times. (For example, coverage of the Lindbergh kidnapping so rattled Los Angeles, and Groucho Marx, the latter had a car removed from a spot near his property by the police just on the notion of wrongdoing.) Everyone should be aware, goes my reasoning, always; not paranoid, but aware. It’s just that the news channels have focused disproportionately on little white girls, almost forgetting little black girls (like Rilya Wilson, who has been missing for 18 months, yet who only warrants a mention here and there) and little boys of all races entirely.
Look: everyone understands why the news networks have relied so heavily on these two stories; the networks have, through no fault of their own, twenty-four hours in a day, and a certain stated obligation to fill them, with or without good ideas for programming. They also have, as a majority of their viewers, white parents, and playing upon fears of potential harm almost always equals ratings. Part of what makes the Smart story so dastardly is the fact Elizabeth was removed from her home by force, a vastly uncommon occurrence to be sure, such that it should force one to perk up and take notice. That is understandable; but what separated the Samantha Runnion abduction from the dozens of others that took place in this country Monday under the same circumstances? Didn’t common sense long, long ago suggest this is a message we should take to heart from the moment children begin messing around outside? What exactly are we accomplishing by isolating one (sadly, common) case of kidnapping this week, even in knowing the rates of such incidents are no greater or smaller this calendar year?
This applies differently across different stretches of media, of course … the built-in benefit if watching, say, NBC news this week has been, at twenty-two minutes (without commercials), no more than part of a segment can be dedicated to an individual issue (or kidnapping), leaving room for Mr. Brokaw to cover other important matters of the day. Had you watched Fox News at various points Wednesday, you would have barely known of the two latest suicide bombings in Israel; or on Thursday the fact that white cops were finally caught on video beating a white guy (in Chattanooga; score one for equality).
On the Greta Van Susteren show, On the Record, Samantha Runnion took Elizabeth Smart’s old slot, meaning her abduction was given the first three full segments and the ever crucial end-of-the-hour update, which only repeated briefly those things you missed had you not tuned in at the top of the hour. (I couldn’t blame you; the Van Susteren program is almost impossible to watch these days.) By means of direct comparison, the Jihad John Walker guilty plea garnered two segments on Wednesday, the Zacarias Moussaoui attempted, but rejected, guilty plea also got two, but on Thursday. That’s little white girls: 8, potential terrorists and American Al-Qaeda: 4. (As a means of reminder, Al-Qaeda members flew four very large planes into various portions of both buildings and ground some months ago, killing thousands of innocents.)
In fairness, this is not a sole indictment on Van Susteren (though she did camp out in front of Rock Creek park for days after Chandra Levy’s body was discovered there); if it were, a certain understanding could be lent, as each host controls their own show, and it could just be that Van Susteren has a knack for making intellectually offensive format decisions. But no; Dan Abrams, who has quickly becoming one of my favorite television hosts, broadcast live from outside the courthouse every night during the final phases of the Martha Moxley murder trial; Larry King dedicated an entire hour and several guests to mere speculation on the Elizabeth Smart case; Bill O’Reilly came on the air Wednesday night and suggested the man who raped and killed Samantha Runnion was a terrorist (why not every other man who has ever raped and killed any female, no matter her age?), and that all crimes against children should be made federal crimes.
No one has stood up for the innocence of youth and its value more than this columnist in this space. But we are being lead by compassion too far outside the borders of reason, where natural curiosity would force us to utter perfectly reasonable questions, such as, “Why was a five-year- old girl playing outside unsupervised and who is accountable for that lapse?” Those who should ask the question are answered curtly, one notices, and asked to consider – won’t you for a moment, Mr. Wise? – what those poor parents are going through? I have; and now there are other things to consider, not only the death penalty for Samantha Runnion’s killer, but who else we should hold accountable … and why not?
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