Sunday, May 01, 2005

Jennifer Wilbanks' Great Sin

A while back a woman, for reasons she best understands, fled her upcoming nuptuals. She left so abruptly, that foul play was suspected. Since the Michael Jackson trial is not delivering anything salacious at the moment, and since Scott Peterson is safely installed on death row, the 24x7 cable news networks plugged Ms. Wilbanks into the template slot formerly occupied by Chandra Levy and Laci Peterson.

Her fiance was the focus of immediate scrutiny and after he lawyered-up, it was pretty clear he was a suspect. But what about her other former boyfriends, fiances, and don't forget the deranged loners. Speculation ran rampant.

After a few days of this hype Ms. Wilbanks surfaced in Albuquerque, NM. When she did so, she told a fib about being kidnapped to explain herself. Any schoolchild who has been caught in an embarassing situation and then fibbed about it will understand. The reaction of the local police seems enlightened. They weren't discomfited in any major way. She 'fessed up. This is a troubled woman and charitable support is a fitting response.

However, watching Fox News yesterday, it was clear the news reader wanted a pound of flesh from Ms. Wilbanks. How dare she turn up alive and unhurt? Couldn't she help the story along by hooking up with some Ted Bundy type who'd obligingly torture and kill her? (Bonus points for cannibalism.)

My reaction to the Laci Peterson case was, "sad, but so what?" It was a murder in a distant city and there are too many murders in the city where I live. Nothing special about that one. Same goes for the O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson or the Chandra Levy case. There's nothing of interest to me in any of these murders.

But the story isn't about the crimes. The story is about the cable news operations that need to be covering this week's Crime of the Century to justify their existence. Fortunately for them, there are no small number of depraved people who oblige by torturing and murdering women and children so they can get their Fifteen Minutes of fame and help along the careers of the cable newsreaders.

Then along comes Ms. Wilbanks whose story unfolds to reveal an empty shell. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. The cable newsreaders are mortified by their own irrelevance and they want vindication in blood. Surely, some trumped up charge can be levelled at this woman who was instrumental in their embarassment. Fibbing to the police. That's a crime!

Too bad she didn't lie about sex. Everybody lies about sex. Mr. Clinton taught us that.

1 comment:

robvs said...

I'm disappointed in your exposition. It appears a bit narrow. Did you watch Network news coverage? How did they cover it differently? Did you watch any cable news coverage other than Fox News' weekend 'poser'? Speaking of Fox News, I found their coverage to be fair and balanced. I saw people who wanted their pound of flesh, and I saw people who did not, and I they didn't seem to force one view over the other.

As for cable news "justify(ing) their existence" - its not that they need to justify their existence, its that they must do what all news programs do - they must cover stories that get them ratings. One of the big differences between Fox News and the others, is that Fox News admits that this is why they allow a story like Jennifer Wilbanks to dominate for a few days (I've seen them address it in response to viewer mail). On a side note, it has also been proven time and time again that a proportionate number of "good news" stories do not get high ratings on television. At least Fox News, after covering a bunch of bad news in Iraq, will ask the on-site correspondent, "Are things there as bad as the news coverage seems to imply?"

One more thing regarding the Wilbanks case, I think that reporters are right to ask if a crime was committed, and if so, is she going to be charged? Just maybe not in the way the weekend flunky on Fox News asked it.