Hiring Elizabeth Smart Not a Smart Move for ABC

The kidnapping victim is not a journalist

ABC News last week hired child-kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart as a special contributor to “Good Morning America,” focusing on missing-person cases. According to ABC, Smart’s role will be “to help viewers understand what a family goes through when a loved one disappears.” On the surface, a noble, if somewhat treacly, goal. In reality, Smart’s appointment feels wrong on several levels.

First, the back story. In June 2002, Smart, then 14, was abducted from her Salt Lake City, Utah, bedroom. She was found nine months later, less than 20 miles away. Her kidnappers—a married couple—were ruled unfit to stand trial, but both eventually were imprisoned.

The case drew enormous national attention, though nothing like the just-completed Casey Anthony murder trial. Smart made the usual media stops–Oprah, Larry King, Katie Couric. Her family wrote a book, which became a CBS movie. Now 23, Smart is a music major at Brigham Young University.

So what’s the problem?

For starters, ABC’s job title is all wrong. If she were on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” Smart would be anointed as “senior abduction correspondent.” A joke, of course, but much closer to the truth. Bring the transparency, ABC.

Then there are the cases themselves. Which ones will rise to the level of Smart’s appearance? Just a wild guess, but something tells me they will involve attractive, white females from red states. The younger the better, preferably accompanied by heart-wrenching home video.

Smart is a poised, intelligent young woman. If ABC’s intention is to provide her with a platform to speak out against a heinous crime, kudos to ABC. If anything less, however, the network will be seen as exploiting her personal pain under the guise of empathically observing someone else’s personal pain.

Which brings me to my next point. Victimhood does not a journalist make, particularly when it’s a crime involving children. If you follow ABC’s reasoning to its logical conclusion, that the victim of a particular crime is the best choice to comment on cases involving said crime, it becomes absurd.

For example, why not hire a cuckolded wife to comment on stories featuring high-profile cheating husbands? (See Shriver, Maria, et al.)

Sign up a rape survivor for rape stories? The family of a murder victim for murder stories? A victim of embezzlement for Ponzi scheme stories? A robbed jewelry-store owner for smash-and-grab stories?

I hope I’m wrong about ABC. Sadly, Elizabeth Smart will have plenty of opportunities to make her case.