A Little Good News

People complain that the media never reports “good news,” but you have to admit, when we do cover it, we cover the heck out of it. We cover it until it is in danger of being suffocated and begs us to please stop covering it. And then we cover it some more, because we’re twisted like that.

Hence the non-stop, wall-to-wall coverage of Elizabeth Smart’s sudden reappearance 11 days ago after being missing for nine months. You don’t often see joy within the media as unrestrained as it was those first couple days, as we, with the rest of the state, were astonished and grateful that such a miracle had occurred. We’re human, too, you know, some of us.

As always, TV was people’s first, most immediate news source, doing what TV does best: conveying the least amount of information the greatest number of times. In the absence of actual new facts, TV reporters are forced to repeat themselves frequently during ongoing live coverage. And when the event has them as flabbergasted as this one did — seriously, you could see their flabbers being gasted right there on television — it only adds to the merriment. To me, it makes the reporters seem more like regular people, and less like blow-dried mannequins that have somehow been taught to read.

Newspapers were eager to share the news, too, often in a rush to do so. One newspaper that we’ll call the Shmaily Shmerald ran this headline on a follow-up story: “Investigators Plan to Get Full Story.” Well, it’s good to know they’re going to get the FULL story, and not just stop once they’ve caught the gist of it. (“Hold it right there,” they tell Elizabeth, putting their hands up in protest and chuckling. “That will be quite enough, thank you.”)

And so everyone in the state, and many people throughout the world, rejoiced together. Elizabeth was home, alive and in good physical health. We were, at first, unaware of some of the darker, more despicable things that occurred during the ordeal. There will be problems for her and her family to deal with for a long time. But the important thing was that she was home.

I don’t think anyone imagined this scenario. Most people assumed, sadly, that she was dead. Others wondered if she had run away. No one ever thought she’d been abducted by a delusional hobo suffering from religious hallucinations. In retrospect, it should have been obvious, considering that the most recent census indicates insane zealots make up 12 percent of Utah’s population. And sure enough, it turns out to have been just such a crazy person, Brian David Mitchell, who is accused of taking Elizabeth from her Salt Lake City home last June. Police are still determining the details, but apparently Mitchell is a prophet, known as Emmanuel, whom God told to take seven wives in addition to the one he already had, and Elizabeth was to be the first.

Naturally, since this is Utah, you knew polygamy had to be involved somehow.

I realize Mitchell has yet to stand trial, and far be it from me to criticize someone else’s religious beliefs, but Mitchell is an evil lunatic who deserves slow, lingering death. If he’s a prophet, I’ll eat my hat (or, if it turns out I do not own a hat, the hat of your choosing). I can’t quote chapter and verse, but I’m sure the Bible indicates true prophets don’t kidnap people. God’s ways are mysterious, but he doesn’t generally encourage his followers to terrorize children. And while it’s hard to know what sort of behavior is appropriate for a prophet, I can guarantee shoplifting is not on the list.

It is interesting how the Smart family’s generosity wound up creating problems for them. Mitchell had been hired as a handyman to do a bit of labor on the Smarts’ palatial Salt Lake home a year before the kidnapping; that’s how he had seen Elizabeth. Another itinerant laborer, Richard Ricci, had done similar work and was the chief suspect in the case until he rather inconsiderately died in prison last year. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that prior to Elizabeth turning up, police still had 50 “homeless, transient types” to interview who had worked at the Smart home over the past year.

First of all, what is WRONG with this house that it requires some kind of repair EVERY SINGLE WEEK? Man alive, cut your losses and move to a condo.

But more to the point, while it’s admirable that the Smarts liked to help people by giving them work, 50 bums in a year is a lot of bums to be doing favors for, especially if the favors include inviting them over to your house.

The world is a curious place. The Smarts behave charitably and suffer for it. An evil man without conscience or morals torments a family because he thinks God wants him to. God, for reasons of his own, waits nine months before answering the family’s prayers. None of it makes much sense. But she’s home now. That this is a happy occasion is the one thing, maybe in all of history, that every Utahn can agree on.

Did you live under a rock? Elizabeth Smart was all over the news when she first disappeared, especially in Utah, but around the rest of the country, too. She was taken from her bedroom in the middle of the night at gunpoint, circumstances that made what was otherwise an unfortunately rather common event (missing children) seem very nightmarish and alarming.

The last thing anyone expected, after nine months, was that she would turn up alive. When someone from the classified ad department came over and told us, we didn't believe her, but we changed the station from MTV to a local channel anyway, and sure enough, there it was. You never saw such stunned looks as the ones on the faces of people in the newsroom that day.

Of course, by the time this column ran, the war in Iraq had made everyone forget about Elizabeth Smart again. Funny, isn't it?

My editor, playing devil's advocate, said she did not believe it was necessarily true that a prophet would NEVER shoplift. She said she could envision a situation where shoplifting would be an appropriate sticking-it-to-The-Man kind of anti-establishment activity for a prophet. I told her if she wanted to express that opinion, she would need to write her own column about Elizabeth Smart. I am always amused by the conversations my job requires me to have.

My editor also made one slight change to the column. I had written "Brian David Mitchell, who took Elizabeth." She altered it to say "who is accused of taking Elizabeth." Apparently people are innocent until proven guilty, or something like that.