Wilbanks disappeared from her home in Duluth four days before her royalty-scale wedding. She eventually called her fiance from Albuquerque, N.M., and said she'd been kidnapped. Later, she recanted the story and told police that she'd bought a bus ticket and high-tailed it out of town on her own volition.
Just like Terri Schiavo's cirque du death, this fundamentally private drama got turned into a national spectacle. It was hard to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television without seeing the same picture of Wilbanks, looking like a saucer-eyed female version of Alfred E. Neuman. "What, me marry?" she seemed to be saying, paraphrasing the legendary cover boy of Mad magazine. Throughout the drama - before and after her fraudulent claim - her fiance appeared on camera to describe the "purity" of their love, which had been uncontaminated by sex despite their cohabitation. Of course, he still wanted to marry her! Of course! "Haven't we all made mistakes?" he implored the voyeurs in TV land.
The Wilbanks caper, I feel sure, will go down in history as a corrective for routinely lazy-ass reporting. Following are a few examples:
Tracking down the tchotchkes: Although it never occurred to the media to seriously question Bush's claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, CNN's crack reporters were able to itemize the tchotchkes that might end up missing from Wilbanks' life because of her destructive behavior. I'm talking about the in-depth coverage of Wilbanks' goody lists at four bridal registries. We're talking stuff like a Waterford crystal ice bucket and a Panasonic cordless iron! Nice going, guys. Maybe in the future you'll use the same investigative reporting skills to inventory the outrageous lies of the Bush administration and its endless gifts to corporations and the wealthy. Nah. Back to you, Wolf.
Arithmetic is hard: Everyone who's been writing about the bug-eyed bride has grilled police about the costs of the search for her. Should she be required to repay the estimated $60,000? Maybe reporters, suddenly becoming math-literate, will learn to dig a little deeper next time administration officials make ludicrous claims that a conquered nation's oil is going to pay the $100 billion-plus cost of its "liberation." Or maybe they will use their pocket calculators to test the grossly understated costs of the new Medicare drug benefit and the grossly inflated savings of tax cuts for the middle class. Or maybe they'll actually cite Bush's outrageous flip-flop accounting of Social Security. (Of course, I wouldn't count on that kind of diligence, since so many pundits can't even figure out that it makes no sense to require a loco woman to directly repay police for inconveniencing them while nobody expects that of common criminals, psychos and people locked out of their cars.)
Speaking of psychos: The TV shrinks have, of course, elbowed their way into view, Dr. Phil leading the charge. (If he were the fiance, which he isn't, he'd have "real problems with this woman.") Because Wilbanks' fiance was given a polygraph, there was also much posturing about men as victims of castrating bitches. Incredibly, even Wilbanks' own pastor/therapist appeared on several national shows to assure us that she has "issues" that go beyond a pair of cold feet. You will recall that psychologists also made relentless appearances to analyze Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinski. Perhaps now, having thoroughly explored the fascinating psyche of a woman who boarded a Greyhound for Vegas, the media will invite psychologists to analyze the lying of George W. Bush, the effects of trauma on American soldiers, the efficacy of replacing condoms with Bibles, the motive for making a well-known bully the leading American diplomat, ad infinitum.
Love means never having to say you're sorry: The tedious, endless reporting by shocked-and-awed reporters that Wilbanks didn't throw herself to the ground in remorse and beg forgiveness for, um, becoming the object of media hysteria is my favorite lesson. Now, finally, perhaps we can expect the press to hold Bush accountable for the Iraq War, which the majority of the nation opposes. Perhaps now the press, instead of robotically reporting new rationales for the disastrous undertaking, will express the same shock that Bush hasn't apologized to the American people for bankrupting us in every way.
Political correctness rules: In her initial claim, Wilbanks described her abductors as a Hispanic male and a white woman. The media have been overflowing with demands that she apologize for slandering Hispanics. Oddly, white women have not similarly protested. But never mind that. Now, perhaps, the cowardly media will give voice to Arab Americans subjected to profiling and automatic demonization such as occurred in Bush's campaign ads last year. Jennifer Wilbanks is my hero, she really is. She has inspired the media to recapture its role as defender of the truth - well, at least when it's trivial.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.