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Another Runaway Bride Item!

Howie's column this morning takes the media to task for going crazy over the Runaway Bride story, and he's right: that whole foofaraw was as embarrassing for the media as for the Wilbanks family. Jennifer Wilbanks was shoved into the vacancy in the Media Scandal Infrastructure originally erected for the O.J. case. I briefly joined the fray, and thus should be ashamed of myself. But let me note that my blog item on TRB triggered an insane number of comments. There's an audience for this tabloidy stuff. People like powerful narratives, and the Runaway Bride was a pretty compelling tale. Not important, but it resonated with the audience. So if you're a serious news professional, do you give the people what so many of them want, even if you know it's fundamentally trivial? No, not if you have any self-respect.

But for the rest of us, it's all good!

[Next on the Achenblog: Michael Jackson's Secret Twin.]

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 4, 2005; 11:55 AM ET
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Next: On the road again


Of course we pay attention to this kind of news...we also all stop to look at the accidents across the highway, just in case we get to see something cool...

Posted by: DC | May 4, 2005 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, there's a young woman missing from the Philadelphia area for several months now. Danielle Imbo is her name. I've seen very little national media attention on that story.

Posted by: Brown Bear | May 4, 2005 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I just don't see all the outrage about the media coverage of Lil Runaway (to paraphrase Bon Jovi). Every news channel, no matter its viewership or mandate, supplies plenty of daily fluff -- be it a formerly chubby weatherman chatting with the outside audience to a serious journalist who ends his interviews with public officials and dignitaries with questions about the Bulls. They all do it - and why? Because it's fun. Because it's happening. Because it's interesting. And because that is what news is all about.


Posted by: Anonymous | May 4, 2005 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Sorry to go Off-Topic here, but George Will hasn't had a new column up since April 23. That's not like him. Joel, is your office close to his? Could you check on him? I'm a little worried...

Posted by: ronco | May 4, 2005 12:59 PM | Report abuse

moving a more serious issue. is there any reason at all why NBC is ending the "Third Watch" show after this season? i mean it is honestly the best show they have on TV right now. can they even give me a stupid reason?

Posted by: fa836659 | May 4, 2005 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I have just come from the dental office, where I put my almost-54-year-old head together with the 36-year-old head of the female dental tech. We surmised, in our large survey of sample respondents, that men just don't get it regarding the Atlanta runaway bride story!

Women can see the bigger picture after the wedding is over and the wedding bills start to come in. (I for one settled for getting married in an apple orchard for my first go-around, as that was what I could afford. No rings were exchanged--couldn't afford them). The ring is slipped on the finger, and the woman is relegated to the laundry room to remove the ring around the collar or to the toilette to remove the ring around the toilet basin. Of course, the poor Atlanta woman ran--ran like he**. That said, however, she just should have been able to tell the truth--tht she had the wedding bell blues--and not concoct the abduction story.

For further reading, please consult a book hot off the presses by a young Canadian woman writer, "The Meaning of Wife." I promise that it's an eye-opener, particularly for those of the Y-chromosome persuasion! You'll like the cover art, too!

Posted by: Linda Loomis | May 4, 2005 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Curiosity drives me immediately to post again and ask why aren't there more women op-edders other than Annie Applebaum and the occasional Tina Brown?

Posted by: Linda Loomis | May 4, 2005 1:35 PM | Report abuse

The nature of News is a topic I've periodically explored ever since I left my institution of higher learning one credit shy of a Journalism degree a decade ago (in favor of the ever-so-lucrative creative writing degree). News, sadly, is defined by its audience, which is why one can watch a whole hour of television news and only come away with a handful of sports scores and tomorrow's forecast and a feel-good story about a kitten that helps the homeless. Media companies are just that--companies. However noble the pursuit, they still chase the money. They know who's reading and watching and they know when a story will sell papers and ad slots when they see it.

Posted by: Pokey | May 4, 2005 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Brown Bear,

The question is what kind of PR company did the family of Danielle Imbo hire? That is why this got national coverage. The publicity has nothing to do with the story or the color of skin or cultural background of the runaway - it simply comes down to the fact that her family has money and likely was able to get a lawyer or political official to push the story in order to get news coverage.

If you go missing, hope that your family has a good PR firm unless of course you are running away from your wedding in which case, you might hope them to be poor people who don't have one of those "magic picture boxes"...

Posted by: DC | May 4, 2005 2:04 PM | Report abuse

After the sensationalism, now we get the calls for criminal charges. Much of this call for blood seems to have come from FOX News. I guess it is in retribution for her making them look so dumb for sensationalizing the missing bride story.

Posted by: AF '82 | May 4, 2005 2:10 PM | Report abuse

I turned on the TV to watch the evening news.
I saw the story of a missing woman all set to get nuptialed.
The "atmosphere" of the story carried lurid underpinnings of yet another tale from the post-90s emerging crime wave of Young Guys Offing Their Significant Others and lying like smarmy heathen to cover it up.
I had no reason to believe the mysterious disappearance was not cause for serious concern.
It was a news item; the media reported it. Tabloidy at this stage? Hardly.
None of us counted on being blindsided by a hoax. HOW the media reported it was sometimes objectionable. Quite frankly, so much of the footage of distraught family members and the dissection ad nauseam of the psycho-social implications of the number of attendants and wedding guests and footage of the wedding invitations fell squarely in the category of None of My Business or More Information Than I Need.
Foofaraw indeed.
I think scattering blame is an exercise in futility. Now that it IS a confirmed trivial pursuit, let's fully own our collective embarrassment (for taking it so seriously) nonetheless. Why jump back and point fingers? The same thing is destined to happen with the NEXT widely televised as-yet-unrevealed hoax.

Posted by: Carolina | May 4, 2005 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Aww come on, Joel, with that shameless teaser [Next on the Achenblog: Michael Jackson's Secret Twin.] No secret, we all know it's Janet. And that wardrobe malfunction? Falsies, or course!

Posted by: jlessl | May 4, 2005 2:34 PM | Report abuse

I think the term Joel just coined, "Media
Scandal Infrastructure," is worthy of wide usage. Anyone agree?

Posted by: wordwatcher | May 4, 2005 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I vote for foofaraw.
I could use that widely.
"Foofaraw, ya'll, that's all it is!"

Posted by: Carolina | May 4, 2005 3:40 PM | Report abuse

I hope this doesn't violate any rules of blog ettiquette, but I have to alert those who might want to know about it to a colum in the New York Post today. The writer intones that the would-be groom is playing this thing to the "jilt," enjoying the coverage just a little too much.

I will be more outraged if it turns out the couple planned this all along just to get some smarmy TV show to pay for their eventual wedding.

I'm outraged now that the runaway abused the 911 system with a lie -- not because her story potentially implicated innocent Hispanics but because it got her a free ride to the police station, where she got a shower and a blankie and a ride to the airport. She could have just called a women's crisis center, but then she'd have denied her would-be groom the drama....

Posted by: just me | May 4, 2005 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Can't you guys just write the news without turning it into a 10 page soap opera?

I stopped reading most of your stuff because you write like a bunch of tired old broads going up for their last chance at one of those seedy television awards.

Just reporet the news and cut out the dog food cereal filler crap!

Posted by: How to write the news | May 4, 2005 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Blogs are becoming for me what soap operas were for my grandmothers generation. Stories to fill up my afternoon, each filled with a variety of characters, plot twists, and... I have no point. Sorry, won't happen again

Posted by: Stories | May 4, 2005 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for being sneaky. This isn't about the inbred tribe residing in Duluth, Georgia. This is something of greater consequence. -- Color me relieved that the presiding judge (a colonel) in the Private England trial, disallowed her guilty plea(likely induced by lawyers not aggressively acting in their client's best interests). Clearly what this young woman did in Iraq was wrong, but there is indeed, as this judge found, ample reason to believe she was unaware of that fact. Not to be condescending, but the hard facts are this was/is a simple, marginally educated, and, yes, slightly dim female soldier. Moreover she received no appropriate training for her challenging assignment in the prison ... was essentially just thrown into this novel situation of guarding Iraqui prisoners. -- SO ... how can the United States Army send this Private to prison, etc., when not a single officer has been fittingly dealt with. Yes, a one-star Reserves General has been given a reprimand ... but not a single two, three or four star officers serving in Iraq (or at the Pentagon) has been held accountable in any manner or to any degree ... or at least so far. Let us hope this disgraceful state of affairs won't be permitted to stand after Congress gets re-involved in the entire matter. Meantime, for God's sake let this unfortunate young and untrained woman go back to her country abode with a small slice of dignity remaining. To re-try her would compound the Army's stupidity and cravenness.

Posted by: Clembo#2 | May 4, 2005 5:20 PM | Report abuse

She didn't have to call 911, or an abuse center... she could have just called (or gone) home. Nonetheless, the coverage is plainly all about gossip taken to a national level. The morning shows and the talking head shows are all about gossip plain and simple. News reports are obviously not what they used to be, but when an issue such as this takes precedence on the nightly network news programs (abc, nbc, cbs, pbs), or in major print pubs (wp, wsj, nyt) over other issues, then we should worry. Maybe it has, I don't watch anything very much lately, but from what I have seen recently, everything else is a talking head gossip show/channel, not a news program. Personnally I blame Mr. Springer's success, but what the heck do I know.

Posted by: tojustme | May 4, 2005 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Right on, Clembo#2! Like you I'm glad the judge showed a little sense of justice--as distinguished from military justice--and tossed out the guilty plea. When all those male noncommissioned officers were encouraging, photographing, laughing, etc., this female private is the one who is trapped into pleading guilty? Come on! When is AG Alberto Gonzales going to suffer any consequences for his part in the action? Like never.

Posted by: Ulricii | May 4, 2005 8:49 PM | Report abuse

This story was worth, at most, a 30-second "on the lighter side" clip. How about at least 30-seconds being spent on the Blair memo? Anyone?,,1-523-1592904-523,00.html

Posted by: mizerock | May 6, 2005 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I think the preoccupation with trivia and gossip is made more depressing by the presence of life and death issues that are being ignored. If we were dealing with the important issues, it would be more justifiable to spend some time giggling over the latest celeb news, just to lighten up once in a while. But instead, we have a steady diet of sugar-coated fluff and we keep our heads firmly planted in the sand rather than face up to the real problems in the world.

Posted by: Karen B | May 6, 2005 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I think the runaway bride story proved things aren't being ignored. I don't fault the police force for searching, because there was reason to at the outset.

If people think "not being covered" on TV is tantamount to being "ignored," then they've got the wrong perspective. Law enforcement doesn't look into possible crimes only if the local TV station shows up to tape their activities, and they are working on cases whether they talk about it on TV or not.

Posted by: just me | May 7, 2005 12:22 PM | Report abuse

What I'm talking about, what I'm frustrated by, is the general level of consciousness of the American public, as evidenced by what everybody seems to be talking about, or able to talk about. Everyone seems to know the details of the Runaway Bride and have an opinion about it, but there's much less awareness of what's happening in Iraq, or the Supreme Court, or the Sudan. Too many Americans still think that there WERE weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that Saddam Hussein was behind the September 11 attacks, just to give two examples. It looks like not just ignorance, but willful ignorance, since the facts are out there but people just aren't interested enough to absorb them.

Posted by: Karen B | May 8, 2005 5:37 PM | Report abuse

I think the American mainstream media fullfilled their duty perfectly with this case, its all about distracting the masses from real issues and tough questions isn't it? This is just one of many pointless stories filling the airwaves at any given time and just as irrelivent.

Runaway Bride T-Shirt!

Posted by: Timewarp | May 11, 2005 11:46 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer responded to my blog, the day before she checked into rehab. I notified the D.A. then I discussed the matter with 2 main news agencies, One print, one television, they said they were going to report the story but have not yet. I will give them until this afternoon before I name them. I think they are going to bury the story because of my blogs that discuss religion and Border Control. At least they have replied to my initial e-mails the other 8 or so have not even replied!

Posted by: Ron | May 12, 2005 12:12 PM | Report abuse

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