Tuesday, November 4, 2003


I'm having some serious doubts about the Elizabeth Smart Story, the CBS docudrama scheduled for broadcast this coming Sunday.  I'm not sure it's going to be accurate or that all of the conversations between the principals, especially those who captured poor Elizabeth, are going to be true to what was really said, or meant.  I'm a little worried about the image of mother Smart and if father Smart might come off a little less up to his game than he really is.

In the day of the reality show (of which CBS claims to be a proud parent), let's get real.  Accuracy was never the issue here.  There was plenty of time to vet the script of Mr. and Mrs. Gipper's story.  And let's also be honest.  Television fare of this kind, much less a great deal of the glossy "news" we get today, wouldn't meet the Ed Murrow standard or, in some cases, even the smell test.  Using lack of accuracy as an excuse is a slippery slope for a tarnished media that so often seems no longer capable of distinguishing between reporting and editorializing.

CBS caved into pressure.  They accepted the direction of Conservative critics, just as the whole country has been caving into those same people with disastrous results.  In that regard, it seems almost unfair to blame them.  But in doing so, regardless of the logic (which must have included fear of Sponsor abandonment) they have done damage to free expression.  If we are not fighting for the right of people to express, even erroneously, what the hell are we fighting for?

I feel for our former President and his family now sharing a dark world that in many ways is worse than no world at all.  I think it's always tricky to portray the living which anyone who has seen her or his story on screen can surly attest is likely to be largely fictional and thus painful to one degree or another.  But public people chose to be public and along with the adulation and chauffeurs comes a loss of full personal control.  You can't build a myth around yourself, or allow one to be built, without risking the balloon being punctured, even if often inaccurately so.

Docudramas are, and always have been, off the factual mark to one degree or another.  It's why I generally find them offensive.  But that's a matter of taste not censorship.  In a time when neo-McCarthyism is afoot in some very high places, we can't be complacent about the "why" of what happened here.  Be assured, accuracy never came into legitimate play in CBS's decision, even if they have deluded themselves into the fact that it did.  The word disingenuous, however, does come to mind.

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