Friday, March 14, 2003

Aaron Brown's glare of death? Was I imagining this? Or did Aaron Brown, the host of CNN's NewsNight, really try to vaporize reporter Jean Meserve with his laser stare last night? The newscast opened with Elizabeth Smart, and Brown instantly made it clear that he didn't want to hear any cynicism or negativity about the 15-year-old kidnap victim, found, incredibly, near her Utah home on Wednesday. Roll the CNN transcript:

We begin with Elizabeth Smart and something unfortunate that crept into the coverage today, the question: Why didn't she try to escape? There's something faintly accusing about that, putting the burden not on the culprits, but on a child who was stolen from her home, from her bedroom. And as her dad said today, [she] appears to have been brainwashed.

Meserve then ran through the day's news, an update on the girl's first day home, why the police investigation appeared to be so inept and wrongheaded, and some details on David Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, the creepy couple accused of holding her for all these months. Then this:

Meserve: Chief [Rick] Dinse [of the Salt Lake City Police] says he believes he knows whether or not Elizabeth Smart was sexually abused during her captivity, but he isn't telling the media. He also says that Mitchell, as part of his religious beliefs, believed in polygamy. But, again, he will not tell the press whether or not Mitchell viewed Elizabeth as one of his wives. Back to you, Aaron.

Brown: Well, to the extent that that question becomes important, the eventual charges that I assume will be filed will answer that. Tell us what you know and what you have been able to find out about the moment that police came upon her. What she said, what they said.

As I said, it could be my imagination. But as Brown was speaking, he looked as though he were trying to figure out a way to reach through the camera and put Meserve in a chokehold. Meserve finished her report, and that was that.

If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. But if I'm right, I can't say I blame Brown, who's done an admirable job of keeping the tabloid values of cable news from infesting his program. Still, this is the question everyone is asking. Even the New York Times asks it today. I'm not sure how you avoid it.

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