Cold Feet, Hot Story

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 4, 2005; 8:18 AM

The runaway bride has turned into a runaway television embarrassment.

I mean, come on! A woman gets cold feet about a wedding, takes a powder for a few days and producers turn it into the new national obsession?

The lead interview on the morning shows yesterday was the father of the temporarily jilted husband, John Mason. Mason himself gave an exclusive to Sean Hannity on Monday night. Every talk show I've flipped to has been leading with the saga of Jennifer Wilbanks.

First the media pump up the story (bride missing for a couple of days) with all kinds of sinister overtones (Maybe she's been kidnapped! Maybe she's dead! Call our Laci Peterson experts!). Then they revel in the plot twist when it turns out SHE REALLY JUST RAN AWAY and made up the kidnapping story. But NOW we can bring on all kinds of experts, profilers, psychologists and other talking heads to yammer about why a woman WOULD DO SUCH A THING. Thus are great national controversies created.

Lost in the cacophony is any mention of the media's overcoverage--and how anchors and reporters suggested there must be foul play involved, and even cast doubt on Mason and his reluctance to take a polygraph. Some excerpts:

Fox's Bill O'Reilly: "Woman goes out for a jog and boom, she's gone. Do you think there's an epidemic going on here?" And: "This young woman -- it's almost like Laci Peterson. She just disappears from a place that's Mainstream, USA."

Fox's Sean Hannity: "I agree with the father-in-law-to-be."

Geraldo Rivera: "That there's foul play."

Hannity: "Yes."

Rivera: "So do I."

Nancy Grace of Headline News, interviewing Wilbanks's dad: "Mr. Wilbanks, this sounds completely unlike Jennifer to just disappear. I just don't believe it`s a case of cold feet."

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann was one of the few anchors to wonder if Wilbanks fled: "I don't mean to judge a book by its cover, but those photos of this woman -- I don't know how recent they are. There`s just a feeling about those shots, with her eyes sort of bugging out, that you look at that and say, Is she going to run or do something?" (Still, he led with the story again last night.)

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