07.06.11

Elizabeth Smart, Network Pundit?

Amid the Casey Anthony frenzy, ABC News is close to unveiling its latest contributor. Howard Kurtz reports exclusively on the kidnap victim’s new career.

Elizabeth Smart first came into our consciousness nearly a decade ago as a 14-year-old girl kidnapped from her Salt Lake City bedroom. She was found alive nine months later, some 18 miles from her home, and the man and woman who seized her were ultimately convicted.

Now The Daily Beast has learned that Smart is about to start a new job at ... ABC News.

Does that strike anyone as odd?

Other than fame—as the victim of a horrifying crime—what exactly are her qualifications?

The network will announce shortly that Smart will be a contributor to Good Morning America and could also appear on such programs as Nightline. With the Casey Anthony story still going strong, she could be on the air next week.

So was this a way for ABC to land exclusive interviews by putting her on the payroll?

“This is definitely not about looking backward and telling her story, which has been well told and retold,” ABC spokeswoman Julie Townsend said after I contacted the network. Instead, she said, Smart’s role will be “helping viewers understand missing-persons stories from the perspective of knowing what a family experiences when a loved one goes missing.”

Townsend said Smart will appear “when there are missing children or missing-person cases in the news.”

Townsend said Smart will appear “when there are missing children or missing-person cases in the news.”

But this doesn’t feel like a news outlet hiring an ex-athlete, former prosecutor, or out-of-work politician as a commentator who had made a mark in the field. Smart was herself a missing child, one whose disappearance sparked one of the original cable-television frenzies.

ABC says Smart’s hiring is not related to the Anthony murder trial. “This has been in the works for months,” said Townsend, adding that Smart was unavailable for an interview.

It is true that Smart has talked about her ordeal numerous times. She was first interviewed for a Dateline special back in 2003 by then–NBC correspondent Katie Couric. NBC won the rights through an agreement with the publisher of Smart's parents’ book. CBS tried to preempt the move, The New York Times noted at the time, with a program called Elizabeth Smart: America’s Girl. And Good Morning America carried excerpts of an Oprah interview and an “exclusive tour” of the Smart home.

Now ABC’s morning show will have Elizabeth Smart to itself, and viewers can judge her contributions as an undeniable expert on the subject she will be covering.