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Jewish World Review
May 11, 2006
/ 13 Iyar, 5766
When nightly news stories go off script
Like most American news consumers, I enjoy the kind of offbeat, heartwarming or downright unbelievable stories that are frequently
inserted into the last few minutes of the local evening newscast. These stories typically resonate with viewers because they often
follow a familiar script — the trucker who emerges from a coma 10 years after running his 18-wheeler off a highway embankment, the
mother grizzly bear at the local zoo who adopts and starts raising a wayward kitten or the 26-year-old stripper and 89-year-old
billionaire oil tycoon who fall in love and get married.
The only problem is that when you revisit the story, it often becomes clear that the characters involved have forgotten about the
"happily ever after" part. Check back in and you discover that less than a month after being released from the hospital, the coma
victim's already been pulled over twice for DUI; the adopted kitten mysteriously went missing one day — coincidentally on the same
day that the zookeepers fell behind schedule with the feeding; and a year after the wedding the elderly billionaire has died, revealing
in his personal papers that the whole time his young bride had only been after one thing: sex.
One high-profile example of this sort of scripted-event-gone-wrong took place last year with the story of Jennifer Wilbanks, a young
bride-to-be who appeared to come down with the worst case of cold feet in recorded pre-marital history. At first the nation was
captivated by this real-life Runaway Bride who disappeared just a few days before she was scheduled to get married in the presence
of 600 guests and roughly 250 metric tons' worth of chiffon covering her bridesmaids. That the whole scenario mirrored the plot of a
popular movie was just the icing on our round-the-clock cable news coverage cake.
True, the script wasn't exactly perfect. In the hands of a capable Hollywood screenwriter the bride-to-be would have hung on until the
actual wedding day, and then, just before the exchange of "I do's," literally taken flight, preferably by fashioning two fire
extinguishers and a chafing dish into a makeshift jet pack.
But the story was good enough, or at least it was until the unfortunate truth about Wilbanks' unbalanced mental state began to
emerge. "Honey, do you remember Julia Roberts getting arrested for calling the police from an Albuquerque bus station with phony
allegations of kidnapping and sexual assault?" a perplexed nation of viewers was left to wonder. "And where the hell is Richard
Two other folks who recently failed to fulfill their proper roles during an otherwise well-scripted national media event were Elbert and
Becky Higginbotham, an Oregon couple who disappeared for two weeks in March when their RV got stuck in a snowdrift on a
remote logging road. The coverage of their daring, last-minute rescue, including all the requisite scenes of tearful reunions with
family members, was duly beamed out across the nation.
But then the story took an unexpected twist when, just a few days after their rescue, the couple went missing again. What are the
odds, right? Wait, before you answer that question, you should know that among the viewers of the joyous rescue scene were
members of the Arizona state police, who were also looking for the missing couple, if for slightly different reasons. It turned out that
the Higgenbothams had been purposely maintaining a low profile in Oregon since fleeing arrest warrants on drug and weapons
charges in Arizona. Whoops! Readers will be relieved to learn that the couple has been located again, and should be safe from snow
drifts once their extradition to face trial in Arizona is completed.
Speaking of criminal acts, my faith in the chances that a deliciously offbeat story may actually live up to its billing was restored
recently by the master of illusion himself, David Copperfield. Accosted by armed thieves one night last week after a performance,
the magician used his sleight-of-hand skills to palm his wallet and cell phone, fooling the would-be-muggers into believing that his
pockets were empty. Talk about an everyday application of job skills! This is not something that the average CPA could pull off.
Needless to say, experts agree this may be Copperfield's greatest off-stage performance since he tricked supermodel Claudia
Schiffer into dating a magician for six years.
While I appreciate how well Copperfield performed in this almost-too-good-to-be-true story, I admit there's still room for improvement.
A better version would have had the magician turning the tables on one of the thieves by saying, "Why rob me when you've already
got plenty of money? Why look, there's a quarter right here behind your ear." And then he would vanish in a puff of smoke. Or
maybe the Runaway Bride could grab him up while flying by with her jet pack. Just as long as he sticks to the script.
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JWR contributor Malcolm Fleschner is a humor columnist for The DC Examiner. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
04/26/06: Cents and sensibility: A thought for your pennies
03/16/06: The day the Muzak died
02/23/06: Checkbook diplomacy begins at home
02/15/06: Today's toys: Where learning means earning
© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner