Just how mindlessly callous can cable news get? We were provided with a pretty good example the other day by CNN’s Nancy Grace, self-proclaimed purveyor of “television’s only justice-themed/interview/debate show” (whatever that means).


Grace snagged an interview with Elizabeth Smart, the young woman who was abducted in Salt Lake City four years ago by two crazy homeless people.


Smart came on to talk about a bill that would create a national sex offender registry, which she is trying to help get passed. But Grace had other plans, and in her breathy voice of feigned concern started hammering Smart for details about her abduction. And Smart was not exactly cooperating.


Nancy Grace: Elizabeth, I remember when you first went missing and literally hundreds of people were out looking for you. Now we know you were being held captive not very far away from your home at all. Did you ever hear people calling out your name, trying to find you?


Elizabeth Smart: There was one time.


Grace: At that moment, did you want to scream out, Here I am, help me?


Smart: I mean, of course. Who wouldn’t?


Grace kept pushing in this vein, asking leading questions and making assumptions, and Smart kept deflecting and insisting that she really didn’t want to talk about 2002. “I really am here to support the bill and not to go into what — you know, what happened to me, what the whole — like, what is in my past, because I’m not here to give an interview on that. I’m here to help push this bill through.” Grace seemed to get it and answered, “I want you to push the bill through and I want people to hear your voice.”


But then, like a boomerang, Grace came whizzing back.


Grace: When we take a look back, there’s a shot of Elizabeth Smart, and here she is, four years later. And frankly, it’s a miracle that she was ever found. You know, a lot of people have seen shots of you wearing a burqua. How did you see out of that thing?


Smart: You know, I’m really not going to talk about this at this time. I mean, that’s something I just don’t even look back at. And I really — I really — to be frankly honest, I really don’t appreciate you bringing all this up.


Grace quicky shifted gears to condescension: “I’m sorry, dear. I thought that you would speak out to other victims. But you know what? I completely understand. A lot of victims don’t want to talk about it and don’t feel like talking about it.”


And then, thankfully, Grace shut up. One wonders, though, why even in the face of resistance from a young woman who had been kidnapped, raped, brainwashed, and held in captivity for a year, it took a CNN anchor so long to back off.


Down, Fang, down.

Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.