Abe Lincoln, a Terrorist in Training and, Yes, Jennifer Wilbanks

Head over to The New Yorker’s Web site and you’ll see that Nancy Franklin’s latest covers ABC’s upcoming “limited series” — new TV-world parlance for “mini-series” — set in the final weeks of Caesar’s Rome. Franklin tells us she more or less hates mini-series and then says that that ABC’s “Empire” isn’t all that bad. (New York’s John Leonard also liked it.) After she dispenses with ABC, you might expect Franklin to move on to HBO’s “Rome,” which she touches on earlier in the piece, but her next target is NBC, and everyone’s favorite punching bag, Katie Couric. In what seems like an impromptu rant on the Jennifer Wilbanks saga — the only way you know it’s coming is if you check in with the table of contents, because it’s left out of the header of the piece — Franklin has this to say:

A lot of people hate the media, it is said; unfortunately, too few of those people are themselves in the media, which, once in a while, could benefit from some purifying self-flagellation. The coverage of the doings of Jennifer Wilbanks, the “runaway bride,” back in April, and the entire hour of prime-time TV that NBC devoted to following up on the story last week — “A Katie Couric Special” — would have been a good opportunity. … Of course, viewers were naturally interested in the story of a mysterious disappearance, but, given that it was the TV-news establishment that had forced the story on us for days on end, Couric was disingenuous, at the very least, when she described the search for Wilbanks as “a national obsession” that had “gripped the nation.”

And more:

Toward the end of the show, Couric told viewers that Wilbanks was receiving inpatient treatment at a psychiatric facility and that the interview had taken place while she was out on a weekend pass. It is impossible to understand how any responsible adult — and everyone at NBC News is presumably one of those — could have brought himself to intrude on Wilbanks’ life in this way at this time, even if she was willing. But, once Wilbanks was actually sitting across from her, why didn’t Couric ask her about the deal she had just made to sell her life story for half a million dollars, or raise her eyebrows when Wilbanks said that, at the age of thirty-two, she still kissed her father on the lips, or when she answered a question about what her dreams for her life were by describing what her mother’s dreams for her were?

In the dog days of summer, newsmags are wont to turn to old news — sometimes 140-year-old news. Time put Honest Abe on the cover this week, with a nine-story feature package covering the “True Lincoln.” Last time Time fronted Lincoln: May 10, 1963. (Subscription required.) We looked into it because we thought he’d been on Time’s cover last year. Silly us, last Fourth of July it was Thomas Jefferson. Here’s the thing, though: In that 1963 issue of Time, we discover articles reported from Italy, Great Britain, Russia, Yugoslavia, France, Yemen, South Africa, Congo, West Irian, Red China, Togo, Ceylon, Hispaniola and Canada. And today? We won’t embarrass anyone with numbers, but, on the bright side, there is an illuminating article out of Baghdad.

Reporter Aparisim Ghosh scored an interview with an al-Zarqawi insurgent during his final training as a suicide bomber. Marwan Abu Ubeida (not his real name) told Ghosh that in his final prayer before the mission, “First, I will ask Allah to bless my mission with a high rate of casualties among the Americans.” He believes “terrorist” accurately describes what he is, and that the Koran encourages such terrorism against enemies of Allah. Marwan came from a well-off Sunni family and claims he was not a supporter of Saddam Hussein. Things changed when, in April 2003, Marwan attended a protest at a school at which, he says, U.S. soldiers killed 12 demonstrators.

Oddly, the picture of Marwan looks eerily similar to the picture of the identity hacker that Newsweek slaps on its cover this week. Inside, on an unrelated note, three Newsweek staffers offer an assessment of the White House’s rhetoric regarding Iraq. It’s obvious the authors, writing before word of President Bush’s speech tonight, don’t think there’s any rhetoric that can help the president’s numbers:

As long as the American people “understand the trajectory, they are going to have a considerable tolerance for sacrifice,” said a senior White House aide, who did not wish to be identified. That may be true, but it’s not clear that Bush’s speeches serve to inspire. According to the Gallup poll, support for the war in Iraq went up 1 percentage point after his War College speech last year. Public confidence seems to more closely track the ebbs and flows in violence. It went up as the killing went down briefly last summer, dipped when the violence flared before the election and has stayed below 50 percent since then.

US News has a brief piece on Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney in charge of the Plame investigation that has so far resulted in little more than the possible jailing of journalists Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller for refusing to reveal the confidential White House source who leaked Plame’s name. Fitzgerald — the son of a New York City doorman — has made plenty of friends among colleagues as he has climbed the ranks by putting away high-profile criminals from terrorists to mobsters. Pretty much everyone interviewed agrees that Fitzgerald is wrong to let the burden fall on Cooper and Miller, but also believes that he’s just doing his job. (Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that it would not hear Cooper and Miller’s appeal.)

Not wanting to part without some acknowledgment of life outside politics, we direct you to another bubble — the well-to-do 18-year-old girl seeking older man in the New York City club scene, as described by David Amsden in this week’s New York Magazine.

You gotta wonder about guys in their mid-20s who end up squiring teenage girls to their senior proms.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.