Thursday, a woman from Bartow County who’d been missing six days turned up alive. She’d disappeared on her own, leaving her husband and five children. The family was in debt. When she materialized, she told authorities she wanted her whereabouts kept secret. They obliged.
Moments after the news conference announcing those scant details, a producer for one of the traditional broadcast networks casually asked me: What do you think will happen next? Will she see her husband or children again? Her face was bright with genuine curiosity.
I stammered, then decided to uncloak my undiplomatic answer: “I’m pretty sure I really don’t care.”
It’s not that I am heartless. Clearly, this family has problems It now undoubtedly faces months or years of issues, therapy, legal bills or worse.
I went on to posit that this family, sadly, is not much different than the roughly half of American marriages that end in divorce. Not to say that Wazineh and Abed Suleiman are headed straight to divorce court. But every single day, hundreds or perhaps thousands of spouses make the decision to bail on their marriages. They never make news.
This made news for several reasons: Her sudden disappearance had the whiff of foul play, launching a public criminal probe. She made the unfortunate choice to bail without telling anybody what she was doing.
Her re-appearance ground the criminal investigation to a halt. It was already clear before Sheriff Clark Milsap said it: This was now a personal matter, a domestic issue that no longer fell into the public realm. My job was to report her re-emergence on WXIA, then move on.
I saw two network crews there, though. A guy from CNN was doing live shots. The national interest in this local story took me aback.
Two days later, this was the top story on Yahoo news. Wasineh’s Suleiman’s smile was the eye-catching artwork.
I should watch more TV, I suppose. I’m vaguely aware that network magazine shows routinely produce “real life mystery”-type stories that dig into the details of folks’ private lives. A colleague told me last week that morning shows like Today and Good Morning America do the same thing. The pretty smile of a female central character is frequently the common denominator.
If Wazineh Suleiman’s face wasn’t camera-friendly, what are the odds there would have been this kind of interest?
I realize it’s my job to tell interesting stories. Presumably, these entities have learned something that I haven’t: These stories are still interesting, even after it’s clear no crime has been committed.
When I started in the news business, “interesting” wasn’t enough. There had to be a better reason to dig into the personal lives of people who hadn’t sought publicity or done something criminal. The Suleiman case was a grey area; Abed Suleiman had publicly pleaded for his wife’s return. Once he realized the extent to which his family life had unraveled, he stopped talking.
But the story didn’t stop, apparently.