I ask only because it is looking that way, given the network’s recent saturation coverage of Jaycee Dugard and the Casey Anthony trial, along with one of its newest hires: rescued kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart.
Even ABC News admits Smart has few qualifications for a ''contributor'' job, beyond her amazing poise and articulate advocacy after her horrific, nine-month kidnapping back in 2002 by onetime street preacher Brian David Mitchell.
Then 14, Smart was held captive and raped daily. Earlier this year she faced her attacker in court as he was sentenced to two life sentences. And she has spoken out on legislation to help missing children.
Still, does that qualify Smart, now 23, to be a paid staffer at ABC News? And what is the impact when a network hires someone so closely identified with a type of crime that — while attention-getting and sensational — doesn't really happen all that often?
"That one threw me; I've never seen that before," said Deborah Potter, a former correspondent for CBS and CNN who is the executive director of Newslab, a broadcast journalism training and research center. "(Smart) is a contributor on a topic that you would imagine wouldn't be in the news all that often. Are they going to cover these stories more because they have her?"
ABC's emphasis on such stories already may be at hand. Criticized for paying $200,000 years ago for exclusive video and pictures from Casey Anthony, the network also threw serious resources at covering the aftermath of her acquittal — sending Nightline anchor Terry Moran to Orlando for the first TV interview with a juror on the case while heavily featuring Barbara Walters' interview with her attorney, Jose Baez.
On July 10, top anchor Diane Sawyer drew nearly 15 million viewers to her exclusive talk with Dugard, a woman who was kidnapped at age 11 and held captive for 18 years, giving birth to two children fathered by her kidnapper. The network rebroadcast the story July 9 and sent reporter Chris Cuomo to badger police who originally failed to find her.
Small wonder then, that Broadcasting and Cable noted ABC spent a whopping 22.9 minutes covering the Casey Anthony trial during its evening newscasts last week, compared to 8.4 minutes on NBC and 5.4 minutes on CBS.
In today's landscape of morning newscasts and true-crime network TV newsmagazines, women-in-peril stories have turned crime news into melodramatic, real-life soap operas, said Andrew Tyndall, a New York media analyst.
"It's converting the previous demographic for soap operas into news (viewers)," he said. "Almost always, the central character is a woman and just like the soap operas, it doesn't matter if the lead character is a good guy or a villain. That's why you can talk about Elizabeth Smart and Casey Anthony in the same breath."
These soap operas also give viewers a skewed sense of crime. Critics have complained that the national media's focus on pretty, young white middle-class female victims can lead the audience to care more about crime that affects certain kinds of people.
And less about others.
Now ABC's arrangement with Smart raises the same question: Has the network embodied the focus on endangered white women with one hire?
Not so, said ABC spokeswoman Julie Townsend. "It's fair to say we've always covered missing person stories, particularly on programs like Good Morning America," she added, noting that ABC's discussions with the telegenic Smart began months ago. "The timing of all these things (news of Smart's hiring, the Dugard story and the Anthony coverage) is truly a coincidence."