Give Toogood an Emmy for all her screen time


Move over, Osama bin Laden. For several days in the past week, the most hated person in America was a mother with a ponytail.

Surely you've seen her Ñ Madelyne Toogood, the 25-year-old whom a security camera caught in the act of pummeling her 4-year-old daughter.

As we soon learned, Toogood was just getting warmed up. Once she turned herself in, Toogood was all over the tube. It was a classic example of damage control, the sort of thing you normally only see in politics.

There she was, chatting it up with Ann Curry, the folks on 'Good Morning America' and Larry King. I'm surprised she didn't go on 'Dr. Phil' for some good, tough advice. Heck, I'm surprised she didn't grab an Emmy for Best Actress in an Ongoing Drama.

It used to be that someone caught committing a crime

wouldn't be caught dead talking to anybody but a lawyer. But Toogood's performance this week may have changed that strategy forever.

On the screen, she was amazingly composed and contrite, answering the obvious questions about why she did what she did. Her attorney obviously knew that she'd conduct herself well. Besides, she probably figured out that she had nothing to lose and that the exposure would show her more as a human being than the monster we saw in the shopping center parking lot.

Whether she gained any sympathy remains to be seen. You can't help noticing that like so many perpetrators of violent crime, her favorite word seemed to be 'I.' We heard repeatedly about how mortified and embarrassed she was Ñ when the real focus should have been on the defenseless victim.

Toogood's story raises all sort of questions about the role of television news. Let's start with the incessant replays of the beating.

On the morning of Friday, Sept. 20, when the networks and cable channels began airing the beating, disclaimers were flying all over the place: 'What you are about to see is disturbing,' CNN announced. But by midmorning Ñ after hundreds of replays Ñ the warnings disappeared as the video was seared into our consciousness.

Remember, the Rodney King beating was shown, too, and one might take a minute to recall how all that turned out once King's case moved into the courtroom. Still, the King incident took place before the 'instant news' mentality of the all-news cable channels and the Internet.

It is almost expected now that if there is a story that spurs strong emotion, it must be run practically nonstop. Just think back to the accident on Mount Hood last May, when KGW (8) ran its exclusive footage of a helicopter crash nine times in the first 10 minutes of its 11 p.m. news. If the King story had broken this week, it would have aired thousands of times more than it did back when CNN was the only cable news network on the remote.

One accepted definition of journalism is 'to make what's important interesting.' This was important because child beatings are important, and it was interesting because, this time, it was there for all to see. As repulsive as it was, seeing it happen instead of hearing statistics about it unquestionably increased the level of dialogue on the subject and probably even led people to take some preventive steps that they might not have.

But there's a counterargument as well: Does seeing violence on video ad infinitum desensitize us?

While Toogood was making the network rounds, no one thought to interview her without screening the video three or four or more times.

Did we need to see it 100 times? And if the answer is no, tell me why the TV news folks always think it's yes.

ContactPete Schulberg at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..