Smith book seems standard procedure in age of voyeurism

July 12, 1995|By MIKE LITTWIN

There are few things lower, I guess, than a mother who kills her children.

But I'll offer this up for your consideration: The father of the dead babies who cashes in on the tragedy by writing a book about it.

Welcome to the Susan Smith trial (to be followed by the David Smith book tour).

Three thousand miles from Camp O. J., a smaller, yet still significant, media horde has descended upon Union, S.C., for our next mega-dose of voyeurism.

In the courtroom, they're in the early stages of jury selection. All the O. J. watchers know how important the voir dire process can be. They even know what it means.

Fortunately, this trial won't last nine months. Susan Smith has confessed to the crime. The only question is whether she gets life or death. Surprisingly, few experts believe a jury will vote for the death penalty.

Remember all the anger at the time and the jeering mobs? Now, as the revelations about Smith's life have seeped out, sadness competes with the anger. We have heard the stories of sexual abuse and suicide attempts and adultery, all the stories common to our era, or at least to the day-time TV talk shows that fill the air as we slog toward the millennium.

Nobody goes so far as to call Susan Smith a victim, but maybe she was pretty deranged. Besides, if it's vengeance you're craving, a life sentence of living with yourself after killing your babies is probably far worse than the chair.

But that still leaves us with Dad.

I don't remember David Smith very well. In the fog of the early story, when Susan Smith was accusing a black car-jacker of abduction, he was somewhere in the background, out of focus. He was the estranged husband, after all. And fathers, especially when they're estranged husbands, somehow don't get to grieve in the way that mothers do.

And then, when the truth emerged, David Smith became a mask of despair.

He was a victim, certainly. Nobody can deny that. How do you deal with the loss of your two babies, especially this loss, this way? Well, David Smith has found his own, '90s way.

He is writing a book called "Ultimate Betrayal," which is the perfect title. It's about the ultimate betrayal of standards.

If there's anything we've learned in the past year or so, it's that we have little interest in standards. If we did, books by Faye Resnick and about Kato Kaelin wouldn't have become best sellers. CNN wouldn't have given over its network to the Simpson trial. Diane Sawyer wouldn't have exposed the 12-year-old son of an Oklahoma City bombing suspect to a national audience. And Joey Buttafuoco wouldn't be a celebrity.

People like to blame this on the media, who do, in fact, have much to answer for. But the real blame goes to people who buy the books, who watch the shows, who don't know who their congressman is but can tell you what kind of cutlery Lorena Bobbitt uses.

And, now, David Smith's book.

According to reports, it will come out next month, possibly in time for the trial. According to further reports, he's seeking $100,000 -- just for the serialization rights. The judge has ordered the prosecutors to tell the defense just how much money David Smith expects to make in all from the book, which is expected to be a best seller.

Call it blood money.

I wonder what they'll call it on the TV circuit, where Barbara Walters, Larry King and Phil Donahue are lining up to greet Smith.

He'll give us, I'm sure, the inside story on Susan Smith's pathology. We'd all like to better understand how a mother (or father) could, even in the most desperate moment, murder their children, just as we'd like to know how a bomber could blow up children (and adults) he never knew.

So, many will watch. Many will buy the book. I keep waiting to hear that David Smith will give the money away, set up a foundation, do something other than enrich himself.

Once upon a time, when I lived in Los Angeles, I often drove under this certain underpass where an artist, using chalk and gumption, had written an outsized, one-word cry on the wall. It said: Standards!

Eventually, the people in charge erased his creation, because it was unauthorized art, the most dangerous kind.

Or maybe it was because the word just didn't matter anymore.

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