ABC News taps Elizabeth Smart as ‘missing person’ contributor

With Casey Anthony's surprising acquittal on murder charges in the case of her 2-year-old daughter's disappearance in 2008 dominating the headlines, it seems fitting that ABC News has tapped a missing persons "expert" as its newest paid contributor.

The network's new specialist on the issue certainly has a unique background: She is Elizabeth Smart, who in 2002 and 2003 endured nine months of captivity and sexual abuse after she had been kidnapped at age 14 from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. In the conclusion of a survival story that was as miraculous as it was sickening, her primary abductor, Brian David Mitchell, was sentenced to life in prison on May 25.

Now Smart is set to embark on the next chapter of her life.

"I can confirm that Elizabeth Smart will be an ABC News contributor available to all ABC News programs and platforms," ABC News spokeswoman Julie Townsend told The Cutline. The news was first reported Wednesday night by the Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz, who was reasonably skeptical about Smart's addition to the ABC contributor roster.

"Other than fame—as the victim of a horrifying crime—what exactly are her qualifications?" he wrote. "Was this a way for ABC to land exclusive interviews by putting her on the payroll?"

Townsend suggested otherwise.

"Her contributions will be focused on looking ahead, not looking back at her own story," she said. "She'll help our viewers better understand missing person stories from someone with the perspective to know what a family experiences when a loved one goes missing." Townsend also said the network has "been talking to Elizabeth for quite some time."

But apart from the Anthony trial, the timing also seems apt in light of ABC's upcoming exclusive interview with onetime missing person Jaycee Dugard. Dugard had been kidnapped at age 11 and held for 18 years; during her captivity, she gave birth to two children fathered by her abductor. That interview, which was conducted by Diane Sawyer, is scheduled to air Sunday at 9 p.m.

Townsend wouldn't confirm whether Smart's ABC debut would be tied to the network's Dugard coverage, but said, "She could be on the air within the next few weeks."