Mank blog: True love or true crime?

June 2, 2006 |

A saga of true love or true crime? (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

I came late to the story of Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau. This drama, forged apparently in tabolid heaven, is now 10 years old; I didn't get started covering it until 2002. But I was delighted when I learned Mary and Vili had agreed to sit down with us (they actually first agreed to sit down with Matt Lauer, but Matt's schedule prevented him from making the trip to Seattle).

In our story, producer Julie Cohen and I ask the question of whether this is a saga of true love--or true crime. It clearly at times has seemed to be both, or sometime one and then the other. How could a 34-year-old teacher [and married mother of four] fall for a 13-year-old student? What kind of connection could they possibly have? Why would he wait for her while she served seven years behind bars for --in the eyes of the law-- raping him? And how could they possibly be happily married today?

You probably think you already know all about this case. You're probably wrong. For instance:

Who made the first move? Both Vili and Mary say he did.

Who began their first kiss? They both say it was Vili.

He was 13. She was 34. So she must have initiated his sexual education. Wrong again.

People like to project their own feelings onto this story. I noticed that when I received a flood of e-mail from our first story about the case. A number of viewers wrote in to bemoan the early sexualization of the boy they referred to as "Billy." Interesting, because it suggests the desire of the reader to see Vili (who is of Samoan ancestry) as a young, innocent boy. He was young at the time; how innocent he was is an open question.

Watch Dateline tonight and make your own judgments: Is this real? Is it love? Is it right? Who made it happen? And what's going to happen next?

Dateline airs Friday, 8 p.m. Click here for more quotes and videos in advance of the show.


What does Memorial Day mean to you? (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

What will you be doing on Memorial Day? A family barbecue? “The Da Vinci Code”? There’s almost certainly a big sale at the mall. It’s Memorial Day. Does that mean anything?

In the blog world, there’s a lot of talk about the unofficial start of summer.

“As we zoom toward Memorial Day, I am reminded that it’s almost time to break out all that fantastic white denim.”

To some, it’s just a welcome day off.

“Since there is nothing going on for Memorial Day, who all would be interested in doing a 'Star Wars' marathon at my place?”

Truth is, a lot of us have forgotten what Memorial Day is really all about. It’s not about supporting the troops, the president, or whatever war we happen to be fighting at the time.
It is about honoring our war dead, the men and women who didn’t make it home.

Memorial Day officially began in 1868, to honor those killed in the civil war. After World War one we expanded it to include all casualties of war, meaning that tomorrow will honor the memory and sacrifice of more than 1.2 million Americans....

Patriots like Nathan Hale, who regretted that he had only one life to give for his country.

Or Colin Kelly Jr., who in the first days after Pearl Harbor, gave the crew of his crippled bomber time to bail out while he died at the controls.

Lori Piestewa, who went to Iraq saying she didn’t want to be a hero, but ended up dying as one.

Somehow, Memorial Day has gotten lost. It is a holiday to commemorate something sad, and we don’t like sad in this culture. These days, the Pentagon won’t even let us take pictures of the coffins coming home.

Back in 1971, our government made a terrible decision, moving Memorial Day from May 30th and making it simply the last Monday in May, and therefore part of an annual three-day weekend. That was great for retailers, for car dealers, and the charcoal-briquet industry.

But it pushed the real purpose of Memorial Day into the background.

Some bloggers understand:

“We have troops dying each day and yet when Memorial Day rolls around, we jump in the pool and fire up the grill without giving much thought to those who have died for our country or the families that have been torn apart by their loss.”“You folks need a refresher course in history.”

And generally, big cities need that refresher course more than small-town America, which in a lot of places, still does Memorial Day right.

So by all means, fire up the grill tomorrow. But just take a moment, and think about all those people who went off to fight for you— and who never came back.

Maybe you’ll get along with your own family a little better.