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Our MSM: not all missing persons are equal – admit it

This picture of Tamika Houston, a woman who disappeared under suspicious circumstances from her home in Spartanburg, SC, hasn’t been splashed across the headlines and 24/7 news outlets like Natalee Holloway’s, who disappeared in Aruba recently.

Kate and I have discussed, as this endless coverage of Natalee Holloway continues, that the issues of race and class in the choices made by the media on what to cover. It’s like watching the stories of Jennifer “Runaway Bride” Wilbanks, Laci Peterson and Lori Hacking, and Elizabeth Smart all over again. Ms. Holloway, who hails from Kate’s neighborhood in Alabama of Mountain Brook, is white, blonde and from a well-to-do family. Perfect formula for 24/7 media coverage.

On the other hand, Tamika Houston‘s family has not been able to get the media to pay attention to her disappearance, despite a web site, and her aunt (a PR professional), pushing the media hard for coverage. Her story is finally getting some media attention, in this case by CBS:

A year ago this week, a 24-year-old African-American woman named Tamika Huston of Spartanburg, S.C., was reported missing by her family. Most who know all about Holloway, probably haven’t heard of Huston, although her family has tried everything it could to get national media attention. According to FBI statistics, African-Americans and other minorities make up a larger portion of missing victims than the media represents. However, cases like Huston’s often get little attention.

Huston’s aunt, Rebkah Howard, who is a public relations professional, tried to develop national concern by having her family distribute fliers, hold a press conference, and create a Web site to get mass media attention, but the story was primarily ignored…Howard tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm she doesn’t believe executive producers and newsroom staff consciously exclude persons of color, but notes it is important for the media to take a critical look at which cases they cover.

“What I believe is happening,” Howard says, “is that networks have found a formula that has worked for them. And they tend to be about young, white attractive, middle- to upper-class women. And they continue to follow those stories. As one is resolved, they’ll move on to the next one. I was met with a lot of resistance when I tried to get national attention for this case. It has been unfortunate.”

Just recall the stories of Jennifer Wilbanks, the missing bride, the young woman from Salt Lake City. They were all white, young, attractive, middle-class, American women.

Howard Kurtz also covered the issue in his Friday WaPo column.

I’ve fulminated on this subject before, but I’ve got to say, when you look at which missing-persons stories get heavily covered (female, white, usually middle class) and those that don’t, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that selective news judgment is at work.

If there’s a logical explanation for this, I’ve yet to hear it. And after JonBenet Ramsey, Chandra Levy, Elizabeth Smart, Jennifer Wilbanks, Natalee Holloway, etc., the pattern is unmistakable. In fact, I tried to look for stories about Holloway for the past month and Nexis interrupted my search, saying it would return more than 1,000 documents.

…But: “‘To be blunt, blond white chicks who go missing get covered and poor, black, Hispanic or other people of color who go missing do not get covered,’ said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism. ‘You’re more likely to get coverage if you’re attractive than if you’re not.’ “
Memo to ugly people: Be extra careful.

WashPost columnist Gene Robinson has been deluged with e-mail since writing this piece on missing-women stories:

“A damsel must be white. This requirement is nonnegotiable. It helps if her frame is of dimensions that breathless cable television reporters can credibly describe as ‘petite,’ and it also helps if she’s the kind of woman who wouldn’t really mind being called ‘petite,’ a woman with a good deal of princess in her personality. She must be attractive — also nonnegotiable. Her economic status should be middle class or higher, but an exception can be made in the case of wartime (see: Jessica Lynch). Put all this together, and you get 24-7 coverage.”

An aside, one of the more frustrating aspects about the Holloway media attention is that it almost completely useless in examining some troubling facts, which of course, would not fit neatly in the damsel-in-distress storyline:
* this well-traveled young woman got into a car alone with three strange men, why would she do this?
* were drugs or alcohol involved, compromising her judgment?
* there seemed to be no buddy system in place — how could her group not notice she was missing until it was time to board the plane?
* the Aruban government and law enforcement officials are going to do everything possible to close this case ASAP, regardless of whether they get the right people because it is so dependent on tourism. Why is no one covering that angle?

The media coverage even has some Freepers convinced there’s a stench of racism/classism in the air…

Actual Freeper Quotes™

“I think it’s more about having an interesting story. Not many young women disappear from Aruba. I personally would like to see the media do more in more of these cases, as it might help get them found. But, if it’s not an interesting story the public can get interested in, they will soon drop it. I just don’t think it’s a race issue. I don’t see them covering stories of missing young men on any color. Is it a gender bias as well? [Well, yes there is…]”

“I think the lady has answered her own question. It’s supposedly such an unfortunate common ocurrence in certain communities that it doesn’t become a big story. Plus, if Holloway had disappeared from a college campus there would have been a spike in the news, then silence. Anyone remember the college girls disappearing in the midwest recently? I think in Wisconsin or Minnesota – see, I don’t know much about them because I haven’t seen it in the national news much.”

“I recommend forced quotas on the media for reporting missing minorities.”

“Once again people need to learn the meme, there’s a reason it’s called “TV News”, the TV comes first. Photogenic people are more likely to wind up on TV when something interesting (bad or good) happens to them than non-photogenic people. Another big factor that plays into things is what else is going on in the world, nobody who wound up missing during the invasion of Iraq was going to wind up on TV unless it could be tied to the war in less than 6 seconds of TV time, this June has been a pretty slow news month, one of those months when the TV clowns are desperate to fill their air time (which doesn’t change no matter how much or little is going on in the world) and a photogenic missing person is just what the TV ordered.”

“Pretty girls, especially blondes, will always more media exposure.”

“Exactly. The media CHOOSE what they will report. Apparently our oh-so-PC media CHOOSES to select out white middle-
class women. I guess it beats reporting on the majority of missing people in this country – males.”

“I disagree. The media is quite racist. Remember that when innocent victims were killed in botched drive-by gang shootings, it was never news until a non-black victim (an Oriental coed) was killed in such a manner. (This was in the mid-90’s.) Then it suddenly became a national media sensation, and there was much hand-wringing. Not before, however.”

“If this had been a black American tourist that disappeared, it would be just as big a story. Plus, Jessie Jackson would be on site, milking it for all its’ worth. Jessie would walk away with a multimillion dollar beach home courtesy of the Aruban government just to get him to shut up.”

“They don’t like it when the media shows blacks have a lot more missing fathers. Why the two face?”

“Another factor to consider is the family and loved ones. The press are inherently some of the laziest people on earth, they don’t like to go looking for stories they like stories to call them. What that means in the case of a missing person is holding a press conference, it’s pretty rare to see the press covering anything that doesn’t have press conferences.”

“Anyone complaining about media coverage on missing persons is in effect complaining about what the public wants to hear. Put on a story about someone old, ugly, stupid, and fat who’s missing and see how many viewers lunge for their remotes. It’s the same as for coverage of plane crashes and mass slaughters in foreign lands; if there’s no Americans involved, nobody in the US cares. We want to know about people either like us or like we aspire to be, not some vanished snaggletoothed slattern.”

“Funny thing is, I saw a photo of this girl and she was a cutie. I don’t know what it is but we do know the left is racist to the bone.”

“She’s as photogenic as they come. I can only presume the MSM is racist for not giving her case as much coverage.”

“She’s very pretty. WHY wasn’t she given attention by the liberal media? A tad racist, are they?”

“YES. And they think that because the larger segment of their audience is white, that they aren’t interested in hearing about stories unless the victim is white. YES, they are racist.”

“I think the media probably IS racist, but I suspect there is something about the circumstances that prevented Tamika from getting her due. Natalee will continue to dominate the cycle until something big comes along and pushes her out. What that might be, I don’t know. If something happened simultaneously with Tamikas disappearance, she would have been crowded out.”

“It’s not just the media. Do you think that the FBI sent eight agents to look for this girl?”

“I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but the MSM news business is just that, a business. And as a business, they report the news that will attract the most viewers, because the more viewers/readers they have, the more they can charge their advertisers. The majority of viewers who watch news programs and read news papers are white, so a story about a missing white woman will attract viewers/readers and a story about a missing minority woman will not. Personally, it offends me that more Americans seem to be interested in the soap opera like lives of spoiled white women who are eventually found in Grey Hound bus stations in Albuquerque than they are in the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who are currently in harms way. But that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding