Sunday, December 02, 2007

Not every missing person is a young white woman...

This is heartening. A white police chief, Malcolm McMillin, is calling the media out on their handling of missing persons cases. Chief McMilling has been heading up a search for Latasha Norman, an honors student at Jackson State University. McMillin is contrasting the relative silence on his case with the intense media coverage to happens during cases where it's white women who go missing.

This is something that few people really like to talk about, but it does come up sometimes. Why do we only get national coverage when it's a stereotypically pretty white woman that goes missing? Why don't we see national coverage over a case like this?

It's rare to see a police official speak out in such a frank manner:

As far as the interest by the national media in the story, I think race probably had an impact... ...It's a small college in the South. It's the daughter of simple people who maybe are not important outside of their circle, and maybe we don't attach the same importance to them that we do for other people...


I think that there are a number of factors that make the media latch onto one case over another. If there are celebs or politicians involved in a case, the media is all over it, for example. The biggest factors certainly seem to be race, youthfulness, and prettiness.

Consider the major cases that come to mind when you think of "missing woman": JonBenet Ramsey. Chandra Levy. Laci Peterson. Jennifer Willbanks. Natalee Holloway. Jessica Lynch.

The problem with cases like these isn't that they receive media attention- it's that the media becomes so absorbed in those cases that it fails to cover cases of other missing persons. When a person goes missing or a murder is unsolved, time is of vital importance, and the police need all the leads that they can get in order to try to solve the case. If it's a kidnapping, the best chance for getting the person back safely passes quickly, and the media can play a huge role in helping get police leads. When the media cover a story about a missing person, people might have seen the missing person can give the police tips and can help find that person. When the media fail to cover a missing person case in favor of running more and more coverage about the missing white woman, they're limiting the effectiveness of the search.

And to say it explicitly: I don't have a problem with the news covering these cases- I don't think that they need to stop covering cases- but I think that they should be doing a better job covering a variety of missing persons or unsolved murder cases. Not just the cases where they think that the victim fits a certain demographic.

6 comments:

EG said...

I completely agree with your post, but do you mind if I nit-pick a minute? JonBenet Ramsay should not be coming to anybody's mind when they think of "missing women," because she was a little girl. I find the blurring of that line very disturbing, especially because part of what was happening with Ramsay was about turning her into a sexual object--and on the one hand, sure, the mainstream media was allegedly condemning child beauty pageants, but on the other hand, they couldn't stop airing those pictures either.

That makes me think of the ways in which I really object to the way coverage happens when the networks do decide that a young woman's abduction or death is worthy of their notice: there's such a hypersexualization of the woman in question, almost an eroticizing of their fates. That's a different post, though.

Roy said...

Nit-pick away. I think that's a totally fair point. I don't think I've actually made a post about it, but one thing that always drives me up the wall is the hypersexualization of children- particularly girls. I notice it the most when it comes to certain clothing manufacturers and advertisements for clothing, but, you're right, it happens with the coverage of missing persons cases, too.

To that end, you're absolutely right, Jon-Benet Ramsey shouldn't really be included- a missing child isn't (or shouldn't) really be the same as a missing woman, in that regard.

projektleiterin said...

But it's also true that little white girls when they get kidnapped also receive more public attention than a missing non-white child. One of the most recent cases, Madeleine McCann, comes to my mind.

projektleiterin said...

Hm, on second thought it might not have been the best example as you may not have heard of her as she is of British nationality.

Anyway, you probably are aware yourself that even it comes to children there is an imbalance of media coverage.

EG said...

Actually, I've been following the Madeleine case on and off. And yes, I completely agree, which is why I flagged my comment as a nit-pick. Absolutely, nonwhite children who are killed or abducted do not receive the same level of attention/emotion from the mainstream media as white kids do. I just wanted to draw attention to how easy it is, even for us feminists who care deeply about the issue, to conflate girls and women, and the detrimental effects of doing so.

Demexii said...

My guess is they are basing it off ratings and that those girls will get them higher ratings. Sad? Maybe, but I would bet it is true.