24 Hour news networks: "Okay, we'll cover this story even though she's black/hispanic because you told us to and we feel guilty" Well, they didn't actually say that, but that is the case here.
Look, I don't want to trivialize what is obviously a serious story and very potentially a tragic one, but the media's treatment of disappearances and kidnappings is simply laughable. With thousands of people who go missing each year, the selection criteria for who gets round-the-clock coverage is pretty clear: female, white, attractive (and possibly blonde), helps to come from a rich/prominent family.
*I'm sure I'm unintentionally cribbing a lot from Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things. Forgive me. But it really is a great read.
Now, I'm not accusing the media of racism. It's not that they don't care about black people or ugly people. No, it's not that simple, so let's break it down:
- The old dog-bites-man vs man-bites-dog. The affluent are less likely to be kidnapped or to run away from home, so it's news whenever it happens (man bites dog).
- Editors tend to pick, subconsciously or otherwise, the stories that affect them. Editors are middle/upper middle class, usually white, so stories about crime in the suburbs/wealthier neighborhood impacts them the most.
- Why women and girls, not men and boys? Everybody loves a damsel in distress story (well, except domestic abuse, but that's another story for another post). Missing men? Please, they probably did something wrong anyway, got mixed up with the wrong people. And whatever, they can fend for themselves.
The media prefers to tell stories where there are clear villains and victims. Nothing like painting a story black and white, Big Bad Wolf terrorizes Little Red Riding Hood.
- TV is a visual medium and we like pretty faces. We like our TV victims attractive for the same reasons we love our sexy movie stars, and sadly, we're going to care more about attractive victims more than we do unattractive ones.
Don't get me wrong - it's nice that they're covering LaToyia Figueroa's disappearance. Television coverage has helped in solving kidnap cases. But cable nets are dodging the very real questions about their editorial decisions and a token minority victim - eleven days after she went missing - only confirms the suspicions.
We have to ask ourselves - do we watch CNN and MSNBC for news or for entertainment?