Friday, August 17, 2007

The Media Still Doesn't Care About Missing Black Women

I'll freely admit that I'm pretty hard on the media here at AvBro, especially as pertains to the subject of race. A solid 75% of the posts here are race related. I'm sure many of my Caucasian readers will wonder "why on Earth is this guy so obsessed with race?". The answer is simple, a black man in America can't afford NOT being "obsessed" with race. You can't avoid it, especially when it's so in your face, all day everyday.

The cumulative effect is, after 30-some years on this planet, I tend to look at everything with a 3rd eye. Thus, when I'm reading a story with any racial undertone, I'm either seeing:

1) A writer who completely missed the point.
2) A writer who hit the point.
3) A writer who tried to hit the point, but ended up missing.

Sadly, scenario three is the case in evaluating MSN's series on the disparity between missing persons coverage in the media.

Anytime the media tries to be critical of itself, you know you could be dealing with a mixed bag. Sure, all papers have Ombudsmen (women too) to catch errors and tactically field reader complaints, but when media outlets try to self-police, they often toe a fine line between discrediting themselves and trying to be self-examinatory. Such is this story on missing persons.

If you've followed this site for any period of time, you know I have been very critical of media coverage of the Stepha Henry missing persons case. It's comparative lack of coverage vis-a-vis, say the Jessie Davis case has been startling. Anyone with half a brain knows this is because Henry is black. After all, black people, kids, women, men, and the elderly, go missing everyday. This has been the case since the beginning of time, but there's yet to be a black or Hispanic Laci Peterson, or Chandra Levy.

MSN's Michele Chan Santos tries to tackle the reasons behind this startling disparity, focusing specifically on the Henry case, and just when we think we're getting somewhere, totally drops the ball.

If you are kidnapped or missing, it helps to be the right race, age, social class and gender. Otherwise, don't expect the media to cover your story. "Sex sells, kidnapping sells, but not every kidnapping is equal," says Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, a training center for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Kelly Bennett, a case manager for the National Center for Missing Adults, agrees. "Unless it's a pretty girl ages 20 to 35, the media exposure is just not there," she says. The most highly profiled missing persons cases in recent years have fit into this category: Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, Jessie Marie Davis. All of these women were also white.
I guess the inference here is that black women, notably Henry, aren't pretty. Bullsh*t.
What about Stepha Henry, a 22-year-old black woman who disappeared while on vacation in Florida in May? Her case has gotten some media attention, but her face and story haven't received the same relentless level of coverage as those of other missing young women.

Henry's case, however, has not been taken up by the media with the same fervor as that of Jessie Marie Davis, a 26-year-old pregnant white woman who disappeared from her Canton, Ohio, home in mid-June, about two weeks after Henry was reported missing. Media coverage of Davis' disappearance was nonstop. TV stations nationwide, as well as newspapers and magazines, followed the case closely. Thousands of people volunteered to search for her.

The disparity in exposure for the two cases is evident on the Web, too. A news search on Davis returns almost 20 times the results of a search on Henry.

There even seems to be a difference in reward money. The FBI offered $10,000 for information on Davis. Currently, there is a $6,000 reward for information to help find Henry, but that sum came from donations. Henry's family contributed $4,000; Crime Stoppers offered $1,000; and another $1,000 was donated by a family friend.

"There is a huge disparity between black missing women and white missing women when it comes to coverage," Goslee says. "If Stepha could receive half the coverage of the other white girls who are missing, they might find her."

People of every race and age disappear. But missing minorities, men and the elderly simply don't generate as much media interest.
Sadly enough, as opposed to digging deeper into why news outlets don't consider missing minorities as important as missing white chicks, the story veers off into the Netherworld of White Guy Excuses, stating (correctly) that white men, and men in general don't drum up as much media attention either. Nor do less classy" white women, like prostitutes and runaway sex workers.

This may all be true, but it still doesn't answer the question central to the debate: why isn't Stepha Henry getting the media attention that's needed to locate her?

I give MSN a bit of credit for at least attempting to tackle this issue, but by diluting the question by introducing related, yet irrelevant issues like celebrity coverage (Paris Hilton bounced Henry from MSNBC), class, and aesthetics, they just seem to prove my very point.

Even when they pretend to, the media still doesn't give a sh*t about black women. What's new?

Missing People Face Disparity in Media Coverage [MSN]

Part 2: Law Enforcement Reaction to Missing Person Reports Vary [MSN]

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