Ninth Most Troubling Media Story of 2005
Number 9: Missing White Woman Syndrome
The Associated Press told the story succintly: most missing adults tracked by federal authorities are male and one in five are black. But the news media, particularly television, has gorged itself on the stories of Missing (Middle Class) White Women to the point that many news consumers may assume otherwise.
Though this is hardly a phenomenon which started in 2005, the cases of Jessica Lunsford, Sarah Lunde, Jennifer Wilbanks and Natalee Holloway may have brought the awful trend to an unfortunate climax this year. The dynamic is so pronounced, the online encyclopdia Wikipedia even has an entry on the term.
Cable TV newschannels seem to be the engine of this trend, picking up on disappearances which would have been local or regional stories years ago and presenting the kind of continuous coverage which turns them into national issues. I noted in August how some cable news anchors -- particularly Greta Van Susteren -- saw serious ratings gains after focusing on such stories.
Which, on one level, is fine -- someone should be pressing Aruban authorities to cut through the nonsense and find Holloway, for example. But other journalists have found missing black and brown people who only get attention for the manner in which most journalists ignored their stories.
We all know TV plays on our emotions, and media has 1,000 ways to reinforce the value of the pretty, blonde woman in society. But, like the Hurricane Katrina aftermath which finally put missing white women on the back burner, such coverage has a way of highlighting exactly who America cares about -- and who it doesn't.