I have written several articles Racism and Slavery. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on Racism and Slavery.
My heart goes out to the family of Gabby Petito. While we don’t have all the facts yet, they seem at first glance to have been totally avoidable. I like many Americans have been captivated by this story. What soon became evident by the coverage of this story, is why did it make such impact on the country? Why did this story get so much press? The answer is simple, the suspected victim was a young and attractive blonde female. She was a internet media darling. Her life was an open book, she was a professional blogger. So right off, there was plenty of video material to put on the air. Her career choice made it much easier for the press to cover this story. I am sure in most cases of missing teenagers and adults, this material just doesn’t exist.
There are many reasons for the lack of coverage of missing persons.
Most children who are not where parents expect them to be are “missing” for a very short period of time and reappear on their own, with no evidence of foul play. However, some children are missing against their will. The great majorities of those children, even though they have undergone a traumatic experience, arenot harmed seriously and are returned home alive. Many of them are taken by estranged parents or other family members. A small group is victimized by more predatory abductors, who want to make money by ransoming the child, to sexually molest the victim, and/or to kill the child.
It was discovered that 22 percent of the victims were still alive at the time they were reported missing, and a related and, perhaps, even alarming finding is that 42 percent had already been killed before they were reported missing (including the “dead body” cases).
Fortunately, only a tiny fraction of missing child reports eventuate in a murder, but for those that do, the belief that killers keep their victims alive for long periods of time is simply not true. Obviously, the dictum that the first 24 hours of an investigation are the most critical needs to be modified in child abduction cases.
Approximately 800,000 children under the age of 18 are reported missing each year in the United States, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Of those reported missing, 42 percent are African-American.
There is a growing concern within the black community that missing black children have not received their fair share of media coverage. Getting the information out to the public is crucial and the media has played that role for Caucasian children and so why not the same for men, women and children of color? When have you last seen or heard a media outcry for a missing woman, man or child of color? If you lived in a soap box you would think that children of color never was reported missing by their loved ones because there is virtually no press or media coverage on the issue.
Missing white woman syndrome (MWWS) or missing pretty girl syndrome is a term used by some media and social critics to describe the seemingly disproportionate degree of coverage in television, radio, newspaper and magazine reporting of a misfortune, most often a missing person case, involving a young, attractive, white, upper-middle class (frequently blonde) woman or girl. This degree of coverage is usually contrasted with cases concerning a missing male, or missing females of other ethnicities, socioeconomic classes or physical attractiveness.
While the disappearances of Laci Peterson and Natalee Holloway became sensational news stories, a pregnant black/Hispanic woman named LaToyia Figueroa disappeared from Philadelphia three years later and attracted less national attention, despite efforts by her family to enlist the media to help find her. (Figueroa was later found murdered.) One observer also saw contrasts between the attention received by Peterson and Evelyn Hernandez who was nine months pregnant when she disappeared in 2002.
Kim Pasqualini, president of the National Center for Missing Adults, opines that the media tends to focus on “damsels in distress” – typically, affluent young white women and teenagers.
A report called Racial and Gender Representation of missing Children in the News reports that non-White children and girls are underrepresented in media coverage compared to actual missing children statistics. It also reports the lack of media reporting of missing boys or men, especially boys or men of color.
According to Connie Marstiller of the National Crime Information Center, there were 614,925 people missing in 2008 under the age of 18. About 16 percent were Black men. During that same year there were 163,239 people missing over the age of 18, according to Marstiller. Approximately 14 percent, represent missing Black males over the age 18. According to FBI missing persons report, there are more missing Black men in the United States than Black women. Like many other issue that affects the black community at a dispaportionate rate, these issues are not spoken by our elected politicians and rarely discussed from the pulpit of the black churches.
Experts agree that whites account for only half of the nation’s missing children. But white children were the subjects of more than two-thirds of the dispatches appearing on the Associated Press’ national wire during five year period and for three-quarters of missing-children coverage on CNN, according to a first-of-its-kind study by Scripps Howard News Service.
Are we to think that missing black people are not news worthy? Or is it the assumption by media executives that a missing black man is usually due to drugs, crime or violence? How a famous Black person? Black Award winning singer and actress Jennifer’s Hudson nephew was missing and Hudson’s mother and brother were found shot to death in their home on Chicago’s South Side. Jennifer Hudson’s story took the backseat to the Caylee Anthony story.
In January, The mother of missing Black Teen Phylicia Barnes and a spokesperson for the Baltimore Police Department was critical of the national media in its slow reaction in covering the case of the missing black teen. Baltimore police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi was very clear in blaming the national media for not providing adequate coverage early on in the girl’s disappearance. Guglielmi singled out CNN’s Nancy Grace and said that he and the commander of the homicide unit were set to appear on Nancy Grace’s national program to discuss missing teen Phylicia Barnes but were bumped from the program for an hour long report on missing white teen Hailey Dunn who is a cheerleader at Colorado Middle School in Colorado City, Texas.
Despite the unwillingness of mainstream media to cover missing people of color. Organizations like Black and Missing and Peas in Their Pods are national organizations that assist missing children and adults of color throughout the nation.
As a national law enforcement organization we understand that the first 48 hours is critical to any missing person’s case. The media is a powerful tool to bring witnesses forward but unfortunately, the decision to cover missing black children the same as missing white children brings concern in the law enforcement community, especially black law enforcement. The media and the public should not fall into the typical stereotypes of the communities of color and only focus on crime. It’s the national image and the local image that the mass media promotes of crime. Crime is acceptable in the inner-city and in most major cities for the media to report and missing black children is something that our local or mainstream media has yet to deem important.
Why does the media cover some missing-persons cases and not others?
When someone is reported missing, you don’t always see their photos blasted on air and posted media websites. There is a reason for that.
When someone is reported missing, you don’t always see their photos blasted on air and posted media websites.
At 9NEWS, we often get emailed tips of missing people or teens that haven’t been seen all day.
We received a tip with a link to a Facebook page, letting us know that a pregnant mom and her two kids were missing. That alone is not enough for us to publicize their disappearance.
Our morning assignment editor, Richard Cote, then reached out to Frederick Police to see if there was a search happening or if police had been notified at all. He immediately found out that Frederick Police were working on notifying the media about the missing woman and her kids.
Since this morning, media outlets and social media have been filled with photos of Shanann Watts and her 3- and 4-year-old girls.
“The self-initiated activity of searching for someone, I think that’s fantastic, at least you’re getting the word out. For us to have the ability to do that and put resources to it, we’re going to need just a little bit higher level,” said Arvada Police Det. Dave Snelling.
At the end of July, Arvada Police put out a notice about three missing kids. The 14-year-old, 10-year-old and 6-year-old siblings had not been seen since the night before. An “endangered missing advisory” notification from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation revealed that they had also taken “personal items and the family dog.”
“The classification on the decision is made fairly quickly in some cases because if you have a missing child at a young age, we’re going to throw a lot of resources at it – a lot of people,” said Snelling. “No matter what the background is of that person, we’re going to treat that case as if it were one of our own family members. If we suspect any suspicious foul play, we’re going to look for that person, we’re going to make an effort to bring them home.”
The 10-year-old and 6-year-old were found at a relative’s home. The 14-year-old is considered a runaway and the police search and the plea for public’s help stopped.
“If it’s a missing kid, we’re still doing an active investigation,” Snelling said. “If it’s a runaway, they willingly left, that’s a status offense in our eyes, not necessarily a criminal act.”
CBI is responsible for tracking missing child reports for the state of Colorado. In 2017, CBI statistics showed that 39 children were reported missing daily, with the majority being runaways.
Last year, 9,122 kids were reported missing, and only 143 — or one-and-a-half percent — were considered suspicious. We want to be careful that when we ask for your attention about a missing person, it’s because we’re almost certain it’s really needed.
Number of missing persons files in the U.S. by age and gender 2020
Published by Statista Research Department, Mar 10, 2021 While the fear of being kidnapped may persist for one’s entire life, in 2020 the number of missing persons under the age of 21 was much higher than those 21 and over, with 209,375 females under 21 reported missing, and 59,369 females over the age of 21 reported missing.
Why people go missing
There are many reasons why people go missing; some are kidnapped, some purposefully go missing – in order to escape abuse, for example – and some, usually children, are runaways. What persists in the imagination when thinking of missing persons, however, are kidnapping victims, usually due to extensive media coverage of child kidnappings by the media.
Demographics of missing persons
While the number of missing persons in the United States fluctuates, in 2020, this number was at its lowest since 1990. Additionally, while it has been observed that there is more media coverage in the United States of white missing persons, almost half of the missing persons cases in 2020 were of minorities.
Lack of awareness, data hinders cases of missing and murdered Native American women, study finds
A new report documents more than 2,300 missing Native American women and girls in the U.S., underscoring the reasons behind the lack of awareness and scrutiny in these cases.
Tammy Carpenter was in tears as she drove through a rural stretch of Northern California two years ago to Shasta County, near where her adult daughter, Angela McConnell, was found shot to death with her boyfriend in an encampment favored by transients. She still remembers the way a sheriff’s detective, who was not Native American, like herself, handled the delicate conversation.
Carpenter said that his line of questioning insinuated that her daughter had come from a broken home where no one had jobs and all were involved with drugs.
“I’m a very vocal person, and I gave it to that detective,” Carpenter, 51, said this week. “All my sisters and I graduated from college. We worked. We all loved Angela. With society today, people look and think: ‘It’s another dead Indian girl. Probably a drug addict. Homeless. Who cares?’ That got me very upset.”
The mysterious circumstances surrounding McConnell’s killing is one of hundreds of cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls across the United States that never garnered national headlines or social media attention or demands for justice from powerful people. The absence of awareness or widespread scrutiny in these cases is the focus of a report released Thursday that documented 2,306 missing Native American women and girls in the U.S., about 1,800 of whom were killed or vanished within the past 40 years.
Nearly 60 percent of the cases are homicides and 31 percent involve girls 18 and younger, according to data analyzed by the Sovereign Bodies Institute, a nonprofit, Indigenous-led research organization that began counting and mapping such missing and murdered cases over the past few years. In addition, nearly three-quarters of the cases had victims who were living within the foster care system when they went missing. The vast majority of cases in the U.S., as well as another 2,000 in Canada, remain unsolved, according to the research.
The perceived lack of sensitivity from law enforcement when Carpenter’s daughter was found dead isn’t unique. In the Sovereign Bodies Institute report, families described insufficient cultural awareness from law enforcement, as well as “poor or nonexistent communication with families and survivors, chronic lack of cases being brought to justice and … past and ongoing violence perpetrated by officers.”
Advocates have long complained about the lack of comprehensive state and federal data on missing and murdered Native Americans, which is often linked to incidents of sexual violence and human trafficking, and they believe poor record-keeping, racial misclassification and adverse relationships between tribal governments and outside law enforcement have led to an underreporting of cases.
The institute’s report focuses on the corridor between Northern California and the border with Oregon, which can be largely isolated and requires law enforcement to cover large areas with fewer resources compared to bigger city departments.
Researchers said they examined 105 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls from the region and found that 62 percent of cases were never included in any official missing persons database; 74 percent of cases have no public documentation related to manner of death, whether charges were filed or a suspect or person of interest was found; and 56 percent of cases don’t mention or make public the victim’s tribal affiliation. However, tracking tribal affiliation has begun to change recently, with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a national clearinghouse that falls under the Justice Department, making such information available as of June.
The Justice Department last fall announced a federal initiative known as Operation Lady Justice, which was formed to help combat violence and human trafficking involving tribes.
A 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice estimates that 1.5 million American Indian and Alaskan Native women have experienced violence, including sexual abuse, and the Justice Department found that women on some reservations have been killed at a rate more than 10 times the national average.
On Monday, Ivanka Trump and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt touted the opening in suburban Minneapolis of the first federal task force office dedicated to solving cases of missing and murdered Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, including men. Six more offices will be opened next month throughout the country, although none in California.
“Indian Country enriches the fabric of our great nation on every level … yet a dark pattern is plaguing tribal communities across the country,” Trump, a senior White House adviser and the president’s daughter, said at the Minnesota office opening.
Annita Lucchesi, a Cheyenne descendant who started the Sovereign Bodies Institute, said becoming invested in the issue has to go beyond opening an office and also requires the difficult work of meeting with families and understanding the systemic racial and economic disparities that foster cycles of violence, poverty and crime.
“Cold case reviews are really important, but the issue is so complex and goes much deeper that we need a holistic team that can figure out not only why this is happening, but how can we stop it from happening to others,” Lucchesi said.
The Sovereign Bodies Institute collaborated with the Yurok Tribal Court, which is part of the Yurok Tribe in Northern California, to compile and analyze the latest data focusing on the region.
Abby Abinanti, the chief judge of the Yurok Tribe and the first Native American woman to be admitted to the California State Bar, said attitudes toward Indigenous women today can also be traced historically to the stealing of Indigenous children to work as indentured servants for white settlers through the Civil War and the sending of thousands of Native American children to boarding schools for federal assimilation programs in the late 19th century, in effect severing cultural connections and damaging familial relationships through the generations.
“That has a trickle-down effect, as they say,” Abinanti said. “We have been invisible as Native people for a very long time.”
Abinanti said that while it’s important for tribal, local and state jurisdictions to find common ground in order to solve cases today, a lot of mostly rural communities are struggling to respond with adequate resources, and many don’t have the staff with the cultural competency in working with Indigenous communities.
Sgt. Kyle Wallace of the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office said every homicide comes with its own set of challenges, whether or not the victim is Native American or lives on or off a reservation, and rural departments in particular face geographic barriers and crime scenes that “don’t fit into a single box.”
McConnell, 26, a Hoopa Valley Tribe member of Mohave, Yurok and Karuk descent, had been camping in a wooded area of Shasta Lake, about an hour from the Oregon border, with her partner, Michael Bingham Jr., 31. Carpenter said she wants to raise money for a billboard to bring renewed attention to the case, and hopes a reward — now at $30,000 — will help crack it.
Carpenter said her daughter, who had planned to study nursing in the fall and loved writing poetry, was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Shasta County officials did not comment on details about the case, although Wallace said the investigation remains open and “we’re still following up on leads.”
It’s not just adults who are traumatized and seeking answers, either. Sumi Gail Juan, a Hoopa Valley Tribe member, has been missing since 2010, when she was 33.
Her 16-year-old daughter has tried to piece together what happened to her mother, who had been battling drug addiction and suffered from seizures. She said she knows the people her mother had been socializing with, and believes someone can say definitively whether she’s still alive or not. She’d like the police to keep on the case.
“Cases like my mom’s might be put on the back burner,” said Juan’s daughter, who has struggled with her own drug use and asked that her name not be used.
The teen has pingponged between family members and now lives in Washington state, a place she believes will help her to stay clean. There, she has a passion fruit tree she waters in memory of her mother.
“People don’t pay attention to Native women because maybe they think it’s their fault what happened to them,” the teen said. “But I can’t give up on my mom.”
What We Know (And Don’t Know) About ‘Missing White Women Syndrome’
In recent weeks, the stories of missing black and Latina girls sparked an outcry on Twitter and Facebook because there seemed to be a flurry of new cases that were being under-reported by local news in the Washington D.C. area.
The uproar prompted black lawmakers in Congress to formally ask the Justice Department to do more to investigate what seemed like a spike in new incidents of missing black girls. (As my colleague Ian Stewart reported, the number of missing persons cases in the city hadn’t gone up, but the police department had more actively publicized the cases on social media, which gave many people the false impression that there was suddenly more of them.)
The sense that these cases were being ignored seemed like another example of “missing white woman syndrome” — a phrase coined by Gwen Ifill, the late PBS anchor. It refers to the mainstream media’s seeming fascination with covering missing or endangered white women — like Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway — and its seeming disinterest in cases involving missing people of color.
So what do we know about race and missing persons coverage? Not a whole lot, according to Zach Sommers, a sociologist at Northwestern University who studies crime. He said there’s a pretty sizable body of research that shows that white people are more likely than people of color to appear in news coverage as victims of violent crime, but relatively little when it comes to missing persons cases.
It’s to that end that Sommers undertook a study that looked at every missing person case covered by four online media outlets in 2013. He wanted a mix of national and local outlets and news sources for cities from different regions with contrasting demographic profiles. He analyzed coverage in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, the Chicago Tribune and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and included CNN.com, which has an outsized influence on the national conversation. Sommers then cross-referenced their coverage with the FBI’s national database of missing persons, which he said maps relatively well with the country’s broader demographics.
What Sommers found was that white women were much more likely to be the subject of news coverage relative to their proportions among missing persons, and women in general, were significantly more likely than men to be covered. Though white women make up about a third of the national population, “half of the articles in the data set are just about white females alone,” Sommers said.
But he also found that the coverage of missing white women was different in intensity — outlets were more likely to repeatedly report on particular stories of missing white women, which then drove up the total number of articles about white women. “By choosing to disproportionately highlight the experiences of whites and women, these four news websites are implicitly — or perhaps explicitly — intimating that the cases of those individuals matter more,” Sommers wrote.
As an example of how coverage intensity can skew the number of articles about missing persons, Sommers pointed to the much-covered case of three women in Cleveland who were held prisoner by a man in his home’s basement for 10 years. In 2013, about one in four articles in the four outlets Sommer analyzed that were about missing Latinas were about the Cleveland case, specifically. Sommer wondered if race increased the amount of media attention paid to that case as well. “There were three women involved — two of them were white and one of them was Latina,” he said. “Thinking about how the coverage would have differed if all three of them were women of color…we probably would have seen some very different numbers.”
There are a few things that are likely happening here. Coverage decisions are informed, consciously and less so, by a newsroom’s racial makeup, and most major American newsrooms remain disproportionately white. But Sommers speculates that there’s also the economic calculus of news coverage to consider: in skewing this type of coverage toward white women, news outlets might be deciding that missing white women are worth more in terms of eyeballs and ad revenue.
There are some important caveats to the FBI data that Sommers used. The Bureau’s breakdown of missing persons cases by race is roughly 60 percent white, 35 percent black, and four percent other — but it doesn’t disaggregate Latinos from white people, which suggests that the total number of missing white people could be inflated in the data. The FBI data also doesn’t break down race and gender combinations, making it difficult to determine, for example, how many black women might be among missing people relative to white women.
But there’s one other big detail Sommers said we don’t know about missing persons coverage: as intuitive as seems, there’s little data to support the notion that media exposure helps resolve such cases. But Sommers said equitable coverage matters even if it’s of as-yet-unproven investigative value — media attention shapes how and to whom people extend their sympathies.
“I think … [conceding] that the people who are most cognitively easy for us to accept as victims are girls and women is problematic on its own,” Sommers said. “Then we start to think about race in conjunction with that, then the issues start to multiply even further from there.”
White, Black and Missing on Twitter
Six weeks after Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington disappeared outside a Metallica concert, a hiker in Lynchburg, Va., discovered a body in the woods. Reporter Scott Leamon of WSLS-TV made the connection to Harrington and dispatched a message on Twitter: “Going to check out body found in Campbell Co. Been there 6 to 8 weeks. Possibly female. Morgan Harrington’s been gone 6 weeks.”
When Leamon arrived in Lynchburg, police told him the body probably wasn’t Harrington’s, explaining that the clothing they found didn’t match what she was wearing when last seen at the concert. The remains would have to be examined before a name could be released. Leamon framed his Nov. 30 story around the name he already knew:
“Many have asked whether or not the remains are those of Morgan Harrington, and while police are waiting for the autopsy, they tell us that based on what they know, they don’t think it’s her.”
The Harrington theme persisted online as news about the body spread on Twitter. “Body of a younger woman found in Campbell County. Unknown whether case is tied to Morgan Harrington,” tweeted Charlottesville television station NBC29. And that afternoon, WINA radio tweeted, “Police do not believe body found is that of Morgan Harrington.”
As the day went on, reporters continued to post the latest developments to this social media site. Some find using Twitter is integral to reaching the community. “In order to get more people to watch your story, tweeting lets them know you’re out at the scene,” Leamon said. “If you’re not using Twitter or Facebook, your game is antiquated.”
But with these social media tools, the audience can play, too. Tweets from the public soon began raising questions about the dead woman. “Hoping the body they found was not that of Morgan Harrington … but why are we just hearing about THIS missing person,” @Flora tweeted.
Meanwhile, police were investigating the disappearance of a 23-year-old black woman named Cassandra Morton. She had last been seen Oct. 10 in Lynchburg, one week before Harrington disappeared. Few online news reports included this detail or named her as a possible connection to the discovered human remains.
But Morton’s name became news when her body was identified Dec. 1. At that point, most online stories that covered this new information redirected their focus from the missing Virginia Tech student to the possibly murdered Morton. One, however, persisted with its local angle. The Roanoke Times’ online publication, Roanoke.com, devoted two-thirds of its Dec. 1 story to background information on Harrington while simply reporting Morton’s name, age and date last seen alive.
“Certain missing cases are just incredible news stories,” said Caesar Andrews, visiting professor in ethics at the University of Nevada, Reno, and former executive editor of the Detroit Free Press. “This is regardless of how coverage fares in other incidents, regardless of racial and ethnic contrasts in other cases. Journalists can chase a single story without always trying to calibrate what it means when weighed against previous or future coverage of other cases.”
Unlike the high-profile Harrington disappearance, Morton’s case received scant news coverage from its outset. Only a handful of stories reported her missing, and not until a month after she disappeared. In mid-November, WSET in Lynchburg ran a 15-second report with Morton’s photo. And on Nov. 12, three online stories reported Morton missing — running 78, 84 and 103 words in length. Dave Thompson, public safety reporter of The News & Advance in Lynchburg, said the information for his piece came from a police news release. Because of the sensitive nature of missing persons cases, “We generally like to run those basically straight from the news releases,” Thompson said. Further reporting, he said, is “discretionary, depending on the supervisor.”
Thompson’s editor did not recall the details for that story but spoke in general about reporting decisions. Time and effort are weighed against “25 different things that reporter could be doing at that moment,” said Caroline Glickman, The News & Advance city editor.
Many felt the reporting on Morton was not only too little, but that it was too late. Even though Morton’s mother had reported her missing Oct. 14, police chose to wait nearly four weeks before releasing information to the media. Capt. Todd Swisher of the Lynchburg Police Department said a detective first had to “work through a series of viable possibilities regarding her whereabouts,” which included ruling out that she may have been hiding, or had left the area.
The time lag did not appear out of the ordinary to Lynchburg journalists. Glickman said, “In general, it’s not at all unusual for a person to go missing and for us not to hear about it for some time.”
But the public saw it differently. WSET’s online forum, ABC13 Talkback, attracted 22 comments in 24 hours for the story, “Campbell County Remains Identified.” Nearly half were critical of what they perceived as under-reporting of Cassandra Morton while she was missing.
“Although Im [sic] not going to jump the gun and say its [sic] a racial issue, it is some kind of concern to me why she was only exposed missing on WSET 1 [sic] time,” wrote LilMsSunshine.
“They should’ve been flashing her picture just as much. Someone could have helped her or known she was missing if it was one [sic] the news more than one time,” wrote browneyes1.
Others noted the discrepancy between the Morgan Harrington publicity and the dearth of news about Cassandra Morton.
“…seems like we heard about the missing VT student over and over again like she was some personality or something at the same time ignoring others in the area who also are missing,” wrote DirtRat.
“Why didn’t she get the same coverage as morgan [sic] shes [sic] somebodys [sic] child also,” posted melting.
Decisions by law enforcement to hold information about Morton, and by Lynchburg media to report only what police provided, contributed to the coverage of her disappearance. None of those stories included details about Morton’s life, nor did they make any reference to her relatives. Conversely, Harrington’s parents have garnered the media spotlight, from local and network news to Dr. Phil and HLN’s Nancy Grace.
But in the digital age, even a story with a low profile can be illuminated. In this case, Google brought Morton’s disappearance to the attention of Deidra Robey, founder and CEO of Black and Missing but Not Forgotten, a Web site devoted to raising awareness of missing black people.
“I did the usual Google search of ‘missing + black’ and stumbled upon her article,” Robey said. She posted Morton’s information to the Web site, and when Morton’s body was found, Robey followed the news coverage online. The focus on Harrington and lack of attention paid to Morton’s active missing-person motivated Robey to write the commentary, “Found Dead and Ignored: Cassandra Morton (Virginia),” which she posted to the Web site and referenced on Twitter on Dec. 2. In it, she quoted news stories and discussed what she perceived as inadequacies in the reporting. “Cassandra was a loving mother, daughter and sister,” Robey wrote. “She had a family who cared about her. She was not only a victim of foul play but also a victim of the disinterested media.”
Robey’s commentary sparked an online conversation over the next week, through Twitter postings and re-tweets as well as comments on the “Black and Missing but Not Forgotten” Facebook page. The Facebook discussion focused largely on race and economic status:
“…when it comes down to black women going missing no one cares. The news only wants to cover missing white women and that’s all,” Chanel Pretty Pink Anderson wrote.
A posting by Victoria McCord read, “If she was rich and famous, there would have been more media coverage. But because she was not, her death was hardly noticed.”
“Still more proof that if you are not white you do not matter to so many other people. But if Cassandra robbed a gas station she would make the front page in the papers, and lead story on the news at 6 & 11,” Lisa Harding wrote.
Ethics professor Andrews explained that the treatment of individuals in the news is “complex, nuanced and often contradictory.”
“By the time the topic turns to news coverage of missing people, the script is often preordained,” he said. “The same news media capable of reflecting the majority society’s unevenness in general is capable of doing likewise when sorting out missing coverage. If it is true that missing whites often get fuller treatment in the news, that would not be inconsistent with what happens regarding any number of other coverage topics.”
Online comments and social media discussions served to highlight perceived shortcomings and inequity in covering the Morton and Harrington cases. How did journalists involved in these stories respond?
“I see their point,” WSLS’ Leamon said regarding Robey’s “Found Dead and Ignored” critique. But, he added, “I don’t think race drives the reporting as much as some people would like to think.” If an African-American student from Virginia Tech had disappeared at a concert, he felt she would get “just as much publicity.” Virginia Tech continues to draw media attention following the April 2007 shooting rampage that killed 33 people.
Did the comments on WSET’s talkback forum make an impact on the news team and subsequent coverage of the Morton story? “I didn’t really look at those comments,” said WSET crime reporter Jeremy Mills. “We were short staffed and I was out working.”
The station’s news director, Bill Foy, explained, “We’re probably not the poster child for viewer feedback.” Foy said he doesn’t require a daily report on the viewer forum, but he noted that the comments don’t exist in a vacuum. “If a viewer says ‘You missed the boat on this,’ I think that we will take that to heart in our meetings and say, ‘What happened there — should we go back and review that?’”
Foy’s team decided to seek out Morton’s relatives for a follow-up story. However, he notes the decision was not driven by online comments. “This is what we needed to do, to see what they had to say.”
But gaining the family’s cooperation posed a tough challenge. Mills said that when he knocked on the door to the house where Morton’s sister lived, the man who answered said, “Get the hell out of here.”
Other reporters met with similar resistance. Thompson of The News & Advance said the family clearly “did not want to speak with reporters.”
But they did eventually speak to Mills. He gained the family’s trust through his cameraman, R.J. Nelson, who had grown up two neighborhoods over. Mills said the interviews would have been impossible without Nelson. “He’s African American; he knows everyone in the community.”
The Morton family’s reluctance to speak extended beyond media to law enforcement. “Suffice it to say the mother and father refused to meet with me to give the background on their daughter,” said investigator Mike Milnor of the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office. “They threw me off the front porch of the house.”
In contrast, Gil and Dan Harrington willingly reached out to police and the public when their daughter disappeared, and continue to do so even after her body was found Jan. 26. The Harrington Web site, findmorgan.com, continues to link to police e-mail and includes a tip-line number and information about a $150,000 reward. A discussion forum includes more than 16,000 posts, and there’s a news story repository and family blog. Their Facebook page has upwards of 33,000 members, and on Twitter, more than 800 followers.
But the Cassandra Morton murder investigation is taking place primarily outside the digital arena. Milnor said that if a victim used Facebook or Twitter before going missing, then digital tools would play more of a role in the investigation. But for Morton, that apparently wasn’t the case. “Morton was more of a street person,” Milnor said, “not a lot of digital aspects to her life.”
Regardless of a crime victim’s level of engagement with technology, social media now provide citizens a venue for voicing dissatisfaction with news coverage of missing women. Twitter, Facebook, blogs and user comments have given a voice to the once voiceless, offering a forum for public discourse on issues that in the past had largely been relegated to academia for analysis. It remains to be seen if and how news organizations respond to, or utilize, social media toward social responsibility.
There are many reasons that missing person cases are either covered or not covered. First of all, every individual is a closet racist. This is not a blatant case , it is just the way it is. Each race likes to watch their own race on the news and on TV. If this were not the case you wouldn’t have channels based on race. That is ok, it is only human nature. We like what is familiar to us, it is more comfortable. We understand our own people more than we do strangers. Now this leads us to the news. According to studies white people watch more news than do blacks and hispanic peoples. News services cost money, and they have to cater to their base so they can pay their bills. That is one reason that news about white people tends to dominate the news cycles. A lot of missing person cases are related to domestic cases and abuse, nobody wants to watch news about how our culture is failing our children, it is just too depressing. Also runaways are just not an exciting story to watch. It is a chronic problem. Right or wrong black families at least of late have had more problems with domestic disturbances and subsequent runaways. So they are just not going to be covered by the news cycle. It is old news. News services like easy news, the more they have to work to get a story the more it costs them to cover this story. Take the Gabby Petito case, look at all of the video material they had to work with. Like I said earlier, most missing individuals don’t have this amount of video material. Since most missing cases are boring, and a higher percentage involve minorities, even though a higher number of cases involve whites, this is because there are simply more whites in the US, they just aren’t going to excite the viewer. “If it bleeds it leads.” So we have a lot of elements that play in the decision to cover certain events. Right or wrong the minorities and the poor tend to be left out of the news cycle. If you are old or homely and your skin color is darker, you nay not make the news cycle.
There is also viewer fatigue. People today have a much shorter attention span. Video, games, 10minute news cycles, length constraints on social media and even the decreasing amount of printed material that is being read, all play a part in people’s attention spans. People also can become numb by too much news coverage, especially if it is of the same thing. If all you had was news about missing people, which is basically what it would take to cover more of these cases, people would simply get bored and stop watching the news. Too much of anything is just too much. People get overwhelmed. I am sure many news worthy events just don’t get covered because they garner little interest or have been covered ad nauseam.
nbcnews.com, “Lack of awareness, data hinders cases of missing and murdered Native American women, study finds: A new report documents more than 2,300 missing Native American women and girls in the U.S., underscoring the reasons behind the lack of awareness and scrutiny in these cases.” By Erik Ortiz; 9news.com, “Why does the media cover some missing-persons cases and not others? When someone is reported missing, you don’t always see their photos blasted on air and posted media websites. There is a reason for that.” By Marshall Zelinger; bleausa.org, “Black, Missing and Forgotten By Mainstream Media,” By Damon K. Jones; bbc.com, “Psychology: Why bad news dominates the headlines,” By Tom Stafford; psychologytoday.com, “If It Bleeds, It Leads: Understanding Fear-Based Media: Managing depression requires you to mind your media intake.” By Deborah Serani; npr.org, “What We Know (And Don’t Know) About ‘Missing White Women Syndrome’,” By Gene Demby; quillmag.com, “White, Black and Missing on Twitter,” By Claudette Guzan Artwick; pos.org, “WHO’S WATCHING? A LOOK AT THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF CABLE NEWS CHANNEL WATCHERS;”
Psychology: Why bad news dominates the headlines
Why are newspapers and TV broadcasts filled with disaster, corruption and incompetence? It may be because we’re drawn to depressing stories without realising, says psychologist Tom Stafford.W
When you read the news, sometimes it can feel like the only things reported are terrible, depressing events. Why does the media concentrate on the bad things in life, rather than the good? And what might this depressing slant say about us, the audience?
It isn’t that these are the only things that happen. Perhaps journalists are drawn to reporting bad news because sudden disaster is more compelling than slow improvements. Or it could be that newsgatherers believe that cynical reports of corrupt politicians or unfortunate events make for simpler stories. But another strong possibility is that we, the readers or viewers, have trained journalists to focus on these things. Many people often say that they would prefer good news: but is that actually true?
To explore this possibility, researchers Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka, set up an experiment, run at McGill University in Canada. They were dissatisfied with previous research on how people relate to the news – either the studies were uncontrolled (letting people browse news at home, for example, where you can’t even tell who is using the computer), or they were unrealistic (inviting them to select stories in the lab, where every participant knew their choices would be closely watched by the experimenter). So, the team decided to try a new strategy: deception.
Trussler and Soroka invited participants from their university to come to the lab for “a study of eye tracking”. The volunteers were first asked to select some stories about politics to read from a news website so that a camera could make some baseline eye-tracking measures. It was important, they were told, that they actually read the articles, so the right measurements could be prepared, but it didn’t matter what they read.
After this ‘preparation’ phase, they watched a short video (the main purpose of the experiment as far as the subjects were concerned, but it was in fact just a filler task), and then they answered questions on the kind of political news they would like to read.
The results of the experiment, as well as the stories that were read most, were somewhat depressing. Participants often chose stories with a negative tone – corruption, set-backs, hypocrisy and so on – rather than neutral or positive stories. People who were more interested in current affairs and politics were particularly likely to choose the bad news.
And yet when asked, these people said they preferred good news. On average, they said that the media was too focussed on negative stories.
The researchers present their experiment as solid evidence of a so called “negativity bias“, psychologists’ term for our collective hunger to hear, and remember bad news.
It isn’t just schadenfreude, the theory goes, but that we’ve evolved to react quickly to potential threats. Bad news could be a signal that we need to change what we’re doing to avoid danger.
As you’d expect from this theory, there’s some evidence that people respond quicker to negative words. In lab experiments, flash the word “cancer”, “bomb” or “war” up at someone and they can hit a button in response quicker than if that word is “baby”, “smile” or “fun” (despite these pleasant words being slightly more common). We are also able to recognise negative words faster than positive words, and even tell that a word is going to be unpleasant before we can tell exactly what the word is going to be.
So is our vigilance for threats the only way to explain our predilection for bad news? Perhaps not.
There’s another interpretation that Trussler and Soroka put on their evidence: we pay attention to bad news, because on the whole, we think the world is rosier than it actually is. When it comes to our own lives, most of us believe we’re better than average, and that, like the clichés, we expect things to be all right in the end. This pleasant view of the world makes bad news all the more surprising and salient. It is only against a light background that the dark spots are highlighted.
So our attraction to bad news may be more complex than just journalistic cynicism or a hunger springing from the darkness within.
And that, on another bad news day, gives me a little bit of hope for humanity.
If It Bleeds, It Leads: Understanding Fear-Based Media
Managing depression requires you to mind your media intake.
News is a money-making industry. One that doesn’t always make the goal to report the facts accurately. Gone are the days of tuning in to be informed straightforwardly about local and national issues. In truth, watching the news can be a psychologically risky pursuit, which could undermine your mental and physical health.
Fear-based news stories prey on the anxieties we all have and then hold us hostage. Being glued to the television, reading the paper, or surfing the Internet increases ratings and market shares — but it also raises the probability of depression relapse.
In previous decades, the journalistic mission was to report the news as it actually happened, with fairness, balance, and integrity. However, capitalistic motives associated with journalism have forced much of today’s television news to look to the spectacular, the stirring, and the controversial as news stories. It’s no longer a race to break the story first or get the facts right. Instead, it’s to acquire good ratings in order to get advertisers, so that profits soar.
News programming uses a hierarchy of if it bleeds, it leads. Fear-based news programming has two aims. The first is to grab the viewer’s attention. In the news media, this is called the teaser. The second aim is to persuade the viewer that the solution for reducing the identified fear will be in the news story. If a teaser asks, “What’s in your tap water that YOU need to know about?” a viewer will likely tune in to get the up-to-date information to ensure safety.
The success of fear-based news relies on presenting dramatic anecdotes in place of scientific evidence, promoting isolated events as trends, depicting categories of people as dangerous and replacing optimism with fatalistic thinking. News conglomerates who want to achieve this use media logic, by tweaking the rhythm, grammar, and presentation format of news stories to elicit the greatest impact. Did you know that some news stations work with consultants who offer fear-based topics that are pre-scripted, outlined with point-of-view shots, and have experts at-the-ready? This practice is known as stunting or just-add-water reporting. Often, these practices present misleading information and promote anxiety in the viewer.
Another pattern in newscasts is that the breaking news story doesn’t go beyond a surface level. The need to get-the-story-to-get-the-ratings often causes reporters to bypass thorough fact-checking. As the first story develops to a second level in later reports, the reporter corrects the inaccuracies and missing elements. As the process of fact-finding continually changes, so does the news story. What journalists first reported with intense emotion or sensationalism is no longer accurate. What occurs psychologically for the viewer is a fragmented sense of knowing what’s real, which sets off feelings of hopelessness and helplessness — experiences known to worsen depression.
An additional practice that heightens anxiety and depression is the news station’s use of the crawl, the scrolling headline ticker that appears at the bottom of the television, communicating “breaking news.” Individuals who watch news-based programming are likely to see one, two, or even three crawls scroll across the screen. The multitasking required to read the crawls and comprehend the actual newscast comes easy to some viewers, whereas others report feeling over-stimulated.
One could easily change the channel to interrupt the transmission of such information. However, crawls are not relegated to just news channels. Unlike the viewing experience of the past, crawls are now more prominent during entertainment programs and often serve as commercials for nightly newscasts or the upcoming weekly news magazine show. The crawls frequently contain fear-driven material, broad-siding an unsuspecting viewer.
It’s been said that fear-based media has become a staple of popular culture. The distressing fall-out from this trend is that children and adults who are exposed to media are more likely than others to
- Feel that their neighborhoods and communities are unsafe
- Believe that crime rates are rising
- Overestimate their odds of becoming a victim
- Consider the world to be a dangerous place
News media needs to return to a sense of proportion, conscience, and, most important, truth-telling. Until that happens, help inoculate yourself against feeling overwhelmed by doing the following:
- Consider limiting your exposure to media. Give yourself a set time once or twice a day to check in on local and global happenings.
- Consider choosing print media for your information gathering rather than visual media. This can reduce the likelihood that you get exposed to emotionally laden material. Home pages on the internet can give you an overall sense of what’s going on, as can headline news channels that update stories on the hour.
- Remember that you have the power to turn off the remote, leave a website, or change the radio station. Don’t let yourself be passive when you feel media is overwhelming you.
- Know that other people will have a different tolerance for media stories and their details. If someone is expressing too much of a story for your own comfort, walk away or communicate your distress.
- Consider having an electronic-free day, and let your senses take in the simpler things in life.
WHO’S WATCHING? A LOOK AT THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF CABLE NEWS CHANNEL WATCHERS
FEBRUARY 1, 2019
Today, the divide between those who watch Fox News and MSNBC is nearly as stark as the typical Republican/Democratic partisan divide. Fox News watchers give President Trump a 64% approve-34% disapprove rating, while MSNBC viewers disapprove at a rate of 21% approve-78% disapprove. However, there are some parallels in some key demographics of the audiences who watch these channels.
For one, Fox News viewers (34% of American adults in the January 2018 NBC/WSJ poll) are often typecast as being old and white. In fact, according to the same January 2018 NBC/WSJ poll, the 21% of Americans who watch MSNBC are also slightly older:
And, MSNBC viewers are nearly as likely to be white as those who watch Fox News:
Additionally, when it comes to their self-described economic circumstance, they are essentially identical:
Differences start to emerge when looking at these cable news viewers by profession and education. Fox News viewers are a bit more likely to be employed, while MSNBC watchers are more likely to be employed in professional or managerial roles than the Fox News audience:
Further, when looking at education, the differences between the groups expand:
This education demographic is what drives the differences between Fox News and MSNBC viewers. As 2016 exit polls demonstrated, education level has become the new political divide in America. President Trump won voters with less than a college education, while Hillary Clinton won among voters with a college degree – and in the two years since the election, their choice for their news source follows this pattern as well.
The biggest differences come, not too surprisingly, along party and ideological lines (some viewers may well be “hate watching” the news on the other side of their political beliefs):
These differences become more apparent when looking at how viewers stand on key issues. For example, 67% of Fox News viewers support a wall or fence along the Southern border, while 70% of MSNBC watchers oppose this. And on the Russia investigation, 69% of the MSNBC audience say Robert Mueller’s investigation has given them more doubts about Trump’s presidency; however, just 28% of Fox News viewers say the same.
There is no question that the ideological divide in America is growing and while the audiences of Fox News and MSNBC look the same in some demographic aspects, it is clear that they couldn’t be much different based on their politics.
Race Relations and Slavery Postings