Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Missing Pretty White Women

The news covers missing pretty white women obsessively. Anderson Cooper tries to answer for the news media about why this happens. He writes:

I've never, not even once, seen a story spiked because the victim was not attractive enough or the wrong race. But I've seen plenty of stories fall by the wayside, pushed down and out of the show, because a consensus develops that says, "You know, I don't think our viewers are very interested in this case." Is that racism or realism?


The most egregious case of missing pretty white woman syndrome is not the blonde in Aruba or the drowned wife in California, but Pvt. Jessica Lynch, captured in Iraq. A pretty, blue-eyed blonde in uniform, the Barbie soldier, didn't just get obsessive news coverage, she got a full-scale rescue mission, which almost killed the Iraqi doctors who were helping her.

What was not obsessively covered, what was barely mentioned, was that Spc. Shoshana Johnson was also captured that day. She fought back, was injured, and also later rescued. When she returned to the States, she was discharged on disability. She is solid and gracious in interviews, and defends Lynch from falsehoods that have been told about what she did and said.

Why isn't she famous, too? She's black, and not half as cute as Jessica Lynch.

Is that racism or realism? It's racism.

9 comments:

Jonathan B. Horen said...

It's neither... missing women, two-headed calves, and The World's Largest Ball of Twine are not news; they're "filler 'n fluff", and there are more than enough pseudo-journalistic TV shows and tabloids covering them.

Someone who wants news watches "Newshour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS, and/or reads online.

YMMV

Samoabob said...

While I don't doubt that racism, or looksism or ageism plays into the selection of who to cover, the bigger issue for me is why these stories are given national coverage in the first place.

Of course the womens' disappearances are tragic news to their families, friends and communities. However, to the wider national and international audiences, they are no more than "crime as entertainment", an offensive notion in and of itself.

Given that the whole point of reporting these stories is to attract an audience, it makes perfect sense to pick the most attractive victims to be the "stars" of their shows. Would we have ever heard of Natalie Holloway (let alone still be hearing about her) if she had been an 80-year-old, non-white, not-so-photogenic man vacationing in Aruba?

I can't imagine the pain and frustration these womens' loved ones must endure. But my knowledge of the tragic events can do nothing to bring them comfort, and it is highly unlikely that it will aid in solving the cases. I'm not sure which is the greater disrespect: to have your disappearance/murder go unreported because you're not appealing enough, or to have it be presented as a miniseries, a Law and Order/American Idol hybrid.

Gruntled said...

Agreed. Most of "television news" is an oxymoron. They have to run pictures, so they pick pretty ones. I would ban missing persons stories unless the person were head of state or could bring one down.

Nuno Barreto said...

There is many stuff wrong with the news. It's more of a fabrication than anything else.

Anonymous said...

The "Missing White Women" story is on Anderson's blog, but he didn't actually write the piece. CNN correspondent Tom Foreman wrote it.

Gruntled said...

Thanks for the correction.

Anonymous said...

News is a cash cow, not a golden one, and those who think that television news in America bows down to anything other than the dollar are seriously delusioned or have never turned on a television.

Gruntled said...

So why are only missing white women news?

amba said...

Samoabob:

WORD.