Mollie Tibbetts and Media Hypocrisy. [VIDEO]
Mollie Tibbetts and Media Hypocrisy. [VIDEO]
Everyone has heard about Mollie Tibbetts, the 20-year-old Iowa college student who is missing. Her name is all over the news, and the national media cover every press conference on her case. There’s also a reward for her return.
I am sympathetic to Mollie’s family. I cannot imagine the fear which must haunt their every waking hour. Especially because I am also the mother of a girl who attended college in a tiny Iowa town — a pretty girl with long brown hair, much like Mollie.
However — and I hesitate saying this — I don’t think there will be a happy ending for Mollie’s family. Just like there wasn’t a happy ending either for the family of Shanteiya Smith.
Who, indeed. The national media never told you about Shanteiya, a 26-year-old Chicago woman who went missing back in June. Two weeks after she disappeared, someone found her body in a garage. Chicago police have also investigated her death in connection with that of a 15-year-old girl, as well as other women whose remains were found in abandoned buildings.
In other words, Chicago may have a serial killer on its hands, but you’d never know about it if you didn’t live in Chicago.
Or what about little Lucas Hernandez? He was a five-year-old boy from Wichita, Kansas, and you might not have heard about him, either. Lucas’s step-mom reported him missing in February, but police didn’t find his body for another three months, when she led police to the bridge where they found Lucas’s little body. Two weeks later, she shot herself.
Now to be fair, Lucas’s story did receive some national press attention. However, his story didn’t get the wall-to-wall coverage like the Mollie Tibbetts story. I did a Google search, and all of the top hits came from local Wichita or Kansas news sites.
Furthermore, while the media are focusing the nation’s eyeballs on the missing Mollie Tibbetts, another family in Iowa is wondering why their missing teen isn’t getting any coverage.
The Husted family of Centerville, IA, hasn’t seen 19-year-old Sebastian Husted since January, and yet national media coverage of his case is non-existent. Sebastian’s sister thinks she know why: she claims it’s because the family is poor and can’t raise money for awareness.
Well, maybe. What’s more likely is that the Tibbetts case benefits from the “Missing White Woman” syndrome, and yes, it exists.
Basically, the “Missing White Woman” syndrome occurs when a young white woman goes missing. The media scramble to cover the disappearance, and voilà — you have the making of a national story. Think of Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, or Natalee Holloway. Or, in the case of children, think of Caylee Anthony or even Madeleine McCann, who disappeared in Portugal. “Missing White Woman” syndrome seems to be universal.
So why does this happen?
According to Robin Barton, a former assistant DA in NYC, it’s because this is the old “damsel in distress” story, and it works even better if the victim is white. The media know that it’ll bring eyeballs to their coverage — and ad money.
But, but . . . say the media, all those viewers can get these victims home safe! We’re doing a service here!
Yeah, about that. According to a professor in criminal studies at the University of Louisiana, that’s not really true. So let’s be honest here — this kind of coverage serves one entity: the media.
According to an anonymous cable news employee:
“We showcase missing, young, white, attractive women because our research shows we get more viewers. It’s about beating the competition and ad dollars.”
But hold on — what about the noble news media who are out to right the wrongs of the world? The folks who care about injustice, who bring attention to the plight of the poor? The media who are so hurt if someone calls them “the enemy of the people?”
Right. Let’s face it — the media mainly care about promoting themselves. In other words, they’re a bunch of hypocrites.
Of course, the media can’t focus on every missing person. But they can improve their slanted coverage. Researcher Zach Sommers of Northwestern University says this:
News agencies need to make a concerted effort to present a more demographically representative population of missing persons in their coverage, while also ensuring that there are not systematic differences in coverage intensity.
Do you think that will happen? Nope. Not as long as there are damsels in distress whose stories bring in viewers.
I hope Mollie Tibbetts will come home to her family, and I certainly don’t blame them for using the media in the search for their daughter. I would do the same. But I also would like news agencies to think about those missing black women and little Hispanic boys. Their stories also need to be told.