Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Diagnosing 'Missing White Woman Syndrome'
Natalee Holloway, Lori Hacking, Laci Peterson. The list goes on and on and on.

When pretty, young women -- especially white ones -- are killed or disappear, media storms often follow. There is no polite way to say it, and it is a fact of television news. Media and social critics call the wall-to-wall coverage that seems to swirl around these events, "Missing White Woman Syndrome."

That was the phrase invoked by Sheri Parks, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, during our interview yesterday. The phenomenon is characterized by critics as a short and cynical equation: Pretty, white damsels in distress draw viewers; missing women who are black, Latino, Asian, old, fat, or ugly do not.

I think the critics are a lot right. And I think they are a little wrong.

People in the news business, in my professional experience of nearly 30 years, are like people in every profession. They wrestle with questions of right and wrong, fairness and accuracy, perception and reality. Some are good at it. Some aren't.

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? We can't cover every murder, but ignoring them all or reporting just statistics seems irresponsible. So how should we decide whose life or loss is covered?
Posted By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent: 12:23 PM ET
I would say that only so called "hi-profile" disappearnces should be convered. Who cares, really, if Miss Podunk in missing besides the immediate community---no matter her race or ethnicity. If Beyonce or Gloria Estaban or Reese Witherspoon are missing, that's news. Let a reality TV show dedicated to missing persons cover the others.
Posted By Anonymous Louise Thomas Carson City, NV : 12:43 PM ET
The fact in life is that, life is never fair, no matter what or whom is covered.
Posted By Anonymous Sylvia, Denton, Texas : 12:44 PM ET
News organs exist to turn a profit from advertising. Consumers of popular news products get what they most want
,which is to be entertained rather than informed. I don't blame the newsies for providing it.
An attractive talking head selling tasty emotainment is what brings in the shekels.
Posted By Anonymous Mark LaSalle, Sumter, SC : 12:45 PM ET
Aren't YOU the media? Aren't YOU and your peers the ones who are supposed to be covering these other cases? Don't imply that people like me don't care about every woman who is abducted or killed, when it's not up to us what's reported. And yes, Natalee Holloway and others are white women. This doesn't mean that people don't care about women of other races but it doesn't mean that we should give them any less attention because they are white. A woman is a woman, a child is a child, and and American is an American. They all equally have my attention and sympathy, and they should have the media's too.
Posted By Anonymous Courtney, Chagrin Falls, OH : 12:47 PM ET
I, too, have often wondered aloud as to this so-called 'syndrome'. People go missing far more frequently than is reported, so why is it the white female gets the attention? Ratings, most likely. You yourself state "I don't think our viewers are very interested in this case," which indicates an either consious or unconscious desire to get ratings based on the content you provide.
Posted By Anonymous Drew, Parkesburg, PA. : 12:49 PM ET
Realism. I think that if Imette St. Guillen were black the story would be just as televised.

The most compelling stories of loss seem to revolve around the victims who have had so much going for them - color of their skin notwithstanding. It's a tragedy whenever anyone is senselessly murdered; however it's just plain "better" news when someone with a bright future is taken early.
Posted By Anonymous Brendan Kavanagh, Springfield MA : 12:49 PM ET
News industry should develop certain standards to alot certain amount of time to a certain type of crime. It should be limited to that for all individuals.

Once that time is exhaused, move on to new news. If there is no sizzling new hot news, try something positive, like achievements of people for a change. You might be surprised people still have a apetite for that.

Anil Agarwal
Birmingham, Alabama
Posted By Anonymous Anil Agarwal, Birmingham, Alabama : 12:49 PM ET
Dear Mr. Foreman,
I'm trying to think fairly and clearly about your "missing white woman" topic. As a woman of color I have always wondered how the media chooses their stories. I imagine you look for the story that is going to "sell" best -- since providing information to the public goes part and parcel with getting ratings. This is business. What happens to me is that I begin to shut down or even feel a little sad when I see those stories and wonder how many women of color are missing that are not getting that attention, or why is it that when a white woman drives her car into a river with her children strapped in and says a black man did it - it is hyped in the media and plays to the fears of others; or when a white woman disappears on her wedding day and says a scary, Latino man is holding her hostage there is a full-scale search only to see that these stories are untrue and play to hidden nightmares - again us vs. them. I guess what I am looking for is a recognition of what seems to be more emphasis on "missing white woman" in the media - and maybe an attempt should be made for more balance. Because what I don't want to do is become numb to the pain or loss of other human beings because of the perception of a lack of caring or parity for all the other people, whatever race they may be that are missing or dead too.
Keep talking about this - thanks.
Posted By Anonymous Stephanie H., Brooklyn NY : 12:54 PM ET
The Missing White Woman Syndrome is no different than most other stories that the media choses to cover or not. For example, an automobile accident that kills five people is "newsworthy", but five separate fatalities are not. A coal mine accident that kills a dozen is covered by every media outlet, but scores of miners who die from black lung every year are ignored.

If you really want to "be honest about what you see", you'll admit that the majority of news reporting focuses on the sensational. It's easy. Virtually no research is required. The story practically writes itself. And to top it off, readers/viewers have been conditioned to gawk and say, "Isn't that awful?!"

It's a ratings and advertising paradise.
Posted By Anonymous Steven Conrad, Milwaukee, WI : 12:54 PM ET
It is funny you wrote, and I saw this. A friend of mine were talking of the same thig last night, about how many women are killed, but it is the "white" ones that get mentioned. We are both white, but feel it is unfair to any woman who is getting victimized not to have the nation knowing about it and hunting down who did it. Good question...Who gets covered...I wish I had an answer...
Posted By Anonymous Randi, Winston-Salem NC : 12:56 PM ET
Why does everything have to be about racism?
Posted By Anonymous Sandy S, Macon Illinois : 12:56 PM ET
We are drawn to it because it "isn't suppose to happen to people like that."
It was the same way with the school shooting in Colorado, when it happens at in inner-city school in Detroit we can understand why, who and how; when it happens in a white middle to upper class neighborhood it doesn't make any sense.
Posted By Anonymous Pete, Boston, MA : 12:57 PM ET
I think what you have to ask yourself is, 'why did we cover this story and not another?' In other words, what was it about the pretty white girl story that got it coverage when the ugly girl or girl of color did not get the coverage? Because it sells? Why?
Posted By Anonymous Phil, Kansas City, MO : 12:58 PM ET
Maybe if you spent more time gathering facts and reporting them, rather than relying on bogus "he said, she said" reporting for even objectively verifiable claims made by public figures, and maybe if your focus was educating the public with information rather than presenting them with the easily-digestible mediocrity that they expect, then the "Missing White Woman" stories and related issues wouldn't matter.

Of course, you would go out of business because the inmates are running the asylum now. And by inmates I mean the under-educated, over-stimulated American public.

I guess idiots ultimately get what they deserve, and that is endless human interest stories about pretty faces.

P.S. I dare you to censor this.
Posted By Anonymous Matt Davis, Columbus Georgia : 12:59 PM ET
Of course, you could avoid sensationalistic news stories entirely. Now that's a thought.
Posted By Anonymous Jeff, New York NY : 12:59 PM ET
Maybe it would be most advantageous to dedicate a network or a regular show to missing women. I tend to agree with the missing white woman theory, but hope that this awareness will give equal value to all lives. In 1999, my best friend (an african american school teacher, 31) went missing over 30 days in Missouri. Her body was found 60 miles from her home - and only parts of her were recovered. I am certain that if her case received comparable coverage of Chandra Levy or other caucasian women AFTER her, the search would not have taken as long. As of today, no killer or suspects have been found. Again, I am sure that if her case had been afforded the same TV coverage and law enforcement access, there would have been more answers versus questions.
Posted By Anonymous Angela, St. Louis, MO : 1:01 PM ET
Following these stories leads me to think that class, not race, is the determinant for stories that are reported. To be fair though, after the class filter is applied, the media then goes for the story with the most grisly or shocking details. A woman stripped and bound with tape. A congressman's lover missing, a pregnant woman killed by her husband. All shocking, all grisly, all news.
Posted By Anonymous Madeline, Baltimore, Maryland : 1:01 PM ET
You ask "Is is racism or realism"?
I ask : Are they mutually exclusive?
Posted By Anonymous Art Santos, Cpt. Cook, Hawaii : 1:02 PM ET
I think the problem, if what you say is correct, lies with the people who care or don't care about the stories. If those who decide what to report on are doing it based on their audience, then that says something about that audience. And in this case, not a very positive thing.
Posted By Anonymous Sasha, New York, NY : 1:02 PM ET
There has to be another element beside "Missing White Syndrome." Like where they are missing from and why. Like from a good neighborhood where this is not the norm. I don't think it is as much the race as it is the surrounding circumstances. It is only part of the equation of interest.
Posted By Anonymous M Wood, San Francisco : 1:03 PM ET
This entry makes me wonder whether journalists have so little perspective on themselves that a stunning moral imperative such as this one can really seem to be a question of "realism".
Has moral courage no role to play here, Tom?
Posted By Anonymous Susan Parker, New York, New York : 1:03 PM ET
Isn't it all a reflection of the viewers? Was Greta Van Susteren wrong to devote her entire show to one missing white woman (Holloway) and see her ratings skyrocket? the real question is: why do we gravitate to these personal interest stories and thus force news outlets to use them to compete for viewership?
Posted By Anonymous Nate: Boston, MA : 1:03 PM ET
I think something underlies your statement that you "don't think [your] viewers are very interested in" the cases of minority women (or men) who are missing. The assumption I'm forced to pull out of that is that the stories behind white women's dissapearances are more interesting because they are more unexpected; i.e., we expect bad things to happen to black, latina, or other minority women. Perhaps the social forces that cause women of color to fall through the cracks of society should be examined more closely, instead of having a blind eye turned to them by journalists who ought to try to shed light in dark places of the world.
Posted By Anonymous James, Corning NY : 1:03 PM ET
Tom, this is such a good question but I don't really think it can be answered to make everyone feel comfortable and accepting of the answer. I have always wondered how reporters/producers/executives know what "I" myself am interesting in watching. Maybe CNN and other outlets should start asking its viewers. This seems to be a great medium (blogs) to start.
Posted By Anonymous Rachel-Albuquerque, NM : 1:04 PM ET
You could cover more than just the "missing white women" if you devoted less time to them. I'm not saying don't report on it all, but do we really need wall to wall 24/7 coverage? Why not insert some other missing persons stories with the time you would save? They matter too. They have families that miss them, childhood stories and hopes and dreams just like Natalie, Imette, Laci, etc. did. You just don't report them. You say you haven't seen any stories "spiked" because of race or attractiveness, but several have fallen by the wayside because of a "lack of viewer interest". I think this so called lack of interest is the news orgs politically correct way of saying, if they're not white and attractive, we're not going to cover it.
Posted By Anonymous Shannon Charlotte, NC : 1:05 PM ET
Tom, this is such a good question but I don't really think it can be answered to make everyone feel comfortable and accepting of the answer. I have always wondered how reporters/producers/executives know what "I" myself am interesting in watching. No one has asked me personally. Maybe CNN should start asking its viewers. This seems to be a great medium (blogs) to start.
Posted By Anonymous Rachel-Albuquerque, NM : 1:06 PM ET
Either way, the news shouldn't be about one kidnapped woman, whether she's white, black, orange, green, red, whatever. The news should focus on real occurances, such as war in the Middle East, economic troubles of our country, or other things that - not a superficial story posted 24/7 only for the sake of ratings. Save these stories for the local news where they could do some good...We have many more things to worry about than a few women disappearing.
Posted By Anonymous Dave, Ithaca, NY : 1:06 PM ET
"So how should we decide whose life or loss is covered?"

I'd say if they are missing, cover it. Remember, all women have families who grieve ... not just the young, pretty, white ones
Posted By Anonymous Gisela from Agawam, MA : 1:06 PM ET
The one and only criteria for a news story is: how many advertising dollars will it generate!
Posted By Anonymous Kenneth, Corona, CA : 1:07 PM ET
I think there is definitely a tendency to do the missing "pretty" (and wealthy) white women. You can't tell me that there aren't any other missing PEOPLE (men included) that warrant news. There has been a missing Japanese man on the UW Madison campus since January -- I haven't seen him on the news. It's clear that you have to have money to get the press to cover your missing relative and it's also clear that that you have to have a "photogenic" relative in order to get coverage. If you really wanted to be fair you would cover the statistics. But you want sensationalism and the viewers that happen to like that kind of thing. Personally I'd rather have hard news and not see any missing people stories -- newslines about missing people are fine and should be part of the news - but I would say that to focus on some and not all is really what is irresponsible.
Posted By Anonymous Katie, Madison, Wisconsin : 1:07 PM ET
I think the problem is not undercoverage of the "ugly" and "mintority" cases the public seems less interested in, but rather the overcoverage of the cases that end up with big headlines splashed everywhere, every news medium trying to scoop the latest turn and speculation even before there's really anything useful or even solidly confirmed.
Sure, report that people are missing, especially locally, so the public knows what's happening, and might come forward with useful information or assistance. But please stop turning them into a media circus.
Posted By Anonymous Tisha - Wichita, KS : 1:08 PM ET
It comes down to TV rating. Statistics claim there are at least twice as many more minority females disappearing than white American females. TV viewers are more curious and interested in watching news about pretty and young white American females. Especially since the majority of cable news' viewers are white Americans. Of course, you oblige and cater to these viewers or else your rating slips. I don't blame you.
Posted By Anonymous Valdo, Tucson, Arizona : 1:08 PM ET
You can always take the sarcastic route and report stories by percentages and quotas to per capita... But honestly, is it the media driving the proposed coverages or the public's response driving the media? There is no way to "report it all" and let the people decide, so you have to report what sells. Its ludicrous but it's a fact.
Posted By Anonymous Bailey, St. Louis, MO : 1:08 PM ET
I am an African American and I feel that MS. Parks comments are a fact of reality. You stated that "We can't cover every murder, but ignoring them all or reporting just statistics seems irresponsible." I think it is also irresponsible to cover only stories in which a young white female is involved. I am 45 years old and I have never seen a story that involved a missing minority female receive the same type of in depth coverage. I know it would be impossible to cover them all, but there has to be some kind of balance!
Posted By Anonymous William Boyd, McGuire AFB, NJ : 1:08 PM ET
I think this commentary is right on! It's about time someone addressed the "Missing
White Woman Syndrome."
Posted By Anonymous Sandy Curls, Kansas city, MO : 1:08 PM ET
The problem is not the initial coverage of the story. The problem is the coverage that goes on for a YEAR, pushing aside current, relevant stories in favor of tabloid journalism.
Posted By Anonymous John, New York, NY : 1:09 PM ET
Face it. We live in a racist society. White life is dear, black life is cheap. We all collude in continuing this bias.
Posted By Anonymous Dayle Spencer, Estes Park, Colorado : 1:09 PM ET
I think all missing persons should be covered regardless of race, weight, attractiveness or sex. When is a human life not important? All lives are equally important. To give one race or sex or based on the fact that the female is attractive or not says to the american public. You are only important if you are white and beautiful. Wrong Answer.
Posted By Anonymous Cindy Chicago IL : 1:09 PM ET
I agree the media criteria is important, however, if the media really wanted to look with open eyes, it must first take a reality check. White women influence in western society is hard to ignore, unlike non-white female influence. So for the most part, this females command influence to varying degrees depending of desired outcome. When in that endeavor, a negative sociedal element is introduced, the influence is suddenly being wronged and western mentality demands explanation for the intrusion. On the other hand, we calmly and rationally see other similar unexplained pathology, i. e. corporate greed, as just the nature of the beast.
Posted By Anonymous Anonymous : 1:10 PM ET
Amen! Somebody finally gets it! As a productive member of society, I place high value on all life. It just seems that "M.W.W.S." has gotten extensively worse after Chandra went missing. We (black folk) also are hurting when a member of cour community is missing. I am quite sure you are aware of the power you hold. Showing a minoritiy's face once could determine whether a family suffers for a short period of time or the rest of their lives!
Posted By Anonymous Jackson, Mississippi : 1:10 PM ET
I have actually been waiting to hear more about Ali Gilmore, the pregnant woman missing from her home in Florida ever since she was featured briefly on AC360 last week. What is the latest news on her case? I think the media has the ability to create interest in a story if they choose to keep it in the forefront. In the case of Ali Gilmore, I am certain her family would appreciate the extra attention if it helps them find her.
Posted By Anonymous Chriss Miller, Canton, OH : 1:11 PM ET
News reporting is a business like any other and must be treated as such. It is market driven much the same way that demand for certain automobiles drives production. The only possible solution is government intervention. If the government subsidizes the news media to insure the reporting of certain events even though they may not be in demand then maybe you would see more of these undemanded events being reported. This , of course, is preposterous. Nobody would want this!There is no economic solution here. This is a social issue. Why is the reporting of "missing white women" in such demand? Possibly because the percentage of people who care about this category of people is so huge in comparison with any other groups that it can't help but drive demand in this area. This then begs the question; Is anything wrong afterall? It's just supply and demand.
Posted By Anonymous Jerry Gay, Athens, Georgia : 1:12 PM ET
Tom, it's good to see some discussion about this issue. One point I would like to make is that part of the reason the consensus thinks people might not be interested in stories about missing women who aren't pretty or white is that they haven't had the same exposure to those stories in the first place. Media story popularity is a chicken/egg issue: Is a story on all the time because people are interested, or are people interested because the story is on all the time? We can't blame MWWS on the viewers' interest level without disclosing that the media helps set the interest level in the first place.
Posted By Anonymous Sean, Blacksburg, VA : 1:12 PM ET
I guess you're "just doing your job." I've heard that excuse somewhere before...
Posted By Anonymous Max, Los Angeles CA : 1:12 PM ET
Perception is sometimes the reality. As an African-American male it appears to be true that when an African-American woman or child is missing it receives little to no coverage at all on the national front. As tragic as the cases are for the Petersons and the Hollways of this country, our stories of tragedy, victory or defeat are seldom reported.
Posted By Anonymous Edward Macon,Ga : 1:13 PM ET
The same seems to go for kids, too. I've yet to see a minority child get the kind of headlines that Jessica Lunsford and others have garnered. Carlie Brucia and Elizabeth Smart are understandable, since their circumstances were a bit different (videotaped abduction, etc), but it just seems like the minority kids aren't getting the same kind of coverage from the media - and priority from the authorities.

Or maybe it's just me.
Posted By Anonymous Nikki Wells - Tampa, FL : 1:13 PM ET
I agree wholeheartedly that this is a another case of racism in America. How do we decide who are what to cover when it comes to a missing person. In my mind, everybody is somebody. My life is as important as your life, beyond the spectrum of color.
Posted By Anonymous S. Moore Mobile, Alabama : 1:14 PM ET
Laci Peterson was Latina (her mother was white, her father was hispanic).
Posted By Anonymous Arli, Mt. View, CA : 1:14 PM ET
Quit making EXCUSES.
Posted By Anonymous Matthew, Atlanta, GA : 1:15 PM ET
I am sure if you didn't report a missing person's story some other news agency would. Somehow somewhere all stories get told whether nationally or locally. So where is the decision that needs to be made?
Posted By Anonymous Betty Webster NY : 1:15 PM ET
I really don't think that it's just pretty white women, I think people are drawn to stories about "pretty" people in general. Good looking actors get more face time than not so good looking ones. Over weight people are now the majority in the U.S., yet 'full figured' models don't turn up in Victora Secret magazines. A plump homely missing child will likely not draw the attention that a good looking child would. Maybe people are drawn to "attractive", because it's what we want to be. Then when bad things happen to attractive people we feel bad because something happened to the concept of what we'd like to see ourselves as---attractive. Attractive is pleasing to the eye and the mind, and we are drawn to things that please us...
Posted By Anonymous Ann Kalie, Richmond Hill -GA : 1:15 PM ET
Well, its subtle racism/shallowism-subtle in the sense that it plays out. Not subtle in terms of its negative effects.

Realism would if we spent the same amount of time dissecting the lives of the minority victims/ugly people/etc.

"So how should we decide whose life or loss is covered?" We pretty much decide by what coverage would garner the best ratings, that is we cover the most attractive and or interesting to people to us.
Posted By Anonymous Michael Louca, Cambridge, MA : 1:16 PM ET

I am suprised that yo havn't mentioned the tv ratings involved. Having worked in a news organization, I can say first hand that stories that generate ratings which in turn generate revenue for your network, are always given priority over stories that are more imporatnt to the everyday lives of viewers. I guess I am saying thatthere isn't any answer to your question. The viewers make that decision by either tuning in or tuning out.
Posted By Anonymous Nick Brooklyn, New York : 1:16 PM ET
The media has a predominantly white audience, and that "elephant in the room" seems to be frequently overlooked when the tired old racial epithets start to be rolled out.

Realism ? - well how about we just accpet that there is a huge racial chasm in today's USA, and let the deep thinkers figure out the details of what that means in our daily lives.
Posted By Anonymous Hugh Palmer, Oakridge, TN : 1:16 PM ET
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. It may not be intentional but it is a fact that "Missing White Woman Syndrome" does exsist. If it doesn't why not start off your article with the name of 3 older black or latina women. This may not be intentional but the bias that one holds can be found in its work product.
Posted By Anonymous Ericka Benjamin, Philadelphia PA : 1:17 PM ET
I completely agree with the "missing white woman syndrome," but I would like add a few more descriptives to the original. Here are some that are usually present "rich", "young." Because ratings seem to run the media world, this type of coverage will never be replaced by the other missing people.
Posted By Anonymous Dima, Wichita Kansas : 1:17 PM ET
Criteria to publish stories about missing people:

1. the details are so horrific or unique that people may want to help to bring justice
2. the missing person was an incredible person
3. news is slow that day
Posted By Anonymous Akron, Ohio : 1:18 PM ET
Quite frankly CNN is the biggest perpetrator of turning these non-news items into the focus of their broadcast. Just tune into that retired lawyer's talkshow (I don't recall her name) that is on CNN, and the only thing this woman covers are these stories of missing people. I thought CNN was dedicated to "reliable news coverage" not taking the place of milk cartons in looking for people that really aren't missed by anyone but their immediate families.
Posted By Anonymous Steve Swatman, Windsor Ontario Canada : 1:18 PM ET
It would seem that media carries a significant responsibility to report/forewarn society; that is your business. The sad truth is that we've gone from missing and exploited children in the news to women and not necessarily the pretty white women. A bit of investigation might show women and children of all societal ranks who are missing or beaten daily and not reported through the media; maybe this is most noted by those of us who are female. I'd like to see an update on the missing and questionably exploited children from Katrina devastation. Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to a worthwhile program.
Posted By Anonymous jstrom, Spokane, Washington : 1:18 PM ET
We become immune to the senseless murders after awhile no matter who it was. Nobody can really feel how it feels unless it happens to a family member.
Posted By Anonymous chuck, aston, pa. : 1:18 PM ET
Maybe this white woman syndrome also has something to to with economic status as well -- murders and kidnappings are not as expected, or are seen as more shocking if they happen to people with money or who are well-off. Do some spatial statistics to see if geographic location of where the women who were kidnapped or murdered lived has anything to do with the phenom.; then maybe chose to report one incident for every geographic location (however you want to define that) per year.
Posted By Anonymous Gina Baucom, Athens GA : 1:18 PM ET
I'm one of those viewers who definitely perceives the bias you describe. While there's nothing wrong with covering murders and disappearances, I've become convinced that the media, even CNN, overdo it.

The larger problem that I personally think exists is that there are just too many hours of continuous news coverage and too many networks covering it. We've seen that there dividing line between factual information and the speculation of various "experts" and consultants can blur the perception developed by the public. Drawing viewers should not be the deciding factor in what to air - importance of the story to my life and those around me would be better.

I remeber when Chandra Levi (sp?) disappeared. It wasn't long before the entire focus of attention was on the hapless congressman from California who had the misfortune of straying with her. I remember one reporte, camped out at the California home, who declared he would not leave until the truth came out and this evil person was thrown ou of Congress. He must have been very disappointed when Chandra's body was found in that ravine, the apparent victim of a mugging.
Posted By Anonymous Carl DeFranco, Ava, NY : 1:19 PM ET
It does seem like missing white women, very bloody crimes, possible serial killers and and sensational murders get way too much coverage on the "national" cable news networks. I want all of these things covered too but these hour long discussions with trial lawyers and even show after show where three or four reporters sit and talk about a crime is annoying. I know criminal procedurals are hit TV shows these days but I'd frankly rather see an hour of good news than another discussion on how to drag a riverbed or dna testing one spot of blood in a crime investigation.
That said, now I am forced to wonder just how many missing black women (children too?) have fallen through the cracks of coverage? And how can that be corrected in this ratings driven news climate?
Posted By Anonymous Louis G., Phoenix, AZ : 1:19 PM ET
You've answered your own question. Simply put...if the persons involved don't look like you...you are less likely to care about what happens to them.
Posted By Anonymous Bilal, Charlotte NC : 1:20 PM ET
Mr Foreman, you can't be serious with your last question. "So how should we decide whose life or loss is covered"? I have to believe you know the answer to that question. If there is an imbalance in reporting missing persons I would blame the reporters and journalists. You and your kind are the ones who make the decisions and decide who and what gets covered and what coverage gets beaten to the ground.
I am also bothered by your statement, "...I don't think our viewers are very interested in this case." How do reporters or journalists come to that conclusion? Please do not be so presumptuous as to assume what the public is or is not interested in. Put it out there regardless. EVERY PERSON deserves equal time.
Posted By Anonymous Donna M. Minneapolis, Mn. : 1:20 PM ET
The earliest form of popular literature in the thirteen colonies were "Captivity Narratives", in which white female settlers were abducted by "savage natives".

These tales were the first formula stories and were comfortable in their predictability. The innocent captive would be close to enough to study the primitive ways of the natives, close to enough to build pity for them. They would then be exchanged for some simple foodstuffs or trinkets.

The lasting imprint of this literary craze was the still-visible idea that our most prized possesion is our white women.
Posted By Anonymous Jeff Hauge, Perrysburg OH : 1:20 PM ET
Oh, but its okay to show people in a negative light? To me it does not seem to matter what viewers want, the media shoves whatever they think will get ratings onto the idiot box, and of course the goofy American public buys it!!!!
Posted By Anonymous Stephen Robinson Atlanta ,Georgia : 1:20 PM ET
Don't put the blame on viewers. If you decide what is worth putting on the air and what is not, then put the blame on yourselves. You and your producers decide what stories go on the air and what stories don't. At least you accknowlegde that there is a bit of racism going on in the news industry. If you want to change it, CNN should step up and make it happen.
Posted By Anonymous juls, colton, ca : 1:20 PM ET
I'm not even sure what to say to this other than "we respond to what we see" I read the news every day on CNN and MSNBC and I would react the same to any murder regardless of race, age, or appearance. I think you underestimate the general public, if you cover these murders so we are aware of them, then make the decision of how we will respond.
Posted By Anonymous Linda Helena, Mt. : 1:21 PM ET
Tom is incorrect. News shows are all abour ratings, being first, being most glamerous (have you ever seen an ugly fat news anchor?), being most dramatic. News shows have turned into entertainment shows. That is a sad statement. CNN used to stand out amoung the crowd but now even they have become just another pretty show about the news.
Posted By Anonymous Jim Carney, Jacksonville, FL : 1:21 PM ET
I guess I'm naive, but I didn't realize there was such a thing as "Missing White Woman Syndrome" until you guys on the show brought it up. It's sad to think that in the nation's subconscious we as a whole feel certian lives are more valuable than others, and so when those lives are ended violently and prematurely it is therefore more tragic. Have you guys tried taking a racial demographic of your viewers? Because if the majority of your viewers are in fact white, they will probably be more deeply affected by a horrific story about someone who looks like they could be a friend or relative. It hits home a little more closely. I'm not saying this is an excuse, but just probably realistic human nature. Do you know if there are similar phenomena in other countries? It might be an interesting thing to look into.

As for how to decide which lives and losses to cover, maybe leave that up to the vicitms' relatives. If they come to you for help you should try to give it to them, especially if it would help catch a killer. But I think what you're doing right now, bringing up this issue in the first place, is a positive step forward. At the very least it's a sobering reminder of what goes on in our midst each day as we go about our business.
Posted By Anonymous AM, Piscataway, NJ : 1:21 PM ET
I understand that not every crime can be covered by the media, but I do think that there is an obvious bias toward reporting on cases that involve a certain demographics. It is arguable whether that bias arises from the media, or out of the audience response and the value they place on the content of certain stories. I would just suggest that the media doesnt have to be driven by it's viewing audience, and that they can take on advocative role with regards to modeling for the public a balanced set of valuing people...helping to break down the tendency to care more about affluence or categories like 'missing white women'.
Posted By Anonymous Samuel, Cliffside Park, NJ : 1:22 PM ET
Tom, thanks for at least acknowledging that this is an issue! Katrina washed away the haze that obstructed our view and exposed how racism and classism combine to further disenfranchise minorities. Race, class, and looks matter in our society and it's time we admit the ugly truth. Recently in Cincinnati, I watched two stories about women who were raped (one a relatively young white woman while working in a model homes and the other a black senior attacked by an intruder while she lay sleeping in her bed.) Guess which story dominated the news for weeks and which one seemed to fall through the cracks. I don't blame the media...they reflect us, our reality. Too bad in our reality, a pretty, white woman's story will always seem more important than a black woman's, a latina's, an asian woman's...
Posted By Anonymous Stacey, Cincinnati, OH : 1:22 PM ET
Of course it is socially, culturally -- and therefore in turn -- racially or otherwise driven. There are MANY victims of violent crime, and the news outlets choose to cover some to death while others go unnoticed. If the victim is not "attractive" in some way -- then they are ignored. It is a choice, and you make it. You could decide to be more conscious in what you choose to cover.
Posted By Anonymous Michel Meunier, Las Cruces, NM : 1:22 PM ET
It's especially sad when a young person dies, so naturally there's going to be more media attention. However, there is no reason this coverage should be so tinged with anger, like it is on Fox and CNN.

In any society, crime is inevitable, and can only be reduced, not eliminated. Some of these fanatics, obsessing on Natalie Holloway and others, seem to be demanding that government guarantee them a crime-free world. No government can ever do that, and we should instantly mistrust any politician who promises to.
Posted By Anonymous Robert Platt : 1:22 PM ET
Not that long ago these victims would have been "local" news - of interest, for the most part, only to folks in their home towns. Now we have 24/7 news channels which have way too much time to fill/kill. Time too often handled in the laziest manner: which is easier, unraveling the port deal, or hyping a pretty-blond murder?
Posted By Anonymous Margot Marie Bronski, Phoenix, AZ : 1:22 PM ET
I absolutely applaud your "outing" of the "Missing White Woman" syndrome. I think it's unfair and demeans the self-esteem of non-white minorities. As for viewer interest, I'm sure it WOULD be higher in minority cases if you ran them as the top national story week after week & covered every angle in excruciating detail like you do the 'missing white women'!

Victor in Chico, CA
Posted By Anonymous Victor in Chico, CA. : 1:23 PM ET
I find it irresponsible to report the news based on public interest. There are plenty of things that no one is interested in that matter, namely the truth as of late.
Posted By Anonymous Nicole, LA, California : 1:24 PM ET
One Question: "Can you even name a missing person that made headlines that wasn't white in last 2-3 years?" I can't.
Posted By Anonymous D. L. Williams, Pittsburgh, PA : 1:45 PM ET
You are exactly right about this. I live a an urban city in Mass where we have a number of unsolved murders, some of which were recently on America's Most Wanted, but since the victums were all minorities I have never seen much public outcry and I ahve never seen the national exposure so prevelent when a pretty white girl turns up missing. It is racist and outrageous.
Posted By Anonymous Darryl Murphy, New Bedford, MA : 1:45 PM ET
To answer your question, I believe it's a matter of racism and realism. The fact is the minority population, as well as the entire population should understand that every murder cannot be reported. However, the issue becomes the equity or rather inequities in which murders are covered. As an avid news watcher (of all channels), I am overwhelmed by the coverage some of those stories receive. The only sensationalized stories that feature minorities seem to be we when commit a crime versus when we are the victims of a crime. I'm sure naysayers will argue that minorities are committing more crimes than they are victims of, however (even though I don't have the stats), I would venture to say that is definitely not the case. So as we struggle to decide how to cover life or the loss of life, we should take into consideration that the demographics of "our viewers" has and will continue to drastically change. So when you question whether or not anyone is interested in a story, my challenge to all journalists would be to take the chance, run the story and wait for the results. I think you'll be very surprised. The perception of the American public needs to change. We ALL need to understand that any one of us can fall victim to a terrible tragedy NOT just pretty white women.
Posted By Anonymous Stephanie Jordan Columbus, OH : 1:45 PM ET
Here is one criteria for you. Ask yourselves, "Does this have a broader social impact that goes beyond just the details of the crime?"

A missing girl in Aruba is tragic, but it does not impact the lives of your viewers, not in a way worthy of your channel's 24-hour coverage of the case.

If the sole criteria is whether or not a story is "gawk-worthy," why not simply show cruesome vehicle accident scenes? People will look at those forever.

This isn't news, though. This is exploitative and is all about giving viewers a creepy thrill. If CNN wants to be a news channel, it must be relevant, not just sensationalistic.
Posted By Anonymous Aaron, New York City, New York : 1:45 PM ET
This is another case where we need to change our habits. The way to change habits is change behavior. Just as the government agencies, and now corporate America, have adopted 'goals' for minority hiring and contracting, individual news agencies should set goals for reporting. 10% of murdered, missing female stories will be about black women, 5% about Asian, etc. Better yet, a proportional percentage matching the number of murdered or missing women in America according to race or ethnic group. Reflecting on the problem is nice but not effective.
You cannot improve without a scorecard and a goal.
Posted By Anonymous Philip Tiewater, Wayne, PA : 1:46 PM ET
I perfer to call this syndrome the media's "white woman of the moment". It seems that the last white woman of intense media interest was Natalee Holloway, the teen who went missing in Aruba almost a year ago. Media interest slowly waned over serveral months with good old Fox News being the last to show interest in the story. The investigation is still going on and we sometimes hear from Natalee's mother once a month at least. Previous "white women of the moment" included Jennifer Wilbanks, Terri Shiavo, Martha Stewart, and Laci Peterson. I would be surprised if the media started following a story about an obese african-american lesbian teen that has gone missing and her same-sex adoptive parents appeal to the media for help in finding their missing adoptive child.
Posted By Anonymous Ryan D, Morden, Manitoba : 1:47 PM ET
If the "socially concious" media made an effort to report disappearances of ALL women, it would effect what your viewers are interested in. Last I checked, your audience is made up of many non-whites, including myself. I feel insulted that CNN might not value my disappearance or that of any other woman of color.
Posted By Anonymous Laurette Timms, Carrollton, Texas : 1:48 PM ET
Actually my husband and I were saying the same thing last nite. Why does it seem that the media always chooses the white young female missing person case to track? As Mike Bloomberg noted, there were 2 asian women brutally murdered in NYC but that did not receive any attention!

Sad commentary...
Posted By Anonymous Maria, Yorktown New York : 1:48 PM ET
Why does every case you report have to be a ratings block buster? Why not report a case because it might help someone who's lost get found? Was there ever a time when profit and community service were equally represented objectives in the media?
Posted By Anonymous Eric, Morgantown, WV : 1:49 PM ET
Viewers arent interested in missing minorities for the same reason they dont care whats going on in the Sudan. Im not calling it racism but rather a selfishness we can all be guilty of.
Posted By Anonymous Derek ,Hood River, Oregon : 1:50 PM ET
I think this term, "Missing White Woman Syndrome" is right on target. Without even trying, I can name at least a half dozen such cases forever burned into my consciousness by the relentless, disproportionate media coverage they each garnered.

I have read that attractive people tend to succeed more because they are generally perceived as being successful, even when there is no other criteria available, thus getting more opportunities along the way. Let it be said here that attractive people get all the breaks!

Well...maybe not all but they definitely get most of the breaks. This is especially true when it comes to TV news, as well as other forms of visual media. But then don't persons with great speaking voices tend to get all the radio jobs? Can you imagine Fran Dresher doing the voice of "Tony the Tiger"?
Posted By Anonymous Lee Pace, Asheville, NC : 1:50 PM ET
I agree with Ms. Parks. White women do get the coverage. Instead of sharing your approach to the problem of what to cover, why not examine statistically the number of hours spent on TV discussing crimes against white women and girls as a ratio of their frequency, compared to the same ratios for non-whites. I think you will see that Ms. Parks is justified.
Posted By Anonymous Kathleen, Massapequa New York : 1:51 PM ET
UC Kirby here...based on this comment, looks like your job is only to report what you think: "...viewers are very interested in..." Right??
Posted By Anonymous UC Kirby, Morrow, OH : 1:52 PM ET
You said "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."

But why is it not interesting enough? because the person is black, latino or another race? Isn't its the audiences decision to determine if the story is interesting enough? and not that of the news office? I only watch the stories you show about missing people because it is all that is on. I wonder, ARE THERE NO MISSING blacks? seems odd that you don't really feel we are important enough to report on?
Posted By Anonymous Melissa, Bloomington, MN : 1:53 PM ET
Your statement..."You know, I don't think our viewers are very interested in this case.", makes me wonder, who are your viewers. Or, better yet, do you even know who they are. You might as well have said "Your white viewers would not be interested." Thereby answering your question..."Is that racism or realism?" It's both. It's REALLY RACIST. Of course you can't cover every missing or murdered person. But,the coverage of the news is expected to be fair and honest. Rationalizing the root cause of "Missing White Woman Syndrome" Leads me to believe that not only does the new media not acknowledge the concerns or interests of the minority segement of their viewership, they also think we are stupid.
Posted By Anonymous C. Smith, Centreville, VA : 1:53 PM ET
I strongly agree with this article. The question is not "how should we decide whose life or loss is covered" as all life is precious and the loss of any human life is an equal loss - however the question should be "to what extent should these missing persons cases be covered". Certain cases are discussed for months on end (usually those involving young, middle class white females) to the exclusion of variance in the demographic profile of other victims of crime. Considering how expensive air time is, such focus on a few cases appears imbalanced. Violence against women is an enormous problem in society - yet most networks focus on the so-called "white damsels in distress". This is quite obvious and only further heightens the notion that if a person is poor and non-white - they are somehow not newsworthy.
Posted By Anonymous Sema Rence, Toronto Ontario : 1:54 PM ET
The truth is, it all comes down to the all-mighty dollar. The media today chooses those stories that will get "the most bang for the buck"; the new measure of whether a story is newsworthy.
As I was growing up (now 47), I was taught to respect the media as "the watchdog of the people" What determined whether a story was newsworthy was based on whether the information had meaning and/or value to the general populace, from an ethical, moral, or political viewpoint.
For example, one of your (CNN) headlines at the moment reads, "Ugliest dog's girlfriend has warts and a mohawk".
Posted By Anonymous Mick, Advance, NC : 1:55 PM ET
This is America- and this is how society works- unfortunately. It will continue to be the way it is forever. As long as newscasters contiue to report on these "white" cases the American public will continue to watch.
For example, last week the GREAT Kirby Puckett died and his was death was completely overshadowed the very next morning by Dana Reeve.
Posted By Anonymous Quinn St.Paul MN : 1:55 PM ET
Well, then freakin' make an effort (if the story is interesting) if the person is "black, Latino, old, fat or ugly"! It does not make them any less worthy of our attention. Make the story interesting.
Posted By Anonymous Charles Mercier Moab, Utah : 1:57 PM ET
"I've never, not even once, seen a story spiked because the victim was not attractive enough or the wrong race."

Don't you think that's because stories about missing minorities never even get presented to producers and editors in the first place? There are thousands of missing persons cases a year; any one of them could potentially be a news story. The ones that reflect middle-class white viewers (read: advertising targets) back to themselves are the ones that get attention. The others are so below-the-radar--maybe for police and DAs as well as the news media--that they don't even get the opportunity to be "spiked."
Posted By Anonymous Laura, Boston, MA : 1:57 PM ET
Despite an omnipresent temptation to harangue "the media" for their sensationalist reporting, and having long tired of the recursive "ratings-determined programming" argument in which readers and journalists chase each other along the downward spiral with no sense of who's leading, I must say that in this case, as in many cases, race is circumstantial. The damsel-in-distress fable has always drawn attention--but let's have a look at what makes a damsel. It's not race, but context and juxtaposition. The lack of connection to any criminal element, the unexpectedness of the tragedy, the disjunction between the victim's life and the crime--these make the story "special." Present us a story of a young woman of any race--a college student, a wife, mother, professional, what have you--who has no connections to anything that might suggest the predictability of the crime, or the likeliness of its having occurred, and you'll get your media storm. If you want it. Drama--melodrama, really, which is what this is--derives from the extent to which the narrative elements are fantastic. Give us a dramatic death, give us a tropical island, give us the seamy side of the average America we rarely think about in specific terms, and you'll secure your ratings. Pretty is better than not pretty, or course, if that's your business; rich is better than poor, young is better than old. If you're going to present these cases like so many episodes of primetime TV, we shall treat them as such. If there's a lack of black, Latino, Asian, people finding themselves in circumstances extraordinary enough to warrant the media attenion that women such as those you've listed get, then the problem of race we need to address as a nation is larger than the individual case reporting.

Newspeople have it tough, no doubt--but you're the ones with the airwaves and presses. People follow the news, as the saying goes. You have the power to elevate the national discourse--but that's the hard way of doing things. Which used to be the American Way. Or so I once read in a newspaper.
Posted By Anonymous Michael, New York NY : 1:58 PM ET
I think there is a bit of truth in your suggestion that people may be more interested in pretty, white (and, might I add, relatively well-to-do) women who go missing. But I also believe that contributing to that reality is the fact that many people are interested in it because the media tells them (by extensive coverage) that they should be interested in such stories. In other words, if the media were to cover related stories concerning minorities or people who aren't socio-economically privileged, we as a society may deem those incidents more "interesting" after a while. Like it or not, the media has an important role in shaping our collective values by deciding what is or is not newsworthy. It does not merely mirror what we as a society think is important. As such, media outlets should take a hard look at what they cover and how it can affect our societal values over the long term.
Posted By Anonymous Lauren in Salem, Oregon : 2:13 PM ET
I really think that with 24 hour TV news shows you guys need to find stuff to fill your time... hence, you talk about missing or dead women and children. Frankly, I wish you all would stop filling the news time discussing these stories. I don't think it happens any more now then it did 40 years ago, but, talking about 24 hours a day leaves an impression that we are all more vulnerable. I personally don't think that is good and profesional Journalism.
Posted By Anonymous Marie, New Boston, NH : 2:15 PM ET
As a journalist I feel that a story that falls by the wayside is no different than the ones we spike. Whatever the method, the information still fails to reach our readers/viewers and that's where the problem lies. To use a friend's term, this should be our 'collective shame'. There's no question that if we cover the white women and not the ones of color we're perpetuating racism. It's proof that we as journalists share the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. The very definition of racism!
Posted By Anonymous Toya, Chicago, IL : 2:15 PM ET
Complete and total B.S. This is exactly why nightly news it dead. I get my news from the internet as opposed to watching it on T.V. For example, 24 Hour a day nonstop Cnn coverage of X news story with no breaking events, such as Katrina or 9/11. There are other events going on arent there? Does every show 24 hours a day have to touch the same topic. If no news is breaking stop trying to create it.

Next, cover something else going on in the world. Americans are constantly complaining about the lack of foreign news, well, start covering news from all over the world. We dont need a 30 second around the globe report, how about a whole show focused on the worlds events, daily, not weekly. I understand you want to break the big story, but go take a nap in the news van till something happens.

Oh yeah, and dont forget, news only happens in New York, L.A. and D.C.

Gotta go, a hurricane will be here in the next 8 months, must be on HIGH alert for hurricanes, as they may strike without warning at any time during the season.
Posted By Anonymous John, Jacksonville Beach FL : 2:16 PM ET
The true shame, of course, is that outlets like CNN cover Natalie Holloway day and night (the poor girl), but ignore Darfur, the President's penchant for ignoring laws and ripping up the Constitution, the obvious lies of one entire political party, and most of the stories that affect every single American. The tragedy is not that you cover Natalie Holloway as opposed to the thousands of other girls who suffer her fate. The true tragedy is that you don't bother covering the news that actually matters.
Posted By Anonymous RH, Brooklyn, NY : 2:17 PM ET
I absolutely adore it when media members exclude themselves from culpability by discussing "the media" in the third person. Absolutely cases featuring attractive white women receive more media attention than do stories with minorities at their core. Bottom line: Media and the culture as a whole have a recursive relationship. That is, the media both shapes AND reflects the larger culture.
Posted By Anonymous LR, Jacksonville, Florida : 2:32 PM ET
I quess I'm just out of the loop, because most of the blogs that I've read states something to the fact that the media is big business and is giving us the news we want....keeping the ratings high...., but guess what I've never informed the media that I would prefer to watch WHITE MISSING WOMEN over any other missing person, so I think the media has to take responsability over their own actions.
Posted By Anonymous a citizen of the USA. Winston Salem, NC : 2:33 PM ET
It pains me to see the top stories on CNN are about missing people and how we should have handled "Katrina". "Missing persons" heart wrenching. Did we forget that there is an unneccesary war going on and that people are dying everyday? Darfur, and dying children in Africa. Oh, wait we live in America, U.S.A.. Who cares right? I DO! It's a tragedy and a shame.
Posted By Anonymous Nicole Buffalo, NY : 2:34 PM ET
I agree wholeheartedly that there is a definite bias toward covering missing white women and (seemingly) no one else.

Every missing person case deserves coverage, BUT they generally should not be covered on national networks unless there's a reason that affects the nation. The local (and maybe adjoining local) news outlets should be the ones publicizing missing person cases and (hopefully) doing so in a way that treats every missing person as equally valuable, not just the missing white women.
Posted By Anonymous John, Atlanta, GA : 2:49 PM ET
It's a sad day when people are actually fighting about which murder victim should be talked about. Is it possible people can actually feel jealous or begrudging of a murdered and raped white person being given media coverage that is not being given to someone of a different race at that moment? Crazy.
Posted By Anonymous Eva, Richmond, Indiana : 2:50 PM ET
It seems that the main problems with CNN's many stories of missing or murdered white damsels are those of priority and balance. Even on nights when there has been genuine news, such as the Hamas win in a democratic election Palestine or the sale of American ports to Dubai, 360 will open with twenty minutes of impassioned commentary on the Petersons or Holloways followed, by ads for Cover Girl, before getting on with five minutes' coverage of stories of genuine and widespread importance. This is why I have learned to wait for Jon Stewart to give me the real news of the day.
Posted By Anonymous Jim Clemmer, Clarksville, Tennessee : 3:00 PM ET
Why not keep reporting on the pretty ones while using them as poster children for all those unnamed others. For example, how about consistently adding a short report about the other missing women (with pictures) smack in the middle of the main coverage so that people are forced to watch whether they want to or not. The media may just be surprised how much interest there actually is out there for the "... black, Latino, Asian, old, fat, or ugly...".
Posted By Anonymous Barbara Jary , Bedford, Texas : 3:05 PM ET
Cover all the missing white women you want but don't make it the center of the news. These stories are essentially local interest stories. Why hasn't CNN been covering the Enron trial? It is the largest corporate failur in the history of our country. We're lucky to hear a passing mention of it in the news. The second largest oil spill in U.S. history occurred this month in Alaska. I haven't hear a single mention of this story on CNN. These stories are of national and world interest. A missing white, black, blue or green woman is a story of local interest. Cover the real news.
Posted By Anonymous N. Horn, Knoxville, TN : 3:06 PM ET
perhaps the conundrum you as "journalists" face is, you are trying to serve 2 masters - "entertainment" and "news". Bottom line, when you get paid to "entertain"....the concept of journalim will exist as nothing more than a facade to make yourselves feel good about yourself and somehow worthy.
Posted By Anonymous Jim Lemons ,Iowa : 3:07 PM ET
Ha ha ha. As if the news is really the news anymore. This is entertainment, folks. Delivery of meaningful news on the networks is only something that, usually, happens by accident in the process of delivering dramatic stories sprinkled with ads.

People with more than two brain cells to rub together have been getting their news from the internet for years, where at least, you can easily filter out the BS and go straight to what interests you.
Posted By Anonymous Aaron, Romeoville, IL : 4:48 PM ET
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