My research revealed that the topic of Missing Black Women’s coverage being, well, missing – is an issue that many bloggers have covered. Has their reporting improved the relevance or the exposure of this problem? I can’t say, but it is a small comfort that somewhere in cyberspace, people are at least talking about it.
Abagond reports about a New York City based missing woman whom I mentioned earlier in my blog, Romona Moore. What’s disturbing about the story is that her abductors were hoping that her disappearance would set off media alarms. When it didn’t, they murdered her and abducted another young lady. What was also interesting were the comments that suggest that the malicious torture Moore endured at the hands of her captors was more akin to what white males would do to his victims. Moore’s abductors/murderers were African-American.
Average Bro.com blogger shares my sentiment that it would be helpful if Black female television personalities like Oprah Winfrey, Tyra, Wendy Williams and Monique covered these stories. Nancy Grace and Jane Velez-Mitchell certainly cover them regardless of who the victims are.
Let’s Talk Honestly posted a petition asking for more media coverage for missing black women.
What About Our Daughters suggests that CNN replaced a report about ten missing black women in favor of an entertainment piece on Paris Hilton.
Black Voices takes a more personal approach - interviewing family members of many of the missing. But it is suggested that the ultra-feministic, stereotypical image of black women being “strong,” “independent,” and “self-sufficient,” somehow diminishes the need for any help in solving their disappearances.
USA Today Online picked up “a” story about college student Tamika Huston, one of the missing young ladies that I mentioned in my mid-term piece that received four media mentions of her disappearance compared to the over 400 for Laci Peterson. But Black Press USA reported that Tamika Huston’s body was found more than a year her disappearance.
There were a few blogs that posted information either about particular missing black women or about the perception of the lack of media coverage about their disappearances.
So yes, with some digging, I was able to unearth a little more than “chatter,” however, not being able to find any substantial coverage of missing black women, especially when compared to that of their white peers was alarming and depressing. Considering the notion that dangerous people understand how little value is placed on black women’s lives, makes black women easy targets. If law enforcement agencies fail to see the need to respond to the pleas of families trying to file missing persons reports on their loved ones, this unfortunate cycle will continue. And if the media doesn’t see it as its duty to cover these stories, one cannot help but to question the overall integrity of modern-day media today.
The topic of Missing Women is an important one for me. As a citizen, a woman and a feminist, I’m concerned in general about the large number of persons that disappear periodically in this country every day – many of whom are never found. For some reason, this issue does not seem to get anywhere near the amount of attention it requires, especially in order to be of any real assistance for these individuals to be found. The fact that most of the missing are actually men, the fact that many are of a variety of races, the fact that many are children is not a deciding factor in news reporting. The general media tends to focus on one particular demographic: young, attractive, white women of a certain class and certain level of education. I couldn’t help but to think to myself, if God-forbid, I suddenly disappear, or perhaps one of my friends (of color) or someone in my family, that our stories would not be told nor treated in the same manner as some of other friends, who are white, wopretty and well educated. This observation saddened me and was provocative enough for me to do some research in order to confirm if my observations and opinions had any validity to them.
Overall, with respect to the fact that this is a journalism course, what truly inspired me to explore this topic was to explore how reporters present information to the public because news coverage of issues sets the tone for how audiences perceive things. This was most significant to me.
Mitrice Richardson’s story really laid the groundwork for my interest. What I remembered about her story was the brief mention of it back in September on the national news and then a brief mention of it about a month later. What I remembered most was that Mitrice was a beautiful, young woman whom I assumed has a promising future. Once the story aired, it was easily forgotten – like it vanished from the airwaves like Mitrice vanished into thin air. But when the story re-aired, realizing a month had gone by I got this sick feeling in my stomach. What increased the sensation were the details surrounding her case. The fact that she was about to embark on her Ph.D. was hardly mentioned. The fact that her family and friends who loved the caring, lively woman vigorously pursued both the local and national press to air the story of her disappearance was not apparent. Unsavory aspects of the case seemed to be the focus: that Mitrice was arrested due to non-payment of a restaurant check. That Mitrice’s behavior was suspicious with the possibility of an underlining psychological spin. When her grandmother attempted to pay the check my telephone, the payment was refused. When traces of marijuana were discovered in her car, it was impounded and Mitrice was arrested. The story gets even murkier when the LAPD finally released Mitrice, in the dead of night, from a police station located in an isolated, not very populated section of Malibu, without her car, escort or cash.
Nancy Grace and Jane Velez Mitchell are two journalist personalities who are at the forefront of publicizing Missing Persons cases. These cases are not very popular because the subject matter is heart-wrenching and depressing, the end results or conclusions are not very positive and the stories are often filled with violence, murderous and/or sexual in nature. Also, these women are often victims of an acquaintance, often a husband, boyfriend, neighbor, etc., which doesn’t make the reporting of story any more endearing. Despite the controversial aspects of these cases, Grace and Velez, especially Grace, has taken these cases head-on, going where many networks and media outlets dare not go, placing the stories of missing women very much at the center of their reporting.
Both journalists have come under fire for their controversial, aggressive reporting styles. Nancy Grace was recently accused of contributing to a mother’s suicide – after the mother was accused of killing her missing, infant toddler.
And Jane Velez, although a roll model for many because she kicked alcoholism, is a strong animal rights advocate and out lesbian – has come under scrutiny because of her border lining coverage of the Michael Jackson molestation case.
Despite the obvious sensationalism attached to their reporting, I cringe when I think what about what families would do without these media dynamos. Both have covered Mitrice’s story. Here Jane Velez-Mitchell questions the treatment Mitrice received by the LAPD.
Is there a relationship with journalists and their material? Is it feminism why Grace and Velez choose to cover these stories where no other journalists will devote as much time and research? Is it sexism or misogyny why big names like Letterman, Leno and the rest, etc are not covering missing person stories? And even bigger question is why aren’t black television personalities like Oprah, Tyra and the like not covering the stories of missing black women?
In the “Invisible Damsel: Differences in How National Media Outlets Framed the Coverage of Missing Black and White Women in the Mid-2000’s,” Moody, Dorries and Blackwell make the case that missing Black women are conspicuously absent from the headlines. There seems to be an assumption, supported by media ratings that Whites are unable to connect with the story unless they see themselves as a possible victim. The news media, serving as a gatekeeper of information is very influential in how it chooses the stories it reports, basically setting an agenda and affecting the views of the consumer. Apparently research has shown that the more stories the news media does on a particular topic, the more importance the audience attaches to the subject. This means the reverse must be true – the less the media reports on a particular topic – there is nothing there for the audience to attach to. Out of sight, out of mind. In other words, if missing black women are not topics of news stories, people may feel that these cases are less important.
Moody, Dorries and Blackwell suggest that bias in the media could be possibly related to the lack of journalistic power in the newsroom by people of color. Although there are black anchors and reporters they have very little decision making power in the execution of news stories. From a piece of research they uncovered, in areas where people of color account for the most of the population, those in charge of the news programming did not reflect the make-up of the population covered. And the people of color who sat in on news meetings were not in positions of authority. This very fact can indeed influence how news is reported and opens the door for the possibility of bias.
An unfortunate but common trend in cases where the missing person is a black woman, when news outlets finally get around to reporting the story, they make it a point to emphasize the very fact that missing black women do not get nearly as much media attention as young, missing attractive white women. I found this to be one of the most disturbing points of all because as recent as October of this year, a story was slated to discuss the very topic of the trend of missing minorities not receiving equitable reporting. The irony is that CNN actually cancelled airing the piece in favor of a fluff piece about Paris Hilton. So in essence, the fact that the media itself refuses to cover the story is news is an unfortunate reflection on the news media in general.
The main point is that framing stories forms public opinion and those reporting and framing these stories possess a large amount of power. The most revealing and troubling piece of Moody, Dorries and Blackwell’s research is their collection of transcripts of four missing women during the mid 2000. Two were white, two were black. Out of a total of 670 news transcripts from major networks like CBS and NBC, only 9 stories, which amounts to 1.2% of the news reports covered the black subjects.
So taking this into consideration, in a country that insists it ensures equality and fairness to all its citizens, according to Moody, Dorries and Blackwell, it is clear that if you don’t fit a particular demographic, then your family might not receive as much assistance from the media in helping you find your missing loved one.
Natalee Holloway, Laci Peterson and Elizabeth Smart have something in common with Romona Moore, Shanita Brown and Mitrice Richardson. All six women were the unfortunate victims of Missing Person Cases. What they don’t have in common is equitably extensive media coverage surrounding their disappearances. Moore, Brown and Richardson, all three black women, received scant press while the Holloway, Peterson and Smart cases, all three white female victims, were widely publicized in local, national and sometimes International News outlets.
FBI Statistics state that close to a million Americans were reported missing last year. A disproportionate amount, approximately one third of this figure consists of African Americans. While the media seems attentive to missing persons cases when the victims are white, female, attractive middle-class and well educated – the response to black women can be best described as mild, light, even negligible.
I’m interested in exploring the disparities in how these cases are featured.
OUTLINE OF STORY IDEA
I wanted to explore what I see as the unbalanced media coverage of certain media events, specifically surrounding the disappearances of black women in this country.
We all remember the extensive coverage with respect to the disappearances of college student Natelee Holloway back in 2005, Laci Peterson and Elizabeth Smart both in 2002. Women vanishing into thin air is big news. But it seems that this news is only prudent and worth publicizing if the young woman is Caucasian, and often blonde, middle-class and above and well educated. Our nation was kept up-to-date on many of the details of their disappearances. We all felt the loss, the pain and suffering that their families and loved ones had to experience.
This loss, pain and suffering regarding missing person cases and how the media regards such cases is really what influenced me to focus my project on this plight. The Jaycee Duggard story and one particular reporters angle was definitely the inspiration for this focus.
But the mysterious disappearance of Mitrice Richardson, a petite, beautiful young African American teacher in mid September of this year really piqued my interest because her disappearance was barely picked up by the media. According to news reports, Mitrice was arrested for intoxication and failure to pay an $89 restaurant bill. Some might say an arrest in this case was a bit extreme. The details of her police station visit are sketchy. Her family and friends were notified hours after her arrest that Mitrice was released on her own recognizance, in the dead of night, alone, penniless, without being provided any form of transportation or escort. Since that alleged release, Mitrice Richardson has been missing now for over two months.
So, the question whether or not the media treats all missing persons, across the board, with a fair amount of coverage will be placed under scrutiny in my blog “Unbowed: About the Unfair Media Coverage, Unjust Treatment and Uneven Justice Surrounding Missing and Murdered Black Women.”
The Invisible Damsel: The Differences in How National Media Outlets Framed the Coverage of Missing Black and White Women in the mid-2000s, by Mia Moody, Bruce Dorries, and Harriet Blackwell. 2008.
Race Biases Affect More Than Just Headlines. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Kane, E. 2004.
The Media and Truth: Is There a Moral Duty? The Washington Times. Johnson, P. December 1992
Some might consider this a small victory – that Mitrice Richardson’s disappearance is featured in a People Magazine cover story. The tragically sad part about this – is light is shed on the magnitude of Missing Persons in this country – specifically women and children. Why aren’t these stories more pronounced than the indiscretions of Tiger Woods? Our priorities are clearly in the wrong place.
I spoke with Dr. Ronda Hampton, Clinical Psychologist, personal acquaintance, once university advisor and one of the most vocal supporters of Mitrice Richardson. Dr. Hampton has been very active in the search and community outreach regarding Mitrice’s case. More than anything else, what she wanted to emphasize is that race was not at all at the core of what happened to Mitrice and that media exposure wasn’t necessarily the reason why her story wasn’t widely circulated.
She explained that there are many elements surrounding Mitrice’s disappearance that can be found in similar cases. Basically the general public is not aware of how prevalent the issue of missing persons is and most cases are not publicized at all. Also, unfortunately, there is often some controversy surrounding some portion of these cases on many levels. This was the case in the investigation of Holloway’s disappearance as well as Dugard’s. Dr. Hampton is careful in blaming the authorities: the LAPD and the media specifically on any missteps relative to Mitrice’s case. It would seem abundantly clear that releasing a young woman, alone, into the dead of night after allegedly being intoxicated and experiencing a possible mental health episode without money and or transportation would seem in poor judgment. Especially if this organization is a law enforcement agency. Dr. Hampton pointed to the similarities in the Morgan Harrington case in which it would seem peculiar that stadium officials would eject a presumably injured young woman (Harrington) outside of a concert venue, all alone. These authorities, according to Dr. Hampton, are not blameless in these instances and she questions the integrity and ethics of those who have made possibly fatal errors in their handling of these cases. But it was not apparent that racism contributed to these levels of bad judgment in Mitrice’s case. With respect to the media, Dr. Hampton cites, had Mitrice fit a particular ‘profile’ she might have received much more media exposure. But she does not indict the media overall in how they report missing person cases as there might be a myriad of reasons why they choose to focus on one story over another. But one particular opportunity came up where a very popular talk show host invited her and the Richardson family to come on national television to tell Mitrice’s story. The twist, they had to insist that racism was the only reason why Mitrice was not receiving any justice. Of course, Dr. Hampton and the Richardson’s declined the invitation. It is Dr. Hampton’s belief that the focus gets so wrapped up on the topic of race that the most important issue of all gets lost: a young woman has disappeared. Regardless of her race, her class, her level of education, her age, her disappearance should be investigated fairly, just like everyone else’s.
Exactly one month after the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson in Malibu, California, Morgan Harrington vanished after attending a Metallica concert in Charlottesville, Virginia on October 17th, 2009.
Like in Mitrice’s case, there are suspicious circumstances surrounding Morgan’s disappearance. Eyewitnesses report seeing an ‘injured,’ (suggesting she might have been a victim of assault) woman resembling Morgan attempting to re-gain access into the concert venue, John Paul Jones Stadium, after possibly being ejected. But authorities, including stadium management denies that she was expelled and left outside the stadium, alone.
The outpouring of support for Morgan has been intense, including a media blitz with NBC’s Today and CBS’s The Early Show, as well as Dr. Phil, and Nancy Grace. Even Ed Smart, father of Elisabeth Smart visited Morgan’s family to lend his support.
After the third day of Morgan’s disappearance, the FBI was called in to investigate her case. To this day, the FBI is not investigating the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson despite her family’s and friends repeated requests.
I wanted to explore what I see as the unbalanced media coverage of certain media events, specifically surrounding the disappearances of young women in this country.
We all remember the extensive coverage with respect to the disappearances of college student Natelee Holloway back in 2005, Laci Peterson and Elizabeth Smart both in 2002. Women vanishing into thin air is big news. But it seems that this news is only prudent and worth publicizing if the young woman is Caucasian, and often blonde, middle-class and above and well educated. Our nation was kept up-to-date on many of the details of their disappearances. We all felt the loss, the pain and suffering that their families and loved ones had to experience. This loss, pain and suffering regarding missing person cases and how the media regards such cases is really what influenced me to focus my project on this plight. The Jaycee Duggard story and one particular reporters angle was definitely the inspiration for this on missing persons/girls-women/women of color.
But the missing Romona Moore, Shanita Brown were hardly at all mentioned in the big media outlets.
And the mysterious disappearance of Mitrice Richardson, a petite, African American teacher in mid September of this year really piqued my interest not only because her disappearance was barely picked up by the media but because of the strange instances that riddled her case.
According to news reports, Mitrice was arrested for intoxication and failure to pay a restaurant bill. Some might say an arrest in this case was a bit extreme, particularly if the person has no former police record. The details of her police station visit are unfortunately sketchy. Mitrice was allegedly released on her own recognizance by the LAPD, in the middle of the night, alone, without any money and without being provided any form of transportation or escort. Since that release, Mitrice Richardson has been missing now for over two months.
So far, my research has uncovered that there is a huge network of missing persons, most of whom are women and children. 900,000 people were reported missing last year, with an estimated 2,300 adults and children reported missing on a daily basis in the US. The Elizabeth Smart and the Jaycee Duggard stories shed light on a particularly disturbing problem in this country. Fortunately they are still alive to talk about their experiences. But information about those who are never found and why - are much more murkier. With respect to women of color, the lack of media attention as well as lack of law enforcement intervention and community outreach is unfortunately a miserable fact that persists. The somewhat overdue capture of sexual predator Anthony Sowell in Detroit is proof of this very sad fact. How is it that over ten citizens within a community can vanish off the face of the earth and the media not take notice, and this information not be publicized and decimated? Since African-Americans make up almost a disproportionate one third of the nation’s total reported missing, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. So, the question whether or not the media treats all missing persons, across the board, with a fair amount of coverage will be placed under scrutiny in my blog “Unbowed: About the Unfair Media Coverage, Unjust Treatment and Uneven Justice Surrounding Missing and Murdered Black Women.”