Media coverage, in the form of television and radio news reports, special features, newspaper reports, magazine articles, Internet news and videos and even the writings of the blogosphere can be biased. Perhaps biased is a harsh word, sometimes the media can be very centered or concentrated in its viewpoint. A broad example of such media centering, is best shown through media reports about the lives of celebrities.
Take any married celeb couple, they may be recently married or in a mature marriage and the media is heavily focused on predicting the demise of their marriage, snooping out chances for an affair or foreseeing signs of married strife. This is just one example of media bias. Another typical, practically ancient bias is the MWWS or Missing White Woman Syndrome, also known as Missing White Girl Syndrome or Missing Pretty Girl Syndrome.
The Missing Pretty Girl Syndrome
This is not a syndrome where only white women seems to go missing but rather a syndrome that afflicts most media coverage of recent and older times. This term is used to illustrate the vast and obviously greater proportion of media coverage and notoriety, a missing white woman case receives as opposed to any other missing person case. So basically the media bias centers around cases involving white women who are missing, with the coverage being larger and more focused or specialized.
In comparison, cases of non white or male missing persons are ignored or covered to a very small degree. A missing person is a missing person, be it black or white or male or female, can the media actually be biased in its coverage? Can certain missing person cases be fawned over and hyped and publicized excessively over other cases, just because of the ethnicity and look of the victim?
Examples of the Missing Pretty Girl Syndrome
The following examples will illustrate this media coverage gap better:
Laci Peterson was 7 and a half months pregnant when she went missing in December 2002 in California. Her story made the media go berserk. It was a piteous case indeed, young, white pregnant woman missing, distraught husband and family. Then 4 months later, her body washed up on a beach in San Francisco. This was truly a horrific crime, her husband was found guilty and convicted for killing her and their unborn son. A few months before Laci's case, Evelyn Hernandez went missing in San Francisco.
She was nine months pregnant and her 5 year old son Alex was missing as well. She was also young, working as a nurse. Yet her story featured twice on America's Most Wanted and though her body was found, her son still remains missing. There was a very big difference in the amount of media coverage given to 2 very similar cases and critics put it down to the fact that Laci was white and Evelyn Hernandez was South American.
In May 2005, bright and pretty high school student Natalee Holloway went missing in Aruba, while on a trip. This time, powerful networks like Fox News and CNN covered the story and drowned the airwaves with endless and continuous reports about the missing teen. The most newsworthy and news-breaking story at that time was this case. In contrast, the story of LaToyia Figueroa, a Hispanic-African-American woman, who disappeared in 2005 in Philadelphia, received minimal coverage.
Figueroa was 5 months pregnant at the time and was found dead, a month after her disappearance. Her case was largely unknown and it was only after local bloggers spread the word extensively on the Internet, did the media focus their spotlight on this missing person incident.
Even with children, this media bias appears to exist. Take the case of Jada Justice. This two-year-old African-American went missing in June 2009 and a large-scale search for her took place in the town of Gary, Indiana. While the local news stations and media bodies did cover the story, it never garnered national attention, the way the Caylee Anthony disappearance case did and still does. Different crimes, different results but when and as the story is covered, some features appears to be the same, the victims are mostly:
- White, female and young
- Coming from middle class or wealthy backgrounds
- Reasonably attractive and appealing
- Clean-cut and family oriented
- A mystery lies behind their disappearance
Media coverage and reporting is crucial in missing people cases, as they help in spreading awareness of the case and so help law enforcement forces in learning and gathering information. A picture of a missing woman displayed on a news channel could result in someone identifying her and coming to her aid. So when coverage is biased or less, such that one case gets completely ignored, it hurts the chances of saving the victim or catching those who committed the crime.
Plus, don't other groups of people deserve sympathy, attention and fair media coverage? What about missing white males or missing minorities or anyone other that a white female? Is everything the media does based on increasing ratings and viewership numbers or garnering national attention? What has happened to fairness and truthfulness in the field of journalism? It is a sad day, when viewers and readers must doubt the authenticity and fairness of media reports as being prejudiced and tainted, all in a desperate race to increase ratings.