Monday, August 22, 2005

White Women in Peril

There has been some discussion in the media lately as to whether the coverage of Natalee Holloway's disappearance is too excessive. First, Bob Costas refused to guest host Larry King Live when the show was devoted to Holloway's disappearance. [I find it humorous that some people are now hailing Costas a journalist with integrity for refusing to cover a topic already so well covered. While I agree he has every right to not cover topics, I think Costas is a tool. The only time I watch anything he hosts is the during the Olympics and I've hated his coverage since 1996 when he made fun of the synchronized swimmers. The Olympics is one of the few times we see any network primetime coverage of women in sports and Costas always undermines it. For example, when interviewing the U.S. Women's Olympic Soccer Team in 2004, he fell back on asking Brandi Chastain about celebrating in her sports bra years earlier after winning the World Cup].

Then I was reading one of my favorite comics, The Boondocks, and came across this strip. Some's knee-jerk to this comic might be anger about the artist's apparent disregard for sensitivity of the Holloway case, but that would require the reader to ignore the tongue-in-cheek nature of this valid critique. I agree with the sentiment that the line between news coverage and "reality" TV can be blurred when news is pursued and edited for the sake of ratings.

News networks' decision to give preferential treatment to missing middle class white women reminds me of the coverage of suburban high school shootings. Both are tragedies. But violence amongst youth in America only received ample coverage when it moved to the suburbs; when it became "Our nation's children." Urban violence amongst the poor and minorities is considered a given, perhaps a shame, but not really something we can do anything about.

Consider the coverage of Laci Peterson versus LaToyia Figueroa. Both were young, attractive pregnant women who were missing. But Peterson was white and married while Figueroa was black and unmarried. When I typed "LaToyia Figueroa" into CNN.com's search engine today, I found two matches: one article from when she was first reported missing, a second when her body was found. When I typed in "Laci Peterson" just minutes later into the same search engine, there are 233 articles. Yes, many of them cover the Peterson trial, a stage not yet reached in the Figeroa case, but 35 of the 233 articles were written from the time Laci Peterson went missing until her remains were identified.

Just because I am restless with the way much of TV news coverage is presented doesn't mean I'm not sympathetic towards the victims and their families (even those who benefit from the bias). I was high school classmates with a woman who was murdered at age 19 while vacationing in Costa Rica. I was a student at a small college when one of the 1,300 students was killed by her ex-boyfriend in the dorm. If anything, my proximity to those cases (and the media frenzy that followed both) makes me more likely to tune in to similar news stories. This doesn't mean I accept everything I'm told. In the case of Jennifer Wilbanks, the so-called "Runaway Bride," I never accepted the orders that I was supposed to feel outrage at her faked abduction.

The website White Women in Peril offers an ongoing critique of the media's portrayal of these cases. While I don't agree with all the sentiments expressed on the site, they do have a very interesting quiz. While much of it is written in jest, I think it says a lot about our society. The link leading to the survey says "Ladies, determine your white woman in peril cable news interest rating!" By answering a series of questions regarding everything from age, race, sexual preference, hair color and even if your family's home can accommodate news vans, you are given a score out of 100. I scored "36 (out of 100 +5 bonus points): Very little chance of coverage." I have no idea how each question is weighed. I'm guessing the points I did receive are for being young and white with a family that would be willing to go on the news and plea for my return. I'm guessing that because I'm a lesbian, don't go to church and my family has no wedding photos or bikini shots of me hurt my score.


My current to do list:

Call CC fraud people
Job Hunt
Mail jeans/cd/hubcap program to Tony and to Katie
Therapist
Laundry
Call Kara
Call Katie

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