Most of the missing adults tracked by the FBI are men, and more than one-in-five of those abducted or kidnapped are black.
But you might not get that impression from news media, and some journalism watchdogs are taking the industry to task for what they see as a disproportionate emphasis on cases in which white girls and women — overwhelmingly upper-middle class and attractive — disappear.
Television executives, who receive much of the criticism, defend their coverage. They stress that cases such as the recent disappearance in Aruba of 18-year-old Natalee Holloway of Alabama are extraordinary and would be newsworthy no matter her background.
Indeed, no critic denies that the Holloway case and other disappearances are wrenching for those involved. But some insist that media attention on so few people overshadows the more than 100,000 active files on missing adults and children currently tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“To be blunt, blond white chicks who go missing get covered and poor, black, Hispanic or other people of color who go missing do not get covered,” said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism. “You’re more likely to get coverage if you’re attractive than if you’re not.”
Said Dori Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, a group that works to improve diversity in newsrooms and news coverage: “In terms of giving citizens the information they need, I think we’re failing because we’re not giving an accurate portrayal of the world around them.”
On its Web site, the National Center for Missing Adults profiles more than 1,000 individuals, including photos, physical descriptions and narratives of when they were last seen. They’re young and old, working-class, professional, all backgrounds.
Most never get mentioned in their local newspapers or television broadcasts, said Erin Bruno, a case manager at the center who tries to interest media in publicizing missing adults.
Of the nearly 47,600 active adult cases tracked by the FBI as of the beginning of May, 53 percent were men and 29 percent black. About 62 percent of those missing are white, but that figure includes Hispanics.
Many consider women more sympathetic potential victims than men — and white women even more so, said Kristal Brent Zook, a professor at Columbia University’s journalism school who wrote an article published in this month’s Essence magazine about missing black women who are largely ignored.
“Who’s appealing? Who’s sexy?” she asked.
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