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Little Girl Missing in California
February 5, 2002 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Little Girl Missing in California Is this front-page national news because she is the only missing child in America, or because she's a cute white girl from the suburbs?
posted by kirkaracha (38 comments total)

 
(Giving this story the benefit of the doubt) Stranger abductions (and in this circumstance, with a child apparently taken from her house in the night, in particular) are actually very rare. Such a tragedy happened to a non-white family in Eastern Canada last year and it was national news. Abducted children have usually been taken by a family member or are runaways (if you define children as anyone under 16, as police stats usually do).
posted by jokeefe at 11:58 AM on February 5, 2002


Not sure. But the fact that the guy next door is being investigated make the story "of interest" in that we worry about strangers, kids in parks or out for a walk etc and this makes all things the home seem unsafe.
posted by Postroad at 12:12 PM on February 5, 2002


Troll.
posted by Holden at 12:15 PM on February 5, 2002


I think it's mostly because often these stories turn out to have strong melodramatic elements to them -- the little girl abducted from the bus station at Christmas got a lot of coverage as you'll recall, and she was definitely not a little white girl from the suburbs.

There's the "is she dead or alive?" angle, there's the "are the parents lying" (a la Jon Benet and Susan Smith) angle, the "things to be afraid of" angle...stories like these are pure gravy to the news media becaue there's no downside for them. Even if the kid never turns up there's the "what ever happened to?" angle...
posted by briank at 12:19 PM on February 5, 2002


She is the only missing child in America. Next question?
posted by brent at 12:20 PM on February 5, 2002


The question isn't 'Is this front-page national news because'...It is: is this front-page MetaFilter-quality posting material? ABTW, WTF is your point?
posted by Mack Twain at 12:24 PM on February 5, 2002


Hm. I wasn't aware that this was "front-page national news." This is the first I've heard of it, and it's on the web--a medium that lends itself well to non-front-page news.

If you want to find information on little white kids who are missing, it's not hard. If you want to find information on little non-white kids who are missing, it's not hard.
posted by rocketman at 12:26 PM on February 5, 2002


Oh yeah, and I second Holden's comment.
posted by rocketman at 12:27 PM on February 5, 2002


And I third it.
posted by evanizer at 12:28 PM on February 5, 2002


By far the most high-profile missing child case I can recall in the Detroit area involved a four-year-old African American boy whose mom claimed to have lost him in a shopping mall back in 1994. I'm pretty sure it made the national news. To my knowledge he's never been found.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:34 PM on February 5, 2002


Most missing children are abducted by parents or relatives, not strangers. This isn't mentioned in the article, so this article and stories like it reinforce the misconception that it's scary people outside the family rather than friends and neighbors you have to worry about.

Making a story like this national news implies that things like this rarely happen in the US. I hope that incidents like this are that rare, but I suspect they aren't.

And these stories usually only become national news when it's a cute white kid from the suburbs. Are those children really the most vulnerable, or is the media ignoring it when bad things happen to other kids.

WTF is your point?

WTF is your problem? How is this any less appropriate than the self-esteem article, "they can't find Ken Lay," or any other news story posted on the front page?
posted by kirkaracha at 12:38 PM on February 5, 2002


And these stories usually only become national news when it's a cute white kid from the suburbs.

Actually, it varies. Remember the 1997 case of little Sherrice Iverson, 7, and decidely non-white (but cute). She was kidnapped from an arcade in a casino and later found dead. It made national news. Here's one pretty complete archive.
posted by haqspan at 12:49 PM on February 5, 2002


GO PATRIOTS!!! Woooooooo!

It's not front page news here, we have other priorities in Boston. :)
posted by LinemanBear at 1:02 PM on February 5, 2002


This story was the lead item on the Today show this morning, and I imagine it got heavy coverage throughout the day.

kirkaracha: Show us some examples that back up your claim. From my perspective, the coverage of the Alexandra Flores abduction and murder is another contrary example. It got huge national coverage.
posted by rcade at 1:06 PM on February 5, 2002


I don't know whether or not this article is front page material, but I do know that once you have kids, you can forget about ever having a rational perspective on a story like this. It's truly horrifying...
posted by groundhog at 1:14 PM on February 5, 2002


I don't know whether or not this article is front page material, but I do know that once you have kids, you can forget about ever having a rational perspective on a story like this. It's truly horrifying...
posted by groundhog at 1:15 PM on February 5, 2002


Last summer there was quite a bit of national attention paid to two little girls from Chicago who simply vanished off the face of the earth one afternoon; they happen to be two poor black girls from an affordable-housing apartment complex on the South Side (just a few years previously they had lived in the Robert Taylor Homes project).

The attention paid to the case was proportionate given the lack of evidence or trails to follow, I believe.
posted by dhartung at 1:19 PM on February 5, 2002


It's a slow news day. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Enron, and the economy are so yesterday's news.
posted by chainring at 1:22 PM on February 5, 2002


especially around here. :\
posted by o2b at 1:30 PM on February 5, 2002


Whether or not missing-child cases get national news coverage depend largely on two things, neither of which have anything to do with race: 1) luck; 2) how good the parents are at playing the public relations game.

(1) can be as simple as the kid's picture catching the eye of an editor at a major-market TV station or a big-time newspaper (or, more likely, the kid being from a major city in the first place, as is the case here). American journalism flows downhill: The reason the New York Times is considered the "newspaper of record" - or was in the past, anyway - isn't because it's the most brilliantly written and edited journalistic outlet on the planet; it's because every other editor at every other journalistic outlet in the country looks at the Times when making their own decisions about what to cover. Many other big papers and TV stations have similar trickle-down effects.

As for (2), I'll just note that the only reason the Chandra Levy story ever got any play is because immediately after she disappeared, her family contacted a newly-created missing-child public relations organization staffed by professional PR people that know how to get press.


posted by aaron at 2:00 PM on February 5, 2002


Remember the 1997 case of little Sherrice Iverson?

Here's my 6 degrees of separation to her: Her abductor/murderer's friend who watched it without reporting the incident (David Cash)'s roommate at UC Berkeley (who appeared on 60 Minutes concerning the story)'s little sister's boyfriend is my roommate at UC Davis.
posted by Mach3avelli at 2:02 PM on February 5, 2002


official family sanctioned website.
posted by iceberg273 at 2:48 PM on February 5, 2002


It's not a troll, guys. The post was provacative, but I doubt kirkaracha's intention was to start arguments or make anyone look foolish.
posted by Doug at 3:10 PM on February 5, 2002


I don't want to be insensitive, but why is there a trust being set up in her name to help the family?

Their daughter is missing. Assuming the 7-year-old didn't pay the bills, I think this is unnecessary and inappropriate.
posted by jacobw at 3:26 PM on February 5, 2002


I agree concerning the trust fund. Symptomatic of the idea that that any tragedy is an excuse to raise and/or extort money. They're hurt, better send in the grief counselors, with lawyers close behind.

Regarding whether a missing girl merits front page coverage. No more and no less than other sensasionalistic but merely probabalistic stories, e.g., fires, car chases. Bread & circuses.

I don't feel any more or less sympathy for this girl and family than I do for millions suffering the same or worse fates worldwide. See the parsimony discussion at k5.
posted by mlinksva at 3:43 PM on February 5, 2002


> Their daughter is missing. Assuming the 7-year-old didn't
> pay the bills, I think this is unnecessary and
> inappropriate.

If it was my daughter I'd liquidate my house, car, anything and everything I have, to raise money to search for her. Also I expect I'd soon need an expensive lawyer (not that there's any other kind) to keep me out of jail after I punched out some vermin reporter for shoving a camcorder in my face.
posted by jfuller at 3:43 PM on February 5, 2002


Or, more likely, to defend yourself against the local cops and DA, who almost invariably start to suspect one or both parents as having killed the child, if he or she doesn't turn up within a few days.
posted by aaron at 3:59 PM on February 5, 2002


I didn't intend for my post to seem like a troll, and I apologize if the way I phrased my post made it seem like one.

rcade: Show us some examples that back up your claim.

If I had examples I would have posted them; I was asking a question based on my perception and the perceptions of the friends I've talked with about this. If my perception was wrong, as it seems from some of the comments, now I know better.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:09 PM on February 5, 2002


What jfuller said.
posted by davidmsc at 4:29 PM on February 5, 2002


I don't want to be insensitive, but why is there a trust being set up in her name to help the family?

How about to help the parents who have probably already missed wages, or will soon, because they aren't working. And then there are the expenses incidental to a full-scale kidnap situation -- counseling and legal representation being but two. There's also the cost of private investigators, administrative help (answering phones, keeping the household running, etc.), publicity materials such as posters, flyers, website design and hosting, extra phone lines or a toll-free number, and so on. Many of the services and items could be directly donated, but people often wish to aid families in these situations and a trust is the most "accountable" way to do so.

When Etan Patz disappeared more than twenty years ago, there was a fund set up which grew to tens of thousands of dollars. The parents used a bit of it, and left the rest to gain interest, and eventually used it to endow a scholarship which I believe aids formerly missing kids who had been recovered. Etan Patz has never been found.
posted by Dreama at 4:52 PM on February 5, 2002


I take back my comment above about the inappropriateness of a trust fund for the family. Hadn't considered the costs of running a proactive investigation. I stand by my more general comments about $ as the universal palliative, bread&circuses and parsimony.
posted by mlinksva at 5:00 PM on February 5, 2002


I didn't intend for my post to seem like a troll...

To some of these folks, any challenge to their milky warm, coddled point of view is a "troll". It's merely a way to run from an uncomfortable question or viewpoint.

Keep questioning.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 5:19 PM on February 5, 2002


Right, f&m, because you never run after you troll. You always hang around and debate ideas with others after your noble challenges to their coddled points of view.

But keep running. At least you're good at what you do.
posted by David Dark at 5:45 PM on February 5, 2002


It's the little details like this that probably make it front-page newsworthy:

from KGTV in San Diego:

< the parents of danielle van dam told investigators that the last time either of them saw their daughter was when damon van dam put her to bed about 10 p.m. friday, san diego police lt. boyd long said. his wife told police that when she returned from a night out with friends about 2:30 a.m. saturday, she noticed a side door open to the residence, but did not think to check danielle (pictured, left) or the girl's two young brothers.>>

Noticed a side door open at 2:30 AM and didn't think to check on the kids?

posted by Oriole Adams at 6:16 PM on February 5, 2002


The problem I had with your initial question, kirkaracha, is that it presumes our society is a place so hateful that we only care about kids in trouble if they're affluent and white.

That's a pretty strong claim to make without evidence, and it's the same kind of charge leveled at the media by people who think it ignores murders like the one last year in Wichita.

So which anecdotal evidence should we believe? The one where we only care for white victims, or the one where we don't care for white victims killed by African-Americans? Maybe we should just play it safe and believe the worst of ourselves at all times.
posted by rcade at 6:42 PM on February 5, 2002


Wow, jfuller, why are you so angry at reporters? I'm a reporter (although not the kind who uses a TV camera) and I've had to interview people who lost loved ones in shootings, car crashes, plane crashes and so on. It wasn't easy to do, certainly wasn't enjoyable, but it was my job and I did it. Do you think I'm vermin because I've done that?

Why would you punch me in the face if I knocked on your door and politely asked if I could talk to you? Wouldn't slamming the door be a sufficient response, if you didn't want to talk to me?

Do you believe movies and fictional TV shows portray reporters accurately? Maybe that's why you're so angry and you think reporters are vermin -- because you mistake fictional representations of reporters for reality. Perhaps you think movies and TV shows accurately portray cops, emergency room doctors and spies, too.

Or maybe you or someone you know really did have a bad encounter with a rude journalist with no people skills. If so, you have my sympathy. I've met my share of reporters who were jerks, just as I've met cops, DMV employees and car salesmen who were jerks. That doesn't mean all of them are jerks, or are "vermin" deserving of extermination.

Calling people "vermin" just because of how they have chosen to make a living isn't a useful way to look at the world.
posted by Holden at 11:20 AM on February 6, 2002


> I've had to interview people who lost loved ones in
> shootings, car crashes, plane crashes and so on.

Leave them alone, for Ghod's sake. Nobody has a "right to know" -- that's just the excuse used by vultures pandering to other vultures.

I see front-page closeups of weeping victims all the time. Nobody politely knocked on their doors, some creep with a camera just stuck it in their faces and hit the flash button. It's standard press procedure, and it's repellant.


> Do you believe movies and fictional TV shows portray
> reporters accurately?

I have no idea. I haven't had a TV for twenty years; it's so low IQ. How anyone could waste what little time life leaves us staring at the tube when they could be out doing something or learning something or making something is utterly beyond me.


> Calling people "vermin" just because of how they have
> chosen to make a living isn't a useful way to look at the
> world.

Oh, indeed it is. Some jobs are highly admirable; others are such that honorable people would rather starve than perform them. Kindly note, though, if you're inclined to take this personally, that I never called you vermin, and have no intention of doing so unless you shove that 200mm lens in my face, or in the face of some parent screaming over a lost child.
posted by jfuller at 4:35 PM on February 6, 2002


jfuller, no journalist says, "The public has a right to know," or "I have a right to know." That's a staple of fiction, what appears in movies and fictional TV shows when they want to portray a fictional, pompous journalist.

I can't remember a grieving person who didn't welcome my knock on the door or my phone call. Invariably they believe that their dead loved one deserved to have his or her story told.

When a reporter writes an article about a murderer or a drunken driver who killed someone, readers get angry when the story isn't "balanced" by reporting about the victims. That reporting is accomplished by knocking on doors and dialing phones and talking people who knew the victims.

To imply that entire professions are dishonorable is a pretentious, self-righteous, judgmental and even puritannical thing to say. You'll be a happier person when you step off your high horse.
posted by Holden at 7:50 AM on February 7, 2002


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