- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005


Most of the missing adults tracked by the FBI are men. More than one in five of those abducted or kidnapped are black.

But you might not get that impression from the news media, and some journalism watchdogs are now 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 what 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 FBI.

“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 short narratives of when they were last seen. They are young and old, working-class and professional, of all ethnic backgrounds.

And most never receive a mention in their local newspapers or television broadcasts, said Erin Bruno, a case manager at the center, who tries to interest news media outlets in publicizing missing adults.

“We want everyone to get coverage, but we don’t get to make those choices,” said Miss Bruno.

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 12 percent of the U.S. population is black, census data show.) About 62 percent of those missing are white, but that figure includes Hispanics.

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