Thursday, July 28, 2005

Latoyia's disappearance gets some national coverage

The coverage on MSNBC has been a bit loaded starting with the bizarre discussion on The Situation with Tucker Carlson last night. [emphasis added]
"CARLSON: "All right, but we start with the tale of two missing women tonight, the first, of course, Natalee Holloway, missing in Aruba since May 30.

Authorities today drained a pond near the Marriott Hotel on the island, so far, apparently, to no avail.

The missing woman is 24-year-old Latoyia Figueroa. She’s pregnant and the mother of one. She disappeared nine days ago in Philadelphia. The search for Latoyia intensified after a man named Richard Blair began blogging about her because of her race and her background.

And his point was the obvious one. And it is that black women from city centers, from urban areas who disappear get none of the coverage that like Natalee Holloway get, who are obviously from a different demographic. And, you know, it’s impossible to deny the truth of this.

The point, I guess, I would make is, I think we may be overstating the effect of media attention on these cases. You can think of missing women cases, Chandra Levy, Natalee Holloway, for that matter, that didn’t make all the difference. These women have not been found. They made all the difference for us in the press. We got great ratings. "

Carlson actually gets the big media picture and boldly admits it's all about ratings, and yet he completely misses a critical point: in cases of missing persons, time is of the essence. The media can still get great ratings by covering cases well past their expiration date without completely neglecting other emerging cases in the early stages of investigation. Would it really be so difficult and detrimental to their bottom line to use a small percentage of on-air time to discuss recent compelling cases in which additional media coverage could be helpful (especially cable news, which has been known to dedicate hours re-hashing the same information across multiple programs on a daily basis)?

CARLSON: "People who don’t—people who don’t work in the press who look at this and immediately draw the conclusion that people who work in the press are racist ought to know there’s another dynamic involved here. And it is this. Things that are unusual or perceived to be unusual are the ones that are considered news.

It’s like planes that land safely aren’t news. When someone, not just a black person or a Hispanic person, but someone who lives in a tough neighborhood, is injured in a crime, the feeling, right or not—or wrong—and it’s probably wrong—is, this is a more common occurrence than if it were to happen in a suburban area."
Sadly, in the US, homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. New and expectant mothers are nearly twice as likely to die from homicide as other women, even when adjusted for race and age. I have a hard time believe that the raw data analyzed for studies doesn't include a sizable number of dead suburbanites. If those in the media can, like Carlson, recognize and articulate these "feelings"/perceptions, they should be able to address them and still get the ratings they so desire all while, possibly, lighting a fire under an investigation and *gasp* reporting some actual news. Carlson's promo at the end of The Abrams Report indicates he will, again, discuss Latoyia's disappearance tonight. I hope he and his producer can get Jim Cramer, who made the cogent point that drawing viewers in with the big story gives a show license to draw attention to smaller ones, to tone it down a bit tonight. . .the words "smacked ass" don't even begin to describe how he came off last night.

Speaking of The Abrams Report, Figueroa's father was interviewed after coverage of the search at Cobb's Creek Park, and he dropped some bombs of his own. Melvin Figueroa stated he doesn't really know her boyfriend and was very vocal in his discomfort with the man. Unfortunately, common sense would dictate that the first people that should be evaluated as potential suspects in Latoyia's disappearance would be her current boyfriend (father of her unborn child and the last person to see her alive) and her ex (father of her seven year old daughter). In all fairness, the police have stated that the boyfriend has been interogated and is not a suspect - plus, as the elder Figueroa noted, his daughter frequently pointed out that he had concerns about every guy she brought to meet him (how many fathers think a guy is good enough for their little girl - even more understandable considering Latoyia's 23-year old mother was murdered when Latoyia was 2). Melvin Figueroa also noted some problems with the boyfriend's ex-girlfriend who allegedly became confrontational after finding out Latoyia was pregnant. This was the first and only comments indicating that there may be someone with a motive and history of cagey interactions (may being the operative word, this is pure conjecture). Hopefully police will catch a break in the case soon. In the meantime, please consider making a donation to the fund Richard has set up for Latoyia.

UPDATE (8:50 PM ET): Coverage on Countdown (it was story #2)

UPDATE (9:45 PM ET): ASZ's Steve Reynolds more than held his own with the bow-tied one, pointing out (in response to Carlson's comments that there are a lot of crimes and how should media decide) that the news should cover news.

Carlson seemed to think this is a case of liberals complaining about the lack of coverage implying we think it's a right wing conspiracy. In truth, we're pointing out exactly what he admits the media is doing: showing a bias in coverage to the attractive, financially secure, white female in distress because it gets ratings/ generates profits (
continuing daily/hourly coverage even when there's nothing new to report in a case). Per Carlson, what is being shown is what people want to see vis-a-vis the ratings implying coverage of one somehow precludes coverage of the other.

Carlson advanced the point that people don't want to see those stories because they can't relate to victims other than the white women. There are two really weird implications to a statement such as this: working class people and people of color don't watch news programs (full disclosure: I may be middle class now, but I was raised in a working class family in which we all read the paper and watched the news daily); and (much more disturbing) working class people and/or people of color are somehow viewed as being of less value to society. [in making his statements, Carlson in no way implied that he agreed with this view - I think he made it clear that his own personal views are quite the contrary]

I have two questions rattling around my little head:
  1. Does the media really think that having an interest in, or being able to relate to, one type of victim necessarily translate into lack of interest in another?
  2. When it comes to news, how hard can it be to decide which story is more newsworthy when the choice is a new case of a missing person of color or a older case you cover daily in which there's no substantive new information to report?
UPDATE (29Jul05 6:00 AM ET): I actually caught part of the news this morning and they noted the Figueroa family was pretty upset (and understandably so) at statements made by Latoyia's boyfriend on Power 99 (WUSL; link is to station web-page they have no coverage of Latoyia on the page) in which he said he thought she was just taking some time away because she was under stress (a la the runaway bride). This, of course, is something Latoyia's family considers to be an outrageous statement (she was on her way to pick up her daughter when she left the boyfriend's house and has not used her phone or credit/debit cards since she was last seen). Today's Philadephia Daily News has some more coverage and a little bit of information about the altercation with Latoyia's boyfriend's ex-girlfriend, who is also "having a baby with him".

The INKY finally covered the story today. The Inky, as a local paper, should have been reporting this from the moment Latoyia was considered a missing person by the police, let's hope they start reconsidering their policies as to what constitutes relevant news in the Delaware Valley.

Tags: ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; with ;

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: