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June 11, 2005

Missing Pretty Girl Syndrome. [Dave at Garfield Ridge]

Commenting on the Riehl World's thorough coverage of the Natalee Holloway case, Michele Malkin has her own post on the MSM hypocrisy when it comes to the wall-to-wall coverage.

Obligatory yet sincere disclosure: this is a terribly sad story, and probably a tragic one. Yet, as Rusty Shackleford succinctly captures, it's far from the only story worth reporting on.

Malkin, echoing Eugene Robinson's earlier opinion in the Washington Post, posits that the MSM coverage in this and similar cases equals "Missing Pretty Girl Syndrome"-- the media focusing only on cases that involve young, attractive white women. Meanwhile, hundreds if not thousands of similarly tragic stories occur daily to ugly women, old men, and people of color, all equally neglected by the 24-hour news networks.

I think it's hard to argue with this theory, but I think that there are not one but *two* factors at work here.

Ever since local television news first discovered the local crime story, their addiction to bad news of all stripes pushed out all competing stories. "If it bleeds, it leads" has been part of Journalism 101 from the very first days of the industry, and no more so than in television.

If I've got one minute to tell you a story juicy enough to grab ratings, am I going to spend that minute explaining the theological differences between Sunni and Shiite, or am I just going to show you the debris from a car bomb? Which is more likely to grab the viewer's attention, hook them, and thus increase ratings?

The local crime report is the same deal, only more insidious, because as any viewer of local television can tell you, that's all you get. Local crime, ten minutes of weather, more crime, three sentences about the latest bombing in Iraq, ten minutes of sports, and a cute little story about cats.

Well, guess what? All those local TV stations get great ratings with this formula. And the producers and anchors of local news are the minor leagues of the 24-hour news networks, Datelines and Primetime Lives, called up whenever they succeed in the business. They produce what they know, they produce what's always worked for them.

I mentioned two factors, the second being the one Ms. Malkin writes about-- race. See, lurid stories of crime would lead the news anyway, even if there were no cute white girls involved. But to the news reporter, it's a two-fer. Why? One word: ratings. A white girl in trouble is going to get more white viewers to watch than a Latino girl in trouble. And advertising demographics inevitably value white viewers more than minorities, given their income disparities.

What's the solution? Short of every American turning off the television, I don't know if there is one. This stuff is television crack to ratings-hungry producers. For every ten instances where there is no value in these broadcasts, the producers can point to the one instance where television coverage *did* pay off in finding the missing girl or runaway bride, which merely perpetuates the cycle. Meanwhile, stories of much greater significance to the viewer are lost in the shuffle, or more likely, never reported on at all.

This is merely the latest example of the MSM exploitation of one family's sorrow for the prurient interests of their viewers. However much the Holloway family deserves our prayers, the media deserves our scorn.

Then again, they're only giving us what we want, right?

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posted by Ace at 09:18 PM

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