Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Dissing" Natalee

The "Reverend Doctor" Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, has recently made the news with 2-1/2 year old comments* he made about Natalee Holloway. Wright believes that the U.S. media is biased, preferring to cover white victims of crime over black victims. I suspect this is "news" only because he is Senator Barack Obama's pastor. Politicians are always looking to see what they can dredge up on their opponents, and pundits are always looking for something new to talk about.

This morning, a
local radio station cited Jeremiah Wright's comments and asked for callers to discuss whether they thought black leaders might get by with racist comments that would get white leaders in trouble for being racists. Here are the statements by Wright which they referenced: "Black women are being raped daily in Darfur, Sudan, in the Congo and in Sub-Saharan Africa. That doesn't make news. One 18-year-old white girl from Alabama gets drunk on a graduation trip to Aruba, goes off and 'gives it up' while in a foreign country, and that stays in the news for months!"

Here are several thoughts that come to my mind:

Why did Wright only mention black women that are being raped in Darfur, Sudan, the Congo and Sub-Saharan Africa? What about black women being raped right here in the United States? (Maybe he did and we just don't have the whole quote). Is he biased against American black women? I do not condone an Alabama teen getting drunk on a graduation trip to Aruba and 'giving it up' (which some reports seem to indicate happened), but that nevertheless gives no one the right to rape or murder her.

But Wright does have a point. What is it about this one case that has captured the fancy of the news media while hundreds of others never receive the first mention? Our family's experience with the disappearance of
my mother-in-law makes us acutely aware that some stories are just "more important" than others. Despite repeated attempts to grasp someone's attention, her story has gone mostly unreported and underreported by all except local media. Perhaps media also has a bias against elderly white Alzheimer's patients.

Now, I may not be too up-to-date, but I don't altogether have my head in the sand either. I realize the news is about what grasps folks’ attention. But perhaps it is more about what grasps the attention of the media than what grasps the attention of "real people".

Ultimately, I don't know why some stories get the attention of the media and others do not. There may be a racial element to it. Since I am aware of numerous stories of whites that also didn't make the media grade, I have trouble believing that is the main element. There also may be a young element to it. There may be a pretty element to it. There may be a “scandal” element to it. Even Ellen DeGeneres' dog was a bigger story than black women being raped in Darfur, Sudan, the Congo and Sub-Saharan Africa; women being raped right here in the U.S.; or the tens of thousands of missing persons in the United States. What is reported and what is not reveals something about the media's biases more than about the average person. Most of the "real people" with whom I rub shoulders day to day have the capacity to follow a story about a missing and presumed murdered 18 year old, whether she be black, white, Hispanic or otherwise -- as well as to sympathize with the family in their loss.

We are glad for the family of Natalee Holloway that their plight can be known. We also wish the same for others.

* From the August 2005 edition of Trumpet Magazine, a publication of his Trinity United Church of Christ. This recent information appears to emanate from Obama's pastor disses Natalee Holloway, on World Net Daily, January 27, 2008


Bro. Matt said...

For quite some time now, I have been somewhat disgusted with the news media and the choices they make concerning which news stories they cover. I understand that they cannot cover everything, but since when is a bull loose in St. Louis more important than a human lost in East Texas?!? To me, it seems the media has picked the same type "missing persons" stories for quite some time. They all have the same theme, etc., etc., etc.

Anonymous said...

It has gotten to the point of ridiculousness the type of news which is given importance. Trivial matters such as the latest woes of a popular actor,singer etc. are now treated as a lead story. All the while we have soldiers dying in Iraq, struggling economy, and Presidential primaries. Some seem to think that the shift in news reporting started with the O.J. Simpson scandal.

It seems the whole backdrop is all about grabbing headlines with the most sensation. That is what Presidential elections have become. It's not about issues, answers, or policy any longer, but about who can grab the biggest headlines. But that is what the majority seems to want anymore.

RSR said...

As a member of the much-maligned media, I've also wondered why some cases grab attention and some don't.

In addition to the factors you mentioned, it also helps if the victim if pretty, and it's a bonus if the family members are also pretty and well-spoken.

I also would point out that most of the frenzy is created by local TV and the 24-hour "news" channels. Inviting a group of talking heads to speculate on shreds of what might or might not be evidence is a a lot cheaper, and far more salacious, than hiring people to actually report.

The 24-hour channels, in particular, are yawning voids of otherwise-dead air that must be filled at all costs. Why else would they insist on showing not-particularly-exciting police chases that have no effect at all on 99 percent of the viewers?

Unfortunately, once something dominates the "news" channels, it filters into the hated MainStreamMedia, to the detriment of us all.

RSR said...

Oops. I see you did mention pretty.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks for the comments. It is good to get the perspective of a Christian in media.

One thing that I have begun to think is that often it may be a lot of different factors that all "line up" in order to shoot certain cases to "media stardom" while others are relegated to the back burners. Any thoughts on that? I know that we had a murder case here in Texas that had many nearly identical factors as the case of Scott Peterson's murdering his wife. Yet while we were always hearing about the Peterson case, the murder of this daughter of a Nacogdoches family was never able to "go national."