I found another interesting article dated back to 2002... does anyone remember hearing about Alexis Patterson?
I don't...2 missing girls' cases show media disparity
Alexis gets little notice; Utah girl widely covered
By MARK JOHNSON and ANNYSA JOHNSON
of the Journal Sentinel staff
Last Updated: June 14, 2002
Two girls are missing.
The national media flocked to Salt Lake City to tell the nation about Elizabeth Smart. Why haven't the reporters descended on Milwaukee to tell the nation about Alexis Patterson?
Two cases, two cities, two different stories.
In Milwaukee, a 7-year-old girl disappears on May 3 after setting off for Hi-Mount Community School on W. Garfield Ave. in the central city. In Salt Lake City, a 14-year-old is apparently kidnapped at gunpoint from her family's million-dollar home on June 5.
Patterson is featured in short snippets on the TV show "America's Most Wanted," CNN and Fox News. Otherwise the story receives scant national attention. No stories in The New York Times or Washington Post.
The Times and Post both send reporters to Salt Lake City to write about Elizabeth Smart. There are stories about her in The Boston Globe, Miami Herald and newspapers as far away as Sydney, Australia. MSNBC provides hourly updates, and the case is featured on CNN's "Larry King Live" and the CNBC/MSNBC show, "Hardball with Chris Matthews."
A Nexis search of major newspapers and magazines shows 67 stories about Patterson, almost all of them by The Associated Press and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In the last week, there have been more than 400 stories about Smart.Tale of black and white?
There is another difference between the two cases that cannot be ignored. Smart is white; Patterson black.
"I just feel it's unfair," said John Robins-Wells, a retired investigator who now is assisting leaders of the group Locate Alexis Patterson.
But the reason for the disparity in media attention isn't what some might think, he said Friday. "I don't think it's a racial thing. I'm a white person myself. We have a lot of volunteers who are Caucasians." He thinks different journalists simply have different ideas about what makes a compelling national story.
Many factors determine why journalists focus on one missing child and not another, said Bob Steele, director of the ethics program at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla. For example, Smart apparently was abducted from her own home, tapping into a fear every parent would understand. Coverage of the two cases also may have been influenced by the actions of police departments, parents and national organizations for missing children.
While there are many possible reasons why Smart has become a national story and Patterson has not, race should not be discounted, Steele said Friday. He recalled two cases of missing Hispanic children that were widely covered in the media, but could not come up with a high-profile case involving a missing black child. (Last year's abduction of Jasmine Anderson, a black Milwaukee infant, and the disappearance of black sisters Tionda and Diamond Bradley from Chicago both made national news).
"I think it is essential that we turn the spotlight on ourselves," he said. "Are we prone to the vagaries of racial bias compounded by class bias?"
That question provoked discomfort from some national media outlets on Friday. Others simply dismissed the possibility that race has in any way influenced coverage.
"Was she taken from her bedroom at gunpoint?" snapped MSNBC spokeswoman Phoebe Glasner when asked if an editor could speak about the lack of coverage of the Patterson case.
Although Glasner said she had just come from a meeting where a similar issue was being discussed, she wasn't certain anyone would comment.
At Newsweek, which has a story on the Smart case in this week's issue, Managing Editor Jon Meacham did not return a telephone call seeking comment Friday. Magazine spokesman Ken Weine said any comment would come through him, but added that he would "not be tremendously helpful."
At The New York Times, spokeswoman Kathy J. Park said in an e-mail, "According to our editors, we are looking into the Milwaukee story. You're right that The Times has not taken note of the Patterson case, though I can certainly state that racial inequities play no role in our news judgments."
Stories on Alexis have appeared in the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, and Milwaukee police say ABC's "Good Morning America" made an early inquiry but never followed up.
But "Good Morning America" has a different version of its work on the Milwaukee story, saying a producer earlier this week made repeated calls to the Police Department and tried to track down the family to no avail.
"We actively pursued this story, trying to contact the (police) public information office, special investigations office and the parents," said Lisa Finkel, a spokeswoman for the show. "And when we were not able to get hold of them, we thought our viewers would be well served by a report on an innovative program that assists in the safe return of missing children."Police have influence
How police departments work with the media, especially how much information they make public, sometimes influences the coverage a missing child case receives, Steele said.
How media-savvy the parents of a missing child are also plays a role in news coverage. Emotional pleas from mothers and fathers are more likely to lead newscasts or land on front pages. Like the Smarts, Patterson's mother made a tearful plea to abductors to return her child, but the message didn't travel far from Wisconsin.
How parents and neighborhoods are perceived can be another important factor, Steele said. When stories paint a family as "perfect," the tragedy seems somehow more dramatic, he said.
By the same token, media coverage may be less enthusiastic if the parents aren't perceived as completely sympathetic. Some news accounts have noted that Patterson's stepfather served a two-year prison term for selling drugs and also was the getaway driver in an Oct. 28, 1994, bank robbery that resulted in the shooting death of Glendale police Officer Ronald Hedbany.
Steele pointed out that most newsrooms across the country still have a smaller percentage of minorities than the communities they cover. "It's inescapable that we examine whether we are tilted in our coverage and look at how and why we cover certain missing children," he said