Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Missing Girl's Parents Get To Meet The Pope - Millions of Other Aggrieved Parents Get Nothing




According to "America: The Book" (the foremost reference on these sorts of subjects), this is the Body Count Conversion rate that the American Media uses, when determining how important news is:

2,000 Massacred Congolese = 500 Drowned Bangladeshis = 45 Fire-bombed Iraqis = 12 Car-bombed Europeans = 1 Snipered American

Or in this case, 1 missing white girl.

By now you've probably heard of the tragic story of Madeline McCann, the girl who disappeared from the family's hotel room while her parents were in Portugal. New developments - now, according to CNN:

The parents of a four-year-old British girl who disappeared while on a vacation with her family in Portugal will be presented to Pope Benedict XVI at the pontiff's weekly general audience Wednesday. Vatican officials said on Monday that the McCann family would be among those brought up to greet the pope during his weekly audience with faithful in St. Peter's Square. The presentation of VIPs and of others who have won permission from the Vatican to personally greet the pope traditionally takes place at the end of the audience, following the pope's homily to the faithful.
The family of that missing girl has won an audience with the pope, undoubtedly due in no small part to the media's faithful coverage of their situation. Amazing...

There are many factors that went into making this happen. 1) The parents of Madeline are incredibly media savvy, and knew exactly how to get the word out about their daughter, 2) Madeline is a white girl, and 3) The American media thrives too much on spectacle and "human interest" stories that make no difference on the world stage. Take away one of these three things and the story becomes on a non-story.

It's a tragedy whenever any child anywhere goes missing. But let me put this in perspective. TODAY ALONE, 24,000 people will die of hunger. Eight thousand people will die of AIDS. Today, 1.1 billion people don't have access to clean water. Forty-five (estimated) people will be murdered in America. Untold thousands will die in Darfur today.

And believe it or not: For most of these stats, there are clear, definite things America can do to make the numbers lower! But we don't. The outcry isn't heard. And the media insists on continuing to waste our time telling us about this missing white girl.

As I've mentioned before, Time Magazine's naming of "You" as the person of the year only cemented in popular opinion that traditional media has abdicated its responsibility as a caretaker of information. Coverage of the McCann story demonstrates that this shows no signs of letting up. Whenever I see the media covering these sorts of things, instead of bringing us news that might actually make a difference in our lives, it really gets my blood boiling. It's a misuse of power at the most high, and an affront to those of us that believe the media should be used responsibly as a force of good in this world.

So what should good journalism be like, these days? I'm not sure, but maybe this list would be a good start.

[Update: My brother wrote to me in response to say that the Natalee Holloway story is a better example of the madness described here. I tried to ignore any and all mentions of this in the news when it was happening, and in case you did the same, here's the Wikipedia article to give you an idea of how much time and energy was expended into the search and media coverage.]

[Update 2: There've been some great comments to this post, so let me try and respond:

1) Several have brought up the issue of the corporatization of the media and I wholeheartedly agree; today, news doesn't only provide us with information in a neutral fashion, it is meant to generate profit for companies. The high ratings that these types of stories get feed into the neverending quest for more ratings and more profit. I vote with my eyes and choose not to watch when this type of stuff comes on.

2) There's been criticism about how the phenomenon I'm describing isn't uniquely American. My first reaction is: Just omit all mentions of "US" and "American" from my post; the criticism still stands.

My second reaction is: Perhaps you are all right and all news all around the world is always like this, but for my money, I'd trust the BBC news over CNN any day. Also, I'd be interested in what people have to say about this and also about this.]

[Update 3: For more relevant opinions on the subject, please see this recent post with video included: Jon Stewart Interviews Al Gore.]

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good post. Here's a similar non-event with a more outrageous ending: http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/city/2007/05/22/1163888f-17c5-4b1b-9454-b4de2ffcebe6.lpf

Drew Calvert said...

Yes what a uniquely American viewpoint. Are you kidding?

Anonymous said...

You can't blame the media. You yourself stated that the family knew the outlets to get their story into the wild...Just because they know how to play the game better than others is no reason to crap on them. After all, their child is still gone.

Tangent said...

I completely agree with you. Out of all the things in the world that should be taking up media attention in the world we choose to talk about one girl (ONE girl!). People are probably going to start acting like their child is stolen just so they can get media attention and the support money. While I do pity the family, there are so many other families who have missing members, and they are getting no attention.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the publicity has anything to do with how media savvy the parents are, it's just that it's too good an excuse to bury news of that disastrous war in Iraq, the monstrosities in Darfour the international community is so happy to ignore or any other form of sick, international unwillingness to act anywhere that's not in the interest of big money.

Corporate media is the only mainstream media available at the moment and to be honest, we only have ourselves to blame.. after all, most people are indeed more interested in who will become the next American Idol than they are in why basic human right are being constantly thrown away to make some wealthy bunch of wankers even wealthier.

Anonymous said...

This isn't a primarily American problem (at least, not in this instance). This story has been on the front page of BBC News more or less non-stop since the beginning.

Andrea said...

It's like this in almost any country, not just in the USA...

Anonymous said...

I feel for ALL parents who have lost or had a child kidnapped. BUT since the parents themselves did not take full responsibilty for the safety of their children (leaving them in a strange place, sleeping while they went for dinner) I feel they are trying now to cover up their guilt. Those of us who have had small children here in the USA, can even be put in jail for such things. All children deserve the attention this beautiful little girl is getting. Why is it only this one????

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last poster. Why is it that this is not brought up more often?? It always says "just 100 yards away". How about - who the he** would leave their kids alone at all in a strange country, let alone in your own house??? This whole thing is so ridiculous. It makes me sick. They need to take responsibility for their own actions.

Anonymous said...

"2) Madeline is a white girl"

Race has nothing to do in this case. Money has. She is having so much attention because her parents have money and have wealthy friends. Also, portuguese authorities are doing their best because they don't want to lose tourists in the area...

Anonymous said...

I agree that if this child were anything other than white the attn. would be on the fact that the parents left the child alone, period! And I don't care if they are "good catholics" the parents would not be meeting the Pope if they were of any other ethnicity.And where is all the $ for the other missing kids J.K?

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to coin a new word "empathtainment" for this sort of thing, where people get entertainment or pleasure from empathizing with someone elses problem

I think its really wrong, but also have a sense of fatalism - what can you do?

Teresa said...

Well said David!

Snypylo said...

What shocks me more is the reward that has been put up for her safe return - around $5.1m last time I checked. I'll just wait a moment for that to sink in. How many African children could be given clean water with that? How many hospitals could be built? How many thousands could be saved? And yet it goes to a single girl, whose disappearance was brought about (in part) by her family's negligence.

Anonymous said...

I would also argue the media sometimes actually has a more negative impact than positive. It became apparent that the recent Virginia Tech shooting was carried out with the assumption that the killer would become infamous. He took the time to put together a press-kit and send it to NBC before the events took place. Also, the Columbine killers were on the front page of Time magazine. People are rewarded for heinous acts.