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Missing children–What makes one child’s story worthy of a media blitz while another child slips under the radar?

February 25, 2009

Adji Desir was back in the news this morning thanks to the television show, America’s Most Wanted. There was, initially, a lot of interest in his disappearance, but  his case quickly faded away to nothing in the media. Why? He’s a little 6 year old boy with the mind of a 2 year old and he’s still gone. What makes one missing kid’s story worthy of a media blitz and another kid’s story lucky to get a passing mention. Is it the sensationalism surrounding the disappearance?  The color of their skin?  Their socio-economic background? The luck of the draw?  Or something else?

Looking back at the missing children that received a lot of media attention over the years, I realized there was only one black child that came to my mind-Jennifer Hudson’s nephew.  Of course the fact that Jennifer  is famous helped push his disappearance into the public eye.   There was also the little Cuban boy, Elian Gonzales.  There are some who would say he was abducted, though he was never missing. He received a ton of media coverage when he was sent back to Cuba–but that was really a political issue.

Then, there’s Jon Benet Ramsey, Polly Klaas, Elizabeth Smart, Madeleine McCann,  Caylee Anthony, and now Haleigh Cummings.  What did they all have in common?  Well, they were definitely white.  But, they were also all  female and could be considered quite pretty.  How about little white boys? There was the Lindbergh baby (also the child of someone famous)  and Adam Walsh–both white and pretty, but they are the only two boys that come to mind and both of those cases are decades old.   So does one conclude that a child  has to be not only white and pretty, but also a female in order to have a fighting chance for their story to make headlines?

Can anyone else think of a child gone missing other than attractive white kids (the vast majority, girls)  that have received  massive media coverage? I can’t.  BUT, I can also tell you that for every pretty little white girl you can name, there are 3 more pretty little white girls that we’ve never even heard of that are also missing.  So, though race and sex may play some part in the equation, they can’t be the only parts.  What is that elusive key ingredient that makes first the media and then the nation want to adopt a missing child as their own?

The media has one goal: to sell papers and garner viewers.  What makes a good story with longevity when it comes to a missing child?  A mysterious disappearance, an “interesting” family, a bevy of clues–and of course it doesn’t hurt for the missing child  to be a beautiful little white girl.  All of these things thrown together can produce that spark of interest that if fed properly by the players involved ignites the fire that is capable of holding the public’s attention.  Sad, but true.

What’s sadder is that there are so many missing children in this world that it is necessary to pick and chose which ones are most interesting and which stories are most likely to be profitable.  If the news stations, newspapers, and magazines did nothing but report on the disappearances of children, one right after the other, there just wouldn’t be enough time left in the day for them to report on anything else.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2009 11:15 am

    every 40 seconds a child is reported missing

    45% our African American children who fail to receive media coverage.

    Thank you so much for this article.

  2. MAND permalink
    February 26, 2009 11:38 am

    Maybe it’s time that people like Mark Klaas and those like him try to get a TV Show like America’s Most Wanted..America’s Missing Children..
    a half hour to an hour show weekly to put the etc. out there for the public to see..I know there are the milk cartons and all the other things but John W. has been successful in getting those trying to run from the law..maybe seeing these children on TV and the little story that goes with them it would reach nation wide all at one time.

  3. itsamysterytome permalink*
    February 26, 2009 12:41 pm


    You’re welcome. Wow. I had no idea it was that often. I’m assuming a lot of those children are teen runaways and not stranger abductions?


    That’s such a good idea. Especially if they do more than just stick their pictures on a screen. By telling their stories, they are humanized and not just a statistic. Wonder why a television series hasn’t been done yet?

  4. Augie permalink
    February 26, 2009 3:30 pm

    FYI: I lived in the Middle Eastern country for 11 years . . the television networks would display a scrolling display of photos, names and stats of ALL people reported missing whether child, adult, male or female of ANY color repeatedly during television programming.

    But then, most nation’s don’t operate their airwaves as corporate pirates answering to investors cashing in on advertising revenue which allows them to deal with reality and humanitarian deeds as a priority.

  5. Augie permalink
    February 26, 2009 3:33 pm

    By the way . . . the statistics are ONE MILLION CHILDRED per YEAR are “missing” in America.

    And the entire issue is not “new”. As a police chief told me here in our City . . . the only difference between now and by-gone eras is that people TALK about the issue that was kept a close shameful ‘family secret’ to be stuffed in the ubiquitous closet and forgotten.

  6. itsamysterytome permalink*
    February 26, 2009 4:35 pm


    Interesting, but I would think that you would become oblivious to what was scrolling along the bottom of the television screen after awhile. So, maybe not all that effective.

    I think we are all made more aware of everything going on in our world now thanks to 24/7 news tv. Back in the “olden days” it was a lot harder to spread the news.

  7. niecey456 permalink
    February 26, 2009 5:08 pm

    Hey Mystery! I said I was taking a vacation and I got stuck on politics and the like. I like Mand’s idea alot!!! I wish there was a way to let Amber Alerts work through the blogs as well. They are working through myspace now. I wonder who we could suggest these things to???

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