Thursday, June 23, 2005


The politics of abductions

By now, everyone in the world has heard about a young lady named Natalee Holloway, who disappeared in Arabu and has yet to be found. Low and behold, Aruban officials arrested another person in relation to her disapperance.
Meanwhile, Paul van der Sloot was taken into custody Thursday and transported to the police station for processing. After an initial interrogation, a judge ordered him to be held for another 48 hours.

Aruban government spokeswoman Mariaine Croes said Paul van der Sloot was arrested under "reasonable suspicion" in the disappearance of Holloway.

Paul van der Sloot is an island judicial official.

I agree with John Ziegler about how the news media covers a story such as this one. As I've pointed out many times in the past, the cases that stroll through our barn make most of these media-hyped cases look like child's play. Yet, it's a rare instance that reporters even care to interview our superiors, because most of the victims we deal with aren't Beverly Hills beauty queens, runaway brides, or naive teens who fly to islands without taking a few seconds to peep over their shoulder to make sure everything is okay. We deal with single mothers of three who are working at the phone company, going to college at night, and coming home to a man with a machete who is waiting in their living room with a black ski mask.

Unfortunately, the mother of three doesn't pass the focus-group test.

What is the focus-group test, you ask? Newsrooms grab photos of the victims, the defendants, and various other actors in the drama that is currently unfolding. They put these in front of focus-groups and ask each participant if they think the victim is cute, if they find her attractive, and how they feel about the defendant. If the results are positive, they take the case and run with it, usually attaching an amazing amount of hype, publicity, and media-driven sorrow to the case.

This isn't to say that the victims in the case deserve any amount of blame, or less attention than is paid to them by law enforcement agencies. No matter what, we treat every case the same, and put in more hours than anyone can imagine to solve a case. But, we can't pick our cases, or put them before a focus-group in order to decide what will happen next.

I believe the so-called runaway bride, Jennifer Wilbanks, was a mixed blessing for the news media. They start off with the story of a bride who mysteriously disappeared, and places a random phone call that she was kidnapped. The focus-groups must have only seen the one picture of her, because every other one that I've seen since has not made me think for even one second that she was the Miss America-esque beauty queen that the news media made her out to be. In fact, the investigators at The Smoking Gun picked up a great number of facts about Wilbanks right around the same time that Federal and local law enforcement agencies happened to notice inconsistencies, which essentially threw egg on the face of the news media. But this was actually a great chain of events for the news media, as they quickly turned it around and presented the public with the story of a confused woman who is now responsible for paying back a number of counties for the money they spent trying to find her. Also, the constant media splurge allowed Wilbanks to sell the rights for a made-for-TV movie about her delusional escapade across the country.

The media does a great job when it comes to presenting breaking information about Amber Alerts, many of which have ended in the apprehension of a suspect. However, I am going to have to agree with Dirty Harry of the GOP Vixen blog, in which he summarizes exactly how most of us feel about the recent media barrage of abduction cases.
Okay FOX, you win. It worked. I won't kidnap any young, blonde, blue-eyed, upper class, teenage, all-American girls. Your round the clock mega-hyped coverage of this tragic but nonetheless non-story is working. It's a brilliant deterrent. Who in their right mind would think suffering through incessant, overblown, 24/7, E! True Suburb Tragedy was worth it? You are making America safe for white rich girls. Pat yourselves on the back.

It's true, they do win. While we receive the same paycheck week after week for endless hours involving real life blood, sweat, tears, bullets, and flashing lights, they boost ad rates and discuss viewers. But we're the one's who go home at night and sleep sound knowing that at least one life was saved because of our efforts. That's something that no one can experience over morning latte and Nielsen overnights.

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