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Jul. 19 2010 - 2:14 pm | 4,046 views | 0 recommendations | 15 comments

Norma Lopez: Another victim of Missing White Woman Syndrome?

Norma Lopez went missing on her way home from summer school. Photo via KTLA News.

When 7-year-old Kyron Horman went missing from his Portland, Ore. school early last month, news outlets ranging from blogs to newspapers to TV stations raced to cover the story. His name quickly climbed up most-searched term lists and People magazine has been relentless in its documentation of each break in the case. Meanwhile, the case of another young boy who went missing at nearly the exact same time as Horman, Anthony Thomas, generated only a fraction of the coverage.

It was only a yet another example of the media’s crush to report on abductions and foul play involving white women and children, while giving little coverage to minorities who disappear: The latest example is 17-year-old Norma Lopez, who appears to have been kidnapped on her way home from summer school in Moreno Valley, Calif. Most of the coverage of Lopez’s disappearance has come from local news outlets, while the national attention to the case by places like the Los Angeles Times and CNN has been restricted to short blog posts — rising nowhere near the level that dominated the disappearances of girls like Elizabeth Smart and Natalee Holloway.

Media coverage is crucial to the cases of people who go missing because it is often vigilant members of the public who can play a role in helping law enforcement find the victim. Certainly a young, beautiful girl like Lopez and the eery circumstances surrounding her going missing — some of her belongings and “evidence of a struggle” were found in a field Lopez would walk through as a shortcut — are just as deserving of coverage as any other person — white, female or otherwise.


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    I see this theme from time to time, this notion of under-reporting of news about non-white kidnap victims. The stories tend to hint that we a still just a white-run nation of racists.

    It seems to me that this is a problem of the journalism industry, maybe not just a societal problem.

    When you have your journalism conventions, is this a topic of discussion? Have you ever taken the podium to ask your peers why they tend to ignore non-white victims?

    This appears to be a question that the industry should ask itself first.

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    If news media only have limited space to devote to unprofitable stories, and minority kidnappings are unprofitable, then some other unprofitable news would have to be dropped to make room for them. Do you think it’s worth it? What unprofitable coverage would you be willing to see dropped?

    [I'm assuming that the racial disparity in kidnapping coverage is because white audiences are wealthier, and therefore a juicier demographic for advertisers, than Hispanic and black audiences]

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    Arguing against discrimination in bullshit news stories that shouldn’t be news anyway. Thanks for the chuckle. And you’re right about pretty blondes being the only ones getting that kind of coverage.

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    I am willing to believe that there is an observable disparity in coverage between missing persons based on race.

    But once again (as in the Thomas “generated only a fraction of the coverage” link case above) these cases do not illustrate it. There are too many other, overriding factors at work here:

    1) 17 year olds voluntarily disappear ALL the time. They hate their parents, they go on road trips, and otherwise make decisions to leave home indefinitely and not tell their parents.

    2) 7-year-olds (Kyron Horman) never EVER run away on their own to live in an apartment with their 21-year-old boyfriend that their parents forbid them to see. Nor would they have the strength and intelligence of a 17-year-old to extricate themselves from a kidnapping situation, if such existed.

    The disappearance of a 7-year-old should ALWAYS get more coverage than a 17-year-old.

    3) Los Angeles is about 5-10x larger than Portland and thus has a lot more stories to cover. If there was a media blitz every time a 17 year old girl could not be located in Los Angeles, you would need a 24 hour channel dedicated to teen disappearances. (Which might very well be a good idea.)

    4) The violent crime rate in L.A. is about double Portland’s per capita. So on any given day, if Portland has 1 crime story (e.g., Kyron) to report, Los Angeles might be expected to have 20.

    On average, ANY crime in Los Angeles would therefore be expected to get 20x less coverage than in Portland, regardless of race.

    You need to compare the disappearance of a white 7-year-old in Portland to the disappearance of a black 7-year-old in Kansas City if you want to compare apples to apples. They have a comparable city population as well as metropolitan population.

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    Speaking as a journalist with more than 40 years experience, I can say with authority that which crimes (including missing persons cases with strong evidence of violence) receive coverage and which do not is an ugly process.

    In some cities, journalists no longer bother to report and write meaningfully about every homicide, much less every missing persons case.

    I wish I could explain such coverage decisions lucidly, but I cannot. The explanation certainly goes beyond racism and sexism to include underlying views of editors and reporters about the value of human life.

    If this posting sounds cryptic and meandering, I apologize. The coverage question bothers me almost every day. Yet I cannot find a solution even in my own mind, except to advocate meaningful coverage of every homicide, every missing persons reports with a credible element of foul play.

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    The press did their job…..they got a Black guy with no documents elected president of the United States

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    Yet a-holes like Lindsay Lohan get tons of press.

    I think many people, including editors, don’t care much. Crime rarely touches journalists personally so it’s not something they identify with.

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    I believe there is more to it than race. I live in San Diego and many wanted to compare the coverage of Amber Dubois’ disappearance versus Chelsea King’s (apples and apples, right?). The concern of coverage was based on the idea that Chelsea received more coverage because of her family’s social and financial status. Chelsea’s parents were married and lived in a upper-class community; whereas Amber’s parents were divorced and living in a middle-class community. Both girls are white. In the end, both were killed by the same man, who I’m sure had no idea, nor did he care, where his victims came from. In Amber and Chelsea’s case, the circumstances were different which determined how quickly the media covered the story as well as LE’s response.

    Chelsea went missing after school. Her whereabouts were accounted for in terms of roughly what time she took her jog. The time line is key when covering a kidnapping in the news. Hundreds of volunteers searched the trails and found evidence of Chelsea’s clothing. This information was leaked to the media, then BOOM!! There is the coverage a family needs during the crucial hours after a kidnapping.

    Amber, missing over a year before Chelsea’s kidnapping and subsequent murder, went missing in the early hours of the morning. However, a message left at Amber’s home from the high school regarding Amber’s absence was discovered around or after 4pm. This means that a whole day went by before Amber’s parents and LE could get the ball rolling on the search effort to find Amber. Like Norma Lopez’s case, LE publicly threw up in the air the “possibility” of Amber being a runaway. Classifying an abducted child as a possible runaway wanes public interest and as a result search efforts are affected. **This is what bothers me about how LE and the media work during a kidnapping** There were possible sightings of Amber from the community as well as a sighting of her walking to school the morning of her disappearance (all were not Amber in the end). For receiving very little interest in Amber’s case, Amber’s parents, as well as a group of supporters, did an overwhelming job to get Amber’s story to the public. Amber’s parents really had to work hard to keep LE and the public interested in Amber’s story.

    Overall, I’ve profiled many missing children cases. Yes, race is a factor in coverage although can be overcome if the circumstances are dramatic enough. Case in point: Hassani Campbell. Hassani’s case drew national coverage because of the evidence that suggested his aunt’s and her fiancee was responsible for Hassani’s disappearance. Failed lie detector test, a bizarre story as to how the fiancee last saw Hassani, and finally, messages sent to Hassani’s aunt on multiple occasions from the fiancee threatening to abandon Hassani. An arrest was made but there was not enough evidence to hold the aunt and her fiancee responsible for Hassani’s disappearance. The case is open but LE has concluded that foul play is involved and believe Hassani is no longer alive.

    Sadly, Amber’s remains would have never been discovered had the killer not confessed. If a child just vanishes with no dramatic tale to tell then the coverage is minimal. Kyron’s story is dramatic because of the fact that he went missing from inside the school. Safety concerns plague Kyron’s case. It also doesn’t hurt or help Kyron’s cause when there is so much family drama between the step mother, who was last to see him, and Kyron’s father. Portland’s local news, as well as the national news outlets, have plenty of material to keep Kyron in the news.

    Overall, it seems that both the media and LE can be held accountable as to how a missing child case is handled. I know LE can sometimes have a difficult time distinguishing a runaway from an abduction; however, there has to be a better way to have phrased Norma Lopez’s abduction. There wasn’t a sense of urgency by the media to cover the case because it was a “possible” abduction. Does the lack of conviction in stating Norma’s abduction as urgent have anything to do with race? I’m inclined to think so. It took a crime scene and a body to be found (dramatic) for LE and the news agencies to cover Norma’s story.

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    As of July 22, 2010 CNN has posted a “Missing Southern California Girl Found” article under the Justice category. Media is primarily in the business to make money and cover news. They milk stories about abductions or suspected foul play of beautiful people. Jon Benet Ramsey still pops up as a news story fifteen years after her murder strangulation. Seldom do news agencies run stories multiple times if the missing person is average or below average looking.

    My heart and prayers go out to the family & friends of Norma Lopez. She didn’t deserve this kind of fate. She’s another victim of a senseless crime against society. This type of abduction is happening all too frequently. Something needs to be done to stop the madness. Stop the insanity of murder.
    I am worried about this type of crime escalating against our youth, especially against those who are beautiful or handsome. Hollywood, cosmetic companies, and the porn industry bombard us with images of ideal beauty and sexual desires. If a human processes 60,000 images per day, and one eighth are conscious thoughts, what about the remaining 52,500 ones that we are not consciously aware of? This is why pornography is so dangerous if watched or thought about excessively. Including other behaviors with addictive qualities. A person fills his/her mind with enough images and thus imprints on a desired look, behavior, feeling. Today, people spend millions of dollars to physically alter themselves to look a certain way. The aesthetic bar has been raised for both genders. It’s no mystery that young, beautiful women like Norma Lopez and Natalie Holloway continue to be the prime targets of a twisted mind.

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    For once I have found a professional journialist who understands the importance of keeping stories like Norma Lopez in the news media.

    I reside in Moreno Valley and as of today no leads in this tragic case. I do beleive, the Breast is someone’s friend, family member or co-worker and someone out there is withholding information to close this sad case. Please continue to update your website in reference to Norma Lopez! Thanks

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