Surprise! The mainstream media send mixed messages…

A couple of items in the mainstream media caught my eye this week and deserved to be blogged.

The first deals with the odd juxtaposition of stories on the CBS Evening News Sunday night. The first story was a typical “tsk-tsk, shame on the media” report based on an Associated Press news item by Erin Texeira (TV people always want you to think they come up with this stuff by doing original reporting…CBS did not give on-air credit to the AP for the story) about how news coverage of missing people disproportionately focuses on young, white women, when the vast majority of people who go missing (“go missing” has entered the American lexicon from the UK; we used to say people who “disappeared.”) The report featured the frustration of an African-American woman in upstate New York who was unable to garner any media attention for the disappearance of her 42-year old sister.

The lesson from this report clearly has been lost on CBS News.

Don’t believe me? Flash forward to the next report on the very same newscast.

Barry Peterson, a veteran foreign correspondent, weighed in with a “Reporter’s Notebook” feature on how the survivors of last year’s tsunami are faring six months after the disaster. The report showed indigenous religious ceremonies in ornate Buddhist temples. It showed the efforts of living local residents to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. Then the report turned the camera’s eye on a memorial wall to those who died in the tragedy. Every photograph highlighted in this report showed a white, American face.

Are we in that much denial about the ethnicity of the vast majority of the tsunami’s victims? Most of those who died were nonwhite, poor residents of countries most Americans can’t even point out on a map, not white, blonde, and American.

Do we focus on the “runaway bride” and the “missing in Aruba” blonde teenager because they are more photogenically palatable to a white audience? The statistics in the original Texeira AP story suggest that there are more black men missing than blonde white girls. Here’s a quote from that dispatch:

“To be blunt, blond white chicks who go missing get covered and poor, black, Hispanic or other people of color who go missing do not get covered,” said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism. “You’re more likely to get coverage if you’re attractive than if you’re not.”

When was the last time the network news media turned out to an inner city neighborhood with satellite trucks to broadcast live because a black man hadn’t come home to his family?

Second item: This one is sort of funny, it’s about locking the front door but forgetting about locking the one in back.

Comcast Cable is running a series of house advertisements urging subscribers to take advantage of the “parental controls” feature of its digital cable system to keep the kids from watching objectionable content. (I don’t bother with these controls, since my kids learned most of their shock vocabulary from the restroom walls at the elementary school, and there are no parental controls available there!)

Anyway, the commercial shows the kids sitting at home, trying unsuccessfully to access naughty cable content while Mom is out of the house, tooling around the other side of town in her SUV. And Mom can drive around in her gas-guzzler with total peace of mind, because she knows how to use the Comcast parental controls.

As evidence, the kids fail to dial up a porn show and express G-rated exasperation that Mom has outsmarted them.

But wait a minute! Aren’t those liquor bottles sitting on the open-sided wall unit behind the couch where the kids are sitting?

Good think Mom blocked them from watching The Sopranos, but let’s hope the kids don’t turn around in sheer boredom and look for some other mischief to get into…

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