Alexis Gets Little Notice; Utah Girl Widely Covered
by Mark Johnson and Annysa Johnson
Journal Sentinel Staff
Two girls are missing.
The national media flocked to Salt Lake City to tell the nation about
Elizabeth Smart. Why haven't the reporters descended on Milwaukee to tell the
nation about Alexis Patterson?
Two cases, two cities, two different stories.
In Milwaukee, a 7-year-old girl disappears on May 3 after setting off for
Hi-Mount Community School on W. Garfield Ave. in the central city. In Salt
Lake City, a 14-year-old is apparently kidnapped at gunpoint from her
family's million-dollar home on June 5.
Patterson is featured in short snippets on the TV show "America's Most
Wanted," CNN and Fox News. Otherwise the story receives scant national
attention. No stories in The New York Times or Washington Post.
The Times and Post both send reporters to Salt Lake City to write about
Elizabeth Smart. There are stories about her in The Boston Globe, Miami
Herald and newspapers as far away as Sydney, Australia. MSNBC provides hourly
updates, and the case is featured on CNN's "Larry King Live" and the
CNBC/MSNBC show, "Hardball with Chris Matthews."
A Nexis search of major newspapers and magazines shows 67 stories about
Patterson, almost all of them by The Associated Press and the Milwaukee
Journal Sentinel. In the last week, there have been more than 400 stories
There is another difference between the two cases that cannot be ignored.
Smart is white; Patterson black.
"I just feel it's unfair," said John Robins-Wells, a retired investigator who
now is assisting leaders of the group Locate Alexis Patterson.
But the reason for the disparity in media attention isn't what some might
think, he said Friday. "I don't think it's a racial thing. I'm a white person
myself. We have a lot of volunteers who are Caucasians." He thinks different
journalists simply have different ideas about what makes a compelling
Many factors determine why journalists focus on one missing child and not
another, said Bob Steele, director of the ethics program at the Poynter
Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla. For example,
Smart apparently was abducted from her own home, tapping into a fear every
parent would understand. Coverage of the two cases also may have been
influenced by the actions of police departments, parents and national
organizations for missing children.
While there are many possible reasons why Smart has become a national story
and Patterson has not, race should not be discounted, Steele said Friday. He
recalled two cases of missing Hispanic children that were widely covered in
the media, but could not come up with a high-profile case involving a missing
black child. (Last year's abduction of Jasmine Anderson, a black Milwaukee
infant, and the disappearance of black sisters Tionda and Diamond Bradley
from Chicago both made national news).
"I think it is essential that we turn the spotlight on ourselves," he said.
"Are we prone to the vagaries of racial bias compounded by class bias?"
Onward and Upward!