The killing of Dallas real estate agent Sarah Anne Walker, an attractive, blond with a Jaguar who wanted to marry a millionaire, attracted the attention of CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Greta Van Susteren, and Geraldo Rivera, says the Dallas Morning News. What about Elizabeth Ann Avery, who died the same day as Walker, July 8. Avery, also a mother of two, was shot as she fried catfish in her Dallas kitchen? And Hai Ping Duan, a woman found dead in the trunk of her car?
Media experts say there’s no formula for determining why one woman’s death splashes across newspapers and newscasts around the country and another’s does not. They say readers and viewers respond when they relate to the lives of those struck by tragedy. “Murders that get lots of attention are usually those that remind many people of their own vulnerability,” said criminologist Jack Levin of Northeastern University. “When a middle-class child is abducted and killed, when college students are slaughtered, then millions of Americans believe that they or their family members could be next.” Although media experts say national news organizations are drawn to pretty blondes like Walker, other factors may actually determine why her death attracted such attention. Avery was black and Duan was Asian. “A local crime story tends to become national when it fits into an overarching narrative, and the most popular narrative is the damsel in distress. Part of the definition of damsel in distress is white and blonde,” says Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, which trains journalists. “News execs don’t sit around asking ‘Is she white? Is she blonde?’ ”