Media Believe “Damsels In Distress” Stories Sell


The suspicious disappearance of a young, attractive, white woman, Ohio’s Jessie Davis, attracted wide media coverage. “It’s so predictable, it’s embarrassing,” Kelly McBride, an ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, a media studies organization, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “With 24-hour cable news networks, followed up by the Internet product that updates every seven minutes to every hour, there is an appetite for the unfolding story, with incremental updates.” With such stories, cable news ratings “go through the roof,” said WEWS Channel 5 News Director Steve Hyvonen, who worked for four years at MSNBC. That’s big, since the three main cable news networks lost 8 percent of primetime viewers last year.

Among 51,000 missing American adults at any moment, blacks tend to get little attention. White women better fit the “damsel in distress” profiles that media believe sells, the Poynter Institute’s McBride said. She thinks it’s indefensible. Most of the people running news organizations are white. People are inherently prejudiced, presuming that if victims are not white, they are somehow involved in their own disappearance, perhaps by making themselves vulnerable. News organizations assume the audience is white and middle class. “We ignore huge numbers [] of murders committed against marginalized people – prostitutes, drug addicts, minorities, gays,” said Jack Levin of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University. “When it happens to a white, attractive, middle-class woman who lives in the suburbs, it is very frightening because it’s taken personally.”


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