Costas says ‘no’
Were you to have recently arrived on the planet, somewhere in the U.S., you might be forgiven for thinking that Natalee Holloway was, perhaps, the president or a queen or maybe the holder of a cure for cancer. You would conclude this from the fact that her disappearance while vacationing in Aruba in May has attracted the kind of extraordinary amount of media attention previously reserved for assassinated heads of state and global wars.No doubt, Natalee Holloway was an enormously important person to her family and friends, and the fact that she disappeared is a terrible thing. Talking among ourselves in the newsroom the other day, we concluded that were Natalee a resident of Eagle County, we would most certainly be following the case very closely. But, we wondered, why is the national media – particularly the cable news networks and especially Greta Van Susteren at Fox News – so focused on the fate of one young woman when people disappear or suffer other tragic events every day in this country?Some say it’s because she’s an attractive white woman, and that, were she not white and not pretty, the story would not have gone much beyond her home town of Birmingham, Ala. This seems to ring true, and it also appeared to bother newsman Bob Costas. In a rare moment of broadcast media self-restraint, Costas recently refused to host a “Larry King Live” show about Holloway. Costas is an occasional fill-in host for King.While my hat’s off to Costas and I wish more would follow his example, I also know this is not likely to cause a burst of media soul-searching and moral reconfiguration. Regardless of how relatively unimportant we might think the Holloway case may be, the fact is the media have made her a big story, and now they can’t let it go. But some time soon, unfortunately, another attractive white woman will disappear or be murdered, or a celebrity will get in big trouble, and the roving eye will move on, forgetting about poor Natalie (unless, of course, she’s found).Herd mentality is not unusual in the media. Here at the Vail Daily, we often do stories we’ve seen or read elsewhere, with a local angle. We also covered the Kobe Bryant trial ad nauseum, even though the significance of those events, taken in the grand scheme of things, might have seemed relatively minimal, other than the implications for our law enforcement and judicial system and the tangential legal questions that went so far as the U.S. Supreme Court. Who cares? many said, to which we responded, by way of extended coverage, “We do, and so should you.”When Costas refused to do the King show episode, it didn’t stop CNN from running it anyway with another host. If we hadn’t covered Kobe, there were plenty of other reporters there doing it, and the conventional wisdom was that it was just too big of a story to walk away from for the celebrity factor alone. But was it? We spent all that time covering the trial because it was in our market, a hometown girl who accused him, our deputies and detectives and prosecutors and judges. But everyone else did it because he was famous – famous for putting an orange ball in a net over and over and over. Who cares? In the case of Natalee Holloway, there was a point early in the story where the saturation media coverage could have helped her. Someone could have recognized her, perhaps in a 7-Eleven somewhere because he recognized her photo from the news. Sometimes that happens. At this point, it’s doubtful anyone thinks she’s still alive, degrading the coverage to the category of lurid spectacle rather than useful journalism.Bob Costas didn’t say, exactly, why he chose not to do the Holloway show. But it seems obvious that he didn’t think any good would be served by being a part of the circus. He’s just one hummingbird resisting the urge to go back to the feeder, but it does give one hope that not every sordid story has to become a cable news staple for months on end.With Kobe gone, hopefully we’re out of that racket forever – but you never know. Famous people come to Vail all the time, and it just takes one bit of naughtiness to land the media horde back in town, suggesting by their presence alone that the story is worth covering.Why didn’t we listen when our parents told us to go to medical school?Assistant Managing Editor Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or email@example.com. Vail, Colorado
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