Why so much interest in the Elizabeth Smart case?

Please forgive me if I’m missing something really obvious, here, but…

Why has so much media attention been given to the Elizabeth Smart case? Children disappear all the time, right? So why has this particular case been all over the news for the last 37 days?

Thanks in advance.

Part slow news day, part fact that she’s white. Just a WAG, though.

It’s one of those that apparently is not a result of parental kidnapping but instead involves a pedophile and might be part of a series. Like with Polly Klass, this type of kidnapping strikes fear deep in the heart of every parent.

I disagree – the attention this case is getting has nothing to do with Elizabeth Smart’s race.

To build on lieu’s point, the attention stems from the circumstances of the kidnapping. Elizabeth Smart was taken FROM HER BEDROOM in the dead of night by what so far seems to be a total stranger. That kind of kinapping is extremely rare, and the prospect of such an apparently random abduction does indeed strike fear deep in the heart of every parent

Also, the Smart family is doing their best to keep the story in the news, like the Levys.

Because of the most peculiar and ultimately disturbing circumstances by which her abduction was done. Also any parent that has a missing child would go to any lengths to get media attention, wouldn’t you if it was your child? . This case falls into a ‘sensationalized’ story, the national media have picked it up because its very nature is so ‘news worthy’ and goes far beyond the capability of the community media. These parents are fortunate that their plight is being recognised, all the more sad that so many other cases are left unrecognised.

As a newsguy, I have to say the reason this is in the news is because it happened on a slow news day, in a slow news city, and the family has been willing to talk.

Other kids went missing that same day. But a family in Chicago that isn’t willing to talk about it won’t get the same coverage as a family in Salt Lake.

Face it, newsrooms in Salt Lake don’t have a lot else to do, so they can devote the resources necessary to “keeping the story alive”. It would be harder to justify elsewhere.

I have to agree with Blue Sky that race is a factor. The Elizabeth Smart case is in the news because her family is willing to talk, but also because she is white and her family is rich. I’m not saying the press is biased, just that they are giving the majority what they want to see. When is the last time you saw a non-white abducted child in the national news? And don’t say Elian…

Because the media is racist.

Uh, for all you “the media is racist” people… What about the girl who went missing at the hands of DCF here in Florida a few months back? She wasn’t white, as I recall. As another newsguy, I stand by what Barbarian said. News is what we can fill the pages with, for lack of a better way to phrase that. If they’re willing to go on camera and say lots of things, then we’re probably willing to cover them. We can’t cover every kidnapping and abduction, because lots of them are inter-family and people don’t make a public matter of it, besides what they bring to the police.

Look at it this way. If we get a fax from the police department (basically the longer version of what becomes the police blotter), and we see a kidnapping report, maybe we try to call the family. But if they don’t want to talk, it just stays in the police blotter, or gets a few inches inside someplace.

Not because she’s white, but I do think looks definitely are a factor. As in the JonBenet Ramsey case, she lived in a supposedly safe upper class home, and, yes, she was pretty.

Uh, like I said, national coverage. Your Florida story didn’t get out of Florida, or if it did, it was buried on page 12B.

I think you’re right Cat Fight, but “looks” are often racially biased. Look at your better fashion magazines. Non-whites rarely make the cover, or even most of the pages inside.

The bigger point is, sympathy is much more easily extended (by the general public) to rich white girls than it is to poor non-white ones. Maybe rich white parents generally know how to handle the media better. Maybe poor non-whites generally like to “keep it in the family.” You can fight stereotypes with stereotypes, but the fact remains: most Americans’ remote-control-finger is subconsciously a little racist.

I had read (or seen) that the LDS, which the Smarts are members of, did a good job publicizing this and were the driving force behind the publicity. I can’t recall where I heard it from, so I can’t offer up a site right now, but I’ll work on it.

Well, I saw her on CNN Headline News, and there’s no local edition of that.

Here we go. Rilya Wilson, on CNN.com. http://www.cnn.com/2002/US/05/01/missing.florida.girl/index.html

I have to (reluctantly, and sadly) agree with the race and class people on this one…

to continue with the Jon Bennet Ramsey parallels, around the same time as the Ramsey murder, there was a girl that many of us chicagoans heard about called “Girl-X”. She was a black 11 or 12 year old girl who was raped, beaten and had roachspray poured in her throat and eyes, leaving her blind and mute. this happened in a stairwell (or boiler room) of Cabrini green here in Chicago, a notoriously dangerous housing project.

While this story made the local new, and was a CNN headline once or twice, it had nowhere NEAR the same sustained level of interest as the ramsey case, even though, like in the Ramsey case, the perpetration was still at large, and even if the girl didn’t die, it was a heinous heinous evil crime, IMHO, far more disturbing that the ramsey debacle.

I think the only real answer is the “things like this just don’t happen in our (white, upper class) neighborhood” syndrome. It also wouldn’t surprise me to find that the LDS church was keeping the fire lit, to an extent.

Sadly, i can’t come up with a non race and class based reason for the attention.

I’d love to be convinced otherwise, as it would restore a little bit of my faith in humaqnity and in the media.


There was a big case in the Detroit area a few years back where a little black boy named D’wan Simms disappeared at a local mall. It was extremely well publicized. Unfortunately, they never found the kid. Some people think that D’wan died, and the mall was just a smokescreen to cover up his death, but I don’t know of any evidence to support this claim. While I’m not dismissing racism as a factor (consciously or subconsciously), I think that the big famous cases are the ones where the family knows how to use the media to generate a lot of publicity.

Thanks for the responses.

I was thinking back to the JonBenet Ramsey thing that was so interesting because of the weird psycho-sexual subtext. I was wondering if there was something like that going on here. But I guess there’s not.

Then I suppose the answer is something like this:

Pretty, upper middle-class white girl+
Disappears from “safe” suburban bedroom+
Family and/or church making an effort to publicize+
Slow news day

Media Frenzy

Makes sense to me. Thanks again.

That story got a LOT of coverage on CNN online and here in the Chicago newspapers. Interest didn’t die out until investigation uncovered the fact that , IIRC, the girl was in the hands of the grandmother in Cuba. That is, a family kidnapping (or other arrangement).

I think one of the reasons that the Utah case has stayed in the news is because of the mystery. Once the girl’s remains are found and a perp is arrested, we won’t hear much more about it.

This has infuriated me recently. I’ve found myself boycotting any news show that has more than minimal coverage of this case.

Of course her marketability as an image (read: race) is a factor, and anyone who denies that is just naive. The biggest factor though, and one she had in common with JonBenet Ramsey, is a heavily documented childhood: the parents seem to have a neverending supply of oh-so-cute snapshots to give to the media. It’d get awful boring awful fast (and would have been dropped just as quickly) if there were nothing but a couple school portraits of her; almost as quickly as if she were a minority.

i hadn’t thought of it that was lissener, but now that you are mentioning it, i think you are probably right about the well documented childhood thing. Though it doesn’t seem to have been THAT well documented, as they keep showing that 10 second loop of her roasting something on the beach/playing the harp/taking a bow over and over and over and over again.

Still, i also agree that its really annoying. MSNBC pulls Ashleigh Banfield of of Palestine and the most turbulent political strife in the world to go hang out in Utah for weeks? Get a grip, guys…