Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Do the Media Have a Cafeteria Plan When Reporting About Missing Children?

by Stacy Dittrich

I’m guilty. The hundreds of radio, print and television reporters across the country are guilty. We are guilty of standing in the dessert line in the cafeteria, picking and choosing the more attractive dishes, while completely ignoring the entrée’s to our left that our screaming for our attention. You’re over Casey Anthony—the latest Crème Brulee. I get it. I’m over Casey Anthony. For 3 years I have been commenting on the case via radio, television, and print. I’m done. I know many of the other contributors here echo these sentiments. A brief scroll down the WCI archives shows that Casey, Caylee, Cindy and George Anthony, along with Zanny the Nanny, were mentioned an astounding 137 times.

In reflection, however, the case begs to open another discussion of why some incredibly emotional and horrific cases are ignored while others are literally blasting through every artery of the media on a daily basis. Why did we focus so intently on Casey Anthony and not others? I’ve actually heard some in the media blame Nancy Grace.


If one woman wields that kind of power, than Nancy truly is an American superstar.

In my opinion, it’s not Nancy’s fault, but the American public’s obsession with seeing justice served—and rightly so. We’ve been dragged through so many senseless tragedies with little or no vindication (ahem, O.J.) that I truly believe the public has simply had enough and wants to start holding those responsible accountable. The problem with Casey Anthony started at the beginning. It seemed like an open and shut case; mother allegedly murders daughter, mother gets arrested, mother goes to prison for life. Unfortunately, I began to see many red flags in the beginning that made me nervous. As shallow as this sounds, Casey’s attractiveness was one of them. It may sound shallow but I have the experience to back it up. I can’t begin to count the number of jury trials I’ve attended where my attractive, female, suspect was found “not guilty.” Even more incredulous, as I spoke to jurors after, they held nothing back when telling me, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t look at that nice, sweet, girl and believe she really did that. I can’t.” (Hello, professional jurors, where are you?)

Some believe that race and religion are silent factors when bringing a horrific crime to the national forefront. I have been following a disturbing case that I’ve seen briefly touched on in the national news, but nowhere near other crimes. New York City local news has been covering it frequently, but other than that—zilch. It involves the disappearance and murder of an 8-year old Orthodox Jewish boy, Leiby Kletzky, and it is gruesome.

On July 11, 2011, the Brooklyn boy had begged and pleaded with his parents to walk home by himself from day camp–a first. The parents initially hesitated, but decided to allow Leiby (pictured left) to spread his wings a little. With obvious trepidation, Leiby’s parents not only memorized the route with him, a total of seven blocks, but they actually went through a dry run. Walking by himself for the first time, Leiby never came home. This defines a parent’s worst nightmare. Of course it gets worse; much, much, worse.

33 hours after intense searches and investigations, authorities were led to the home of Levi Aron, 35, a local hardware supply stock clerk. Nothing could have prepared them for what they found inside.

Inside Aron’s freezer, they found Leiby’s severed feet wrapped in plastic. Aron then led investigators to a Dumpster containing a red suitcase that held the remainder of Leiby’s dismembered body. Aron claimed he forgot about the feet in the freezer.

Through a series of bizarre interviews, Aron claimed that Leiby had become lost on his route home and approached him for a ride. Headed to a wedding, Aron claimed he took Leiby with him and, upon seeing the flyers for the missing boy the next day, panicked and killed him. Of course, investigators now know that Aron took Leiby back to his apartment where he supplied him with a cocktail of drugs, suffocated him, and dismembered his body. The answer to the perpetual question of why Aron committed such a heinous act is still unclear. However, investigators did remove numerous children’s items from Aron’s home including a blue child’s spoon and pink cup. Is it possible Aron had harmed more children? Police say that there is currently no evidence of that, but a look into Aron’s background screams red flags of violent behavior.

My point is, Levi Aron will never see the light of day again. He confessed, there is physical and circumstantial evidence to back up his confession, it’s a done deal. So, why should we care? I do, which is why I’m writing about it here. Do you think the media took a pass on this case because Leiby was an Orthodox Jew or was it because we know justice will be served?

Then there’s the case of Mariha Smith (pictured right), 5, an African American girl who was recently abducted and murdered in Detroit. On Sunday, July 31, 2011 Mariha was reported missing by her mother who said someone must have gone through Mariha’s bedroom window between 3 a.m. and noon while she slept. Mariha’s mother admitted to being heavily intoxicated and passed out when this occurred. Unfortunately, just hours later, Mariha’s burned body was found in an abandoned home just blocks from her own. Her skull had been crushed prior to her body being set on fire.

After investigators showed family members a surveillance video from a nearby gas station showing a man purchasing cans of gasoline, did they begin to suspect Darnell Cheatham, 20. Cheatam is the boyfriend of Mariha’s aunt. After executing a search warrant at Cheatam’s residence, investigators took him into custody, and subsequently charged him with Mariha’s murder. Justice served, but not much attention.

Are the cases chosen based on race, religion, or socioeconomic factors? Possibly, but to reiterate, I truly believe it’s about justice. In both of the above cases, it is rather clear that justice will prevail in each of these horrific and vile crimes. But, in Caylee Anthony’s case, it didn’t. What's the X factor here?

Justice certainly hasn’t prevailed in the case of missing Oregon boy, Kyron Horman, 7. The last person to see him, step-mother Terri Horman, has been investigated exhaustively but refuses to cooperate. Kyron (pictured left) still hasn’t been found and his parents continue to live in Hell. Now this is pure injustice and it’s downright appalling.

I have to submit that all of the above cases have been mentioned in the media, some more than others. The downside is that there are approximately 150-200 child stranger abductions every year across this country and the media couldn’t possibly cover them all. All races, religions, and socioeconomic factors are unfortunately covered here. Child abductions know no racism or bigotry and most of these children are probably deceased. Should a deranged lunatic walk into an elementary school and viciously murder 150 students in one mass murder the incident would scream across headlines worldwide, but spread each one out over a one year period and no one seems to pay attention to each and every one. Why?

It’s the nature of the media beast, our cafeteria mentality that picks those who will grab the public’s attention in a New York minute. Regardless of the how’s and why’s at least some of these cases are being brought to the national level. Even if it’s just one case where the life of a child is saved or we learn from it, it is truly worth it.

For those left behind, always keep them in your thoughts and prayers.


Anonymous said...

Agree with you. As much as Nancy Grace was annoying with her C.A. coverage. When she is not talking about her, she does put some attention to other missing children of different races. Some of these I do not hear about in California.

FRG said...

Mrs. Dittrich,

Thank you for the article!

My opinion is the same as yours, we wanted justice to be served to Caylee and oh well, jurors forgot that attractive mothers do kill their kids, unfortunately! In this case the jurors also wanted to go home, but I don't want to get started on that! Urg!

NG was not to blame for the media exposure, the bizarre behavior of KC and her parents were to blame. After all, have you ever heard of a mother "never" reporting her daughter missing which we now know she was dead? What mother would go partying for 31 days when your kid is dead? See, it is not NG's fault. Then you add a scum bag lawyer going on National Media saying Caylee is alive, the rest we all know.

I feel sorry for the Kyron Horman's parents! Now, it had to be such a nightmare not to bring your own kid home to a proper burial, they have no idea what happened and this is so very sad! IMO

A Voice of Sanity said...

"In my opinion, it’s not Nancy’s fault, but the American public’s obsession with seeing justice served—and rightly so."

That's delusional. The obsession is with revenge (and the bloodier the better) never with justice.

"August 10, 2011 : 273 EXONERATED"

So much for 'justice'. Where is the attention this disgrace surely deserves, the attention from the American "justice system"? Only the word 'American' is true here. No justice. No system.

Gaye said...

"Terri Horman, has been investigated exhaustively but refuses to cooperate" Terry Horman cooperated. What she didn't do was confess. As much as Kyron's bio mother loves him, and as much as she hates Terry, it doesn't mean that Terry is guilty. It doesn't mean she is innocent either. But, she did cooperate. The cooperation stopped when they pushed her to confess.