The media’s obsession with the Casey Anthony murder trial has brought attention to an unspoken and significant question: If Casey’s daughter had been Black, Hispanic or Asian, would the case have garnered as much attention?
Known as “tot mom” by HLN’s host Nancy Grace, Casey Anthony was acquitted July 5 of a first-degree murder charge, which left viewers across the country puzzled and angry that no one had been held responsible for the death of two-year-old Caylee Anthony. Some news outlets questioned the trial’s overwhelming coverage and said race and social status played a major role in a case that saturated social media.
The International Business Times (IBT) was shocked that the Casey Anthony trial drew as much attention as it did because significant elements that attract spectators were not there.
Anthony lacked “wealth, celebrity and good looks,” which are qualities the tabloid media craves, according to IBT. The site called Caylee an “adorable child” and her mother “plain-looking.”
“They didn’t appear to be an affluent family, though not exactly poor either,” IBT stated. “Overall, it seems to be an ordinary, mundane (white) American family in which an unspeakable crime has occurred.”
IBM said a similar case involving beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey in the 1990s had the elements on which mainstream media thrives.
“That tale had virtually everything a tawdry tabloid market demanded – a horrifying murder of an innocent child; attractive wealthy parents (including an ex-beauty queen mother and millionaire businessman father)…,” the news agency stated.
“Oh, and they were White.”
David Hazinski, a former NBC News correspondent who teaches broadcast journalism at the University of Georgia, said the media disproportionately covers other races in missing person’s cases.
“When was the last time you heard something about a 23-year-old Black female who was missing on NBC or ‘World News Tonight’?” Hazinski asked MSNBC.com. “I think in general we just really don’t hear about Latin or Black or Asian people who are missing.”
“I’m not sure why.”
Instead of race, gender may be the reason for the heavy coverage of the Casey Anthony, according to Roy Peter Clark, vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“There are several common threads,” Clark told MSNBC.com. “The victims that get the most coverage are female rather than male. They are White, in general, rather than young people of color. They are at least middle class, if not upper middle class.”
Clark said the media’s coverage of cases reflects how society views different races, sexes.
“In many, many cities going back 50, 75 years or more, journalists would refer to ‘good murders’ and ‘bad murders,’” Clark said.
When covering police stories, Clark said there is “this perverted, racist view of the world. White is good; Black is bad. Blonde is good; dark is bad. Young is good; old is bad. And I think we can find versions of this story going back to the tabloid wars of more than a hundred years ago.”
Casey Anthony was acquitted of the murder charges but was sentenced to four years in prison for lying to police officers during the case. With time already served in jail while awaiting the murder trial and good behavior while incarcerated, she is expected to be released July 17.