'Dateline' Visits Missing-Persons Coverage By DAVID BAUDER, AP Television Writer


When "Dateline NBC" reporter Josh Mankiewicz asked television news division chiefs to talk about disproportionate coverage of attractive white females who go missing, only his boss agreed. His report on the trend is scheduled to air on Friday's edition of "Dateline NBC."

Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, JonBenet Ramsey, Elizabeth Smart and now Natalee Holloway all became household names because of the way television news divisions, particularly the cable networks, extensively covered the story when they went missing.

Each had another common trait: they were young, white, pretty and female. Some have questioned how they became stories, when more than half of missing people are male and nearly three in 10 are black.

Mankiewicz follows the case of Tamika Huston, a black woman from Spartanburg, S.C., who disappeared last year. Her aunt, a public relations representative, told NBC she tried hard without much success to get national news outlets to report on the story.

Mankiewicz said he asked news bosses at ABC, CBS, CNN and Fox News Channel to talk about the issue.

"It's an uncomfortable question to address," he said, "and I think there may be a feeling that if there's going to be an examination done, they're going to do it themselves rather than watch it on someone else's network."

NBC News President Neal Shapiro was interviewed, telling Mankiewicz that race is not a factor in decisions about who NBC covers and how it is done.

"Our mission is to try to cover America," Shapiro said. "And that means all facets of America ... and when our coverage doesn't reflect that, it distresses me. That said, I think it's important that people in the industry talk about it. I think the fact that `Dateline NBC' is devoting airtime to it means we take it seriously."

The case of Holloway, a blond Alabama teenager who disappeared in May while on a vacation in Aruba, has been tirelessly covered on several cable news shows, particularly with Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren and CNN Headline News' Nancy Grace.

Van Susteren said her show has covered missing minorities, citing stories last week on LaToyia Figueroa, a pregnant woman from Philadelphia who hadn't been seen since July 18.

Figueroa's case attracted a brief flurry of television attention after several Philadelphia area bloggers waged a campaign urging networks to give the same attention to her as they did to Holloway.

"We could certainly do more," Van Susteren told The Associated Press. "You can never do enough. I'm not going to say we're perfect on that; I wish we did more on missing minorities. But I'm not going to be bothered by the critics."