You will take note that I try very hard not to comment on the trivial and inane. You won't see many posts on here about celebrity marriages or reality TV. In fact, I consider most of what cable news covers, beyond government and politics, to be pretty pointless and generally only aired for prurient interests. I include in this category the never-ending stream of missing baby and toddler stories.
In the old days - with the exception of the occasional little girl down the well story (as captured brilliantly in Woody Allen's Radio Days) - the whole nation wasn't focused laser-like each and every time a child went missing. The utility of an Amber Alert system that flashes a notice on the NYS Thruway that a little girl has gone missing in Oregon has always baffled me. But beyond the relevance issue, the reason I object so strongly to this coverage is the damage it causes. The John Walshs and "child advocates" of this country believe it to be a very positive thing that we are bombarded morning, noon and night with an endless repetition of stories of missing children thousands of miles from where we live. It doesn't matter that the instances of this type of crime has dropped dramatically - as has all crime - over the last three decades. The damage this coverage produces is to convey the opposite reality. Ask any suburban mother whether she thinks this type of crime is on the rise and the answer you will get is her firm belief that it's rampant.
Nancy Grace and the rest of cable news is to blame for that. It is beyond sick to me that there now exists a whole industry of kiddie kidnapping commentators and former prosecutors ready to appear on any news show that will have them and pontificate for hours about a crime that has yet to be solved. Worse, there is a popular TV show devoted to nothing but perpetuating the idea that these crimes are increasing exponentially (Law & Order SVU).
With all that said, let me make some observations about the latest case in Indiana. I do so not because it's topical but because it's a teachable moment. First, it is beyond horrific what happened to this girl and I grieve for her mother and sisters.
The facts are these: mother and three daughters move to a trailer park to care for her ailing father. Because of Indiana's awful Sex Offender laws, this trailer park had become home to many sex offenders (it met the strict criteria - no schools, bus stops, churches, etc.). In fact, 3/4 of the homes' tenants were sex offenders, as was the ailing father. Mother meets and befriends one of the residents and asks him routinely to watch her kids while she works. He moves away and she asks him to return to continue helping her (imagine the guilt now this mother is enduring). As usual, she leaves the kids with him and when she returns she discovers that her 9yo has gone missing.
For a few days that's all we knew and the news was filled with speculation and anger regarding this nest of sex offenders and how something needs to be done since children shouldn't have been living there. Low and behold the culprit, the family friend/babysitter, was one of the few non-sex offenders living in this trailer park. This didn't surprise me at all. This case matched all the statistical facts with the reality of this particular crime. Fact # 1 - sex offender laws are meaningless since over 95% of these crimes are committed by a friend or family member - no registry can help you there. Study after study has confirmed this fact. Fact #2 - crimes associated with so called 'sex offenders' have the lowest recidivism rate of any major class of crime - the lowest!!
And yet I can guarantee you with 100% certainty that some yahoo Indiana legislator is going to introduce legislation (named after the dead child, of course) to crack down on sex offenders - even though no registered sex offender committed this crime. The optics of this crime, if not looked at very closely, lend themselves perfectly to demagoguery.
I would much prefer to live in a nation where these types of stories were isolated to the local community in which they occurred. It's not only not in any way useful to know these things, it's very harmful. It's not callous to say this. No normal human brain could function if exposed to the particulars of every major crime that occurs in the United States each day. You'd be an emotional basketcase in less than a week. So why these stories? Because they get ratings and air time for elected officials.
The Wall Street Journal has an excellent Op-Ed piece today on how we are becoming a nation of neurotics; overreacting to the slighest and most isolated of screw-ups. And how the media capitalizes on this for ratings. Butchering children isn't a screw-up. It's a horrific crime. But it is an extremely isolated and rare thing in this nation of 330 million people. It happens far, far less than people think and have been lead to believe. And worse, for a whole class of registered ex-cons (the writer included) the public has been made to believe that it is more important for people to know in every way possible that the guy next door publicly urinated or looked at bad pictures on the internet than it is that your neighbor is a murderer or terrorist - neither crime requiring registration.
This fear defies any ratonal logic. But of course this isn't about logic. From the TV network's perspective it's about ratings. From the politician's perspective it's about votes. What is has nothing to do with is reducing crime or creating a safer society. Hopefully out of this girl's death will come this teachable moment. Not the one, that I am sure the Nancy Graces will want us to take away from this tragedy, however.