Now, before I get called a heartless bastard, let me hasten to point out that I agree that this story is tragic. Natalee's family and friends have doubtless been going through hell during this past month. I do hope that she can be recovered safe and sound, though that possibility seems very remote at this point. If I were the King of the World, I would snap my fingers and instantly transport every missing person back to the safety of their families.
But what makes Natalee Holloway more important than, say, Reyna Alvarado-Carerra?
In the United States alone, more than a million people are reported missing each year. The majority of these cases involve minors. The majority of those cases are runaways, but there are also significant numbers of abductions at the hands of both relatives and strangers. This brings us to the case of Reyna Gabriella Alvarado-Carerra.
Have you ever heard of her?
I certainly hadn't until I started doing research for this story. Reyna is a 13 year-old Hispanic girl who is believed to have been abducted by a stranger in Norcross, Georgia. She was abducted just a few weeks before Holloway. A Google search on her name yields a grand total of 6 results.
The same search for "Natalee Holloway" turns up 276,000 results.
But Natalee doesn't just get more Google search results. She's getting airtime, baby. As I mentioned in the intro, American news outlets are awash with a veritable cornucopia of Natalee fever. She also gets assistance from the Dutch Marines and special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who apparently already have enough resources at work battling mundane things like terrorism.
Here's the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, and the reason I am writing this treatise: CNN is now reporting that Holland is sending three F-16 warplanes to assist in the search for Natalee. I was given pause by thinking about the sheer cost of this endeavor. My brother-in-law is a recruiter for the Air National Guard, and I have a rough idea of how much money it costs to even get one of those things off of the ground. How much do you suppose is being spent to equip these planes with the special search equipment and then actually get them to Aruba?
The disproportionate response of Aruban, Dutch, and American authorities to the disappearance of this girl can only be attributed to the disproportionate amount of media coverage. CNN, MSNBC, and (especially) Fox News feature hourly updates on the status of the investigation. They interview family members, law enforcement personnel, and representatives of the Aruban government. The case even features prominently on right-wing talk radio shows, such as the Sean Hannity Show and Bill O'Reilly's Radio Factor. This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the coverage: What could possibly be political about this case? Why would Hannity and O'Reilly be interested in taking away airtime from discussions about the immorality of Democrats and spend it on Natalee Holloway instead?
I can guess, and will spend the next couple of paragraphs doing so. This is mere speculation on my part; you have been warned.
The initial Fox News coverage of the story was pretty transparent, particularly on O'Reilly's show. The incident was portrayed as a lesson: "See, this is what happens when you vacation outside of America in nations with swarthy peoples." Initially, two former security guards were arrested in connection with the disappearance. O'Reilly called these two men "slugs" and lamented the fact that Aruba does not have a death penalty that they could be threatened with. Of course, it later turned out that the two had nothing to do with the abduction, and they were released. (As far as I've seen, there was no retraction or apology from O'Reilly, a man who constantly reminds us that he does not "engage in speculation" on his show.)
Things changed when the focus of the investigation shifted to 17 year-old Dutch boy Joran van der Sloot. Since the new culprit was now Whitey, the initial political spin was invalidated. Fox briefly attempted to make the story into an argument for the juvenile death penalty (even going so far as referring to van der Sloot as a "17 year-old Dutch man.") This fizzled, however, and the current focus of the coverage, at least on Fox, is the supposed ineptitude of Aruban law enforcement. O'Reilly's new favorite pastime is lambasting the Aruban authorities for not giving the media enough information about the case and for not having recovered her body yet. This despite the fact that it took over a year to find the body of Chandra Levy (and Washington, D.C. is smaller than Aruba.)
But I digress; I would be doing a grave disservice to suggest that the other news networks have been handling this story responsibly. The coverage at places like CNN and MSNBC has been less political but certainly no less pervasive. Stories of actual importance to the daily lives of Americans are routinely ignored in favor of the latest non-updates in the Holloway case. (To be fair, however, the Holloway case is far from the only non-news that is being reported; my life is not particularly affected by shark bites to Austrians who are vacationing in Florida.)
Here are some things that you may have missed over the past couple of weeks if you rely on American television news for your daily dose of information:
These are just a few examples. But hey, we're getting our Natalee fix, right?
It would probably be impossible to figure out how many millions of dollars are being spent on the effort to find Natalee Holloway. But I'll wager it would be relatively trivial to determine how much money and effort is expended on a typical abducted person case. So if you've reserved a few moments out of your day to send your thoughts or prayers to the family of Natalee Holloway, you might want to do the same to the family of Reyna Alvarado-Carerra.
Does it make me a bad American if I just don't care about Natalee Holloway (above and beyond the general concern expressed at the beginning of this story?) Is the life and death of one teenager worth more than another on the basis of her socioeconomic status? Is America, as a nation, well-served by a news media that is more concerned with infotainment than it is with information? And if you think that the Natalee Holloway case is something that in any shape or form deserves my hourly attention, could you explain why?
I wish I could say that I care, but I just can't.
Update [2005-7-29 9:8:37 by rusty]: Hello, AOL visitors and others who found this article through Google! Many of you probably find yourselves in an absolute lather of dudgeon and froth right now, and are just itching to send off an email to the vile proprietors of this site expressing your shock and outrage at the title of this article (having not read beyond that). May I take this opportunity to gently recommend that you do not do so, since quite a few others already have, and with even more misspellings, grammatical mistakes, and capitalized sentences than you were going to use. Chances are that whatever you were going to say, whether it was a promise to report us to government authorities, threats against our persons and/or families, or just a stream of profanity, has already been said even less coherently by someone else.
While we do find your emails very entertaining, I feel bad that so many of you are wasting your valuable time on them. I felt it was only fair to warn you in advance that your emailed expressions of outrage will be at best ignored, and at worst posted elsewhere on this site for further mockery by the community at large.