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The missing persons stories that TV news stations report almost always involve attractive young white women. This is unfair to men, minority women, and unattractive women, but it’s not exactly beneficial to white women, either, since they end up looking endangered and helpless. In his latest column, “Media Coverage Does Pretty Young White Women No Favors,” Leonard Pitts writes:

If all you had to go by was NBC or CNN, you’d never know that more than 335,000 men and boys went missing last year or about 230,000 African-Americans. You will rarely see coverage of them on national news. Nor, for that matter, of older people, or less attractive ones.

While the effect of this bias is to deny the worth of anyone who is not a pretty young white woman, a case can be made that it does pretty young white women no favors, either. The driving force of that bias, after all, is a narrative that depicts them as damsels in perpetual distress, helpless little things under constant threat from the harsh vicissitudes of a big, mean world. With apologies to a certain Oscar-winning song, it’s hard out here for a white woman.

Or so TV news routinely suggests.

To imply it is somehow more important, more heart-rending, when a young white woman is in danger is, at best, a backhanded compliment. The implication is laced with a certain condescending paternalism that finds echoes throughout history, from assurances that women ought not to trouble their pretty little heads with voting to debates over whether they belong in the workplace.

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