Shouldn’t we just let the pictures speak for themselves?

How many times do we in the news media lead into missing-persons stories by referring to a “beautiful mother of two” or a “beautiful college student” or a “beautiful nurse” or a “beautiful cheerleader” who has disappeared, precipitating an intensive search for her, an intensive law-enforcement focus on the primary and/or most recent male figure in her life, and intensive national television coverage by us?  We do it all the time, right?

But why do we seem to always make a point of noting that they’re “beautiful”?  I actually avoid doing it, but I do get it — in fact, I wrote a whole article back in 2009 about why certain cases get national television coverage and others don’t (you can find a reprint here:, and beauty is one of seven elements of “sensationality” that I explain in it.

But it still makes me cringe sometimes because it can come across as if we wouldn’t be spotlighting a particular case if the missing person weren’t “beautiful.”  It’s kind of like how I cringe whenever we cover disaster stories, like last month’s wildfires in Colorado, and people who’ve narrowly escaped tragedy say things on camera like, “I just thank God for sparing our home” — as if God sat there picking and choosing which families deserved to have their homes burned down and which families deserved to have their homes spared.

I know, they probably didn’t intend to imply that God didn’t care as much about the families whose homes burned down, but they implied it nonetheless.  I cringe because I don’t believe God works that way, not because God doesn’t care about all humans, but because I think there are many things that are tragic in the context of a human lifespan that probably just aren’t that big of a deal in the context of eternity.

But at least in our disaster coverage, it’s usually the subjects of the coverage who make such cringe-worthy value judgments — in our missing-persons coverage, it’s us in the media.  So, even if it’s true that we’re covering a particular missing-persons story, at least in part, because the subject is “beautiful,” I think it’d generally be better if, instead of making that point explicitly, we’d just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Have a beautiful weekend!


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