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Media criticized over Phila "abduction" story

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Screen capture of NBC's Today Show coverage of the apparent abduction of a Phila area mom and her daughter

National television's coverage made an abduction claim into a major news story that later turned out to be a hoax

The story of a Bucks County woman who faked her kidnapping and fled to Disney World in Florida garnered national headlines, even before it was revealed to be a hoax.   Some media observers are criticizing the coverage the case has gotten.

The reports of Bonnie Sweeten’s frantic 911 call, saying she’d been kidnapped along with her nine year old daughter, received widespread local and national coverage.

Kelly McBride is a Media Ethics Group Leader with the Poynter Institute for Journalism.  She says the story had one key element for news network interest.

McBride: You have a victim that cable news believes will resonate with a large number of people, so a child is usually a good victim in that sense.”

McBride says the media should have treated Sweeten’s false claim to have been abducted by two black men with more skepticism, because of the potential harm such reporting can cause to black communities.

One Comment

  • Mike Snith says:

    Bonnie Sweeten played the 911 system. And national news media foolishly picked up on the story before checking the facts. This isn’t the first time where African American men have been falsely blamed for an abduction or murder and the national news media picks it up as fact – without checking! Susan Smith is a classic example.

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