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Holloway 'Damsel in Distress' Story Troubles O'Reilly

Reported by Judy - August 9, 2005

Bill O'Reilly conceded Tuesday (August 9, 2005) that he is "a little troubled" by some aspects of the cable news focus on the Aruban missing person case of Natalee Holloway. But O'Reilly has found someone to blame other than his employer, Fox News.

O'Reilly tried to make the family of Natalee Holloway the issue, saying that the "Holloway family has figured it out" and has learned that it needs to keep the story of their daughter's disapperance alive. "I think they're almost scripting it at this point," he said.

O'Reilly discussed the case with media consultant Eric Dezenhall, who said such stories are referred to in the trade as "damsels in distress" stories. (Here at News Hounds, we call them "missing white girl" stories, or "mwg's" for short.) Dezenhall said that such stories have a short shelf life once the disappearance has been reported. "In the absence of any hard news, you have to create it," he said. One way to do that is to create confrontation, either with the suspect in the case or, if there is no suspect, the authorities, by claiming that they mishandled the case. "You pretty much throw the other person's rights out the window," Dezenhall said.

Members of the Holloway family have tried to keep the story alive recently by tracking down a man questioned by police early in the investigation and then let go. Beth Holloway Twitty notified news reporters in advance that she would confront Deepak Kalpoe in an Internet cafe, and an NBC camera crew showed up to record it.

What O'Reilly found troubling was the family's arranging such events, not the media's decision to respond to them. O'Reilly chose to blame the family rather than ask the questions that would hit closer to home -- Why does Fox News continue to focus on this story? Do such stories deserve all the air time Fox devotes to them, month after month? What stories are being ignored to focus on this one? What social good is achieved by all the attention to this story? Questions like those will have to be asked on another network.

After the O'Reilly segment ended, Fox News aired an ad for the Hannity and Colmes show upcoming in a few minutes -- featuring an appearance by Natalee Holloway's father, Dave.

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