Fifty in Fifty

Last week I was invited to participate in an interim HLN series that is scheduled for a daily, 10-week run. Nancy Grace: America’s Missing, proposes to feature 50 missing person cases on weekday evenings during primetime in an effort to generate the leads that might return the missing to their families. I thought it was a terrific idea and immediately agreed to participate. For years missing child advocates, the families of the missing and other concerned citizens have been hoping for a television program focused on this singular issue. Imagine my disappointment then when the vast majority of comments linked to a story about the program were scurrilous, petty and mean spirited.

I have been providing television commentary on missing children since October 1, 1993, the day my twelve year old daughter Polly was kidnapped from a slumber party in her bedroom. Although i totally appreciate these opportunities they have been ad hoc and have occurred in numerous formats, from local morning shows, to network newsmagazines, to staged reenactments. There has never been a program that dealt with this issue on a regular ongoing schedule. The episodic drama Without A Trace was popular for a few years. John Walsh has always featured missing kids on America’s Most Wanted and Larry King Live often highlited missing child cases. Unfortunately, Larry retired from television about a month ago. Nancy Grace has been the most passionate high profile missing persons advocate and she has featured hundreds of missing person cases on her program since it began running on HLN in February 2005.

There is no question that Nancy’s advocacy has had positive results. Last December a viewer in San Francisco recognized a missing twelve year old girl that had been featured on Nancy Grace and called the police. The case was solved and the girl returned to her family.

Strong advocacy raises the profile of any issue informs the public, and promotes solutions. Just look at the progress that has been made as it relates to the missing. In 1993, we didn’t have sex offender registration or community notification, now Megan’s Law has been adopted throughout our country. Back in the day, law enforcement didn’t have any protocols to deal with missing person investigations, now there are national, regional, and local protocols, not to mention the Amber Alert. When Polly was kidnapped, America had a turnstile system of justice that regurgitated the same high profile offenders again and again, who systematically committed crimes of ever escalating violence. Now we have truth-in-sentencing and three-strikes-and-you’re-out. Crime is down, violence is reduced and more missing persons are being recovered.

By the time the second episode of Nancy Grace: America’s Missing aired on Jan. 18, it became obvious that the show had struck a chord. Two of the missing children profiled in the first program had been recovered and a real time tip was phoned in as the show profiled Lindsey Baum, who has been missing since June 26, 2009. On the third show we learned that the maltreatment of children with disabilities is 1.5-to-10 times higher than of children without disabilities, and that immediate family members perpetrate the majority of neglect, physical abuse, and emotional abuse.

The Associated Press story, reprinted in the Huffington Post, dealt with the substance of the new venture, but the comments it generated were inspired by anger and jealousy. The vast majority of the commentary completely ignored the issue or the fact that this limited series provides a long sought breakthrough for those invested in the plight of the missing. They paid no attention to the broken hearts, lost souls or desperate families who are pinning their hopes on the prospect of having a previously dead case profiled in primetime. They chose to ignore the fact that for many people this is an important issue and for some it is the most important issue. Instead they seemed to mock tragedy, advocacy, and hope. The people who read and comment on the Huffington Post consider themselves sophisticated, intelligent, socially and politically aware. However, at least in this forum, and there is nothing else upon which to judge them, are mean spirited, small minded, and cynical.

I used to think of my heart as a walnut, because for some years I lost the ability to cry. If that is true, then the anonymous posters on the Huffington Post must have hearts the size and consistency of a pomegranate seed: small and bitter with a hard core.