Experts: Media biased in missing kids coverage

Over the past week, there was an intense media focus on Lisa Irwin, the 10-month-old Missouri girl who, according to her parents, was taken by an intruder from their home in the middle of the night.

As investigators search for Lisa, there are thousands of other missing child cases that fail to capture the nation's attention.

CBS News' Susan McGinnis reports that Joshua Davis disappeared during a family gathering at their San Antonio, Texas, home last February.

Sabrina Benitez, Joshua's mother, told CBS News, "We picked the crib up, we looked inside ... and we (saw) no sign of him."

Police launched a massive search in the days following Joshua's disappearance. But even with the offer of a $20,000 reward, he has yet to be found.

What's more, Joshua's family says they are frustrated by the lack of coverage their story has received, especially when compared to similar cases like that of Lisa Irwin.

Benitez said, "It kind of makes me mad that, eight months later into the case, we're barely getting national media coverage."

Joshua's case isn't unique. Of the thousands of missing children reported each year, only a select few receive a heightened level of coverage. Experts say those cases often meet certain criteria.

Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said, "What the media tends to focus on are the sensational cases. If there's an indication that a family member may be involved, the media doesn't want to cover it."

Police officials told CBS News they don't believe Joshua's parents were involved in his disappearance. His family feels the case deserves more attention.

Josh Davis Sr., Joshua's father, said, "Why don't we have that coverage? Why hasn't our case been, you know, the same way?"

Benitez said, "It's an innocent child that doesn't want nothing, but to be home where he's loved."

And until new information is discovered -- whether through police investigation or the media - little Joshua's whereabouts are likely to remain a mystery.

Every day in the U.S., 2,000 children are reported missing, and the Black and Missing Foundation, says 65 percent of the ones abducted by a non-family member are members of minority groups.

"Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill remarked, "There's criticism that it's the the missing white children and missing white adults, specifically, women, who receive attention. Is that an accurate criticism?

Marc Klaas, president of the KlaasKids Foundation, said that's "absolutely" an accurate criticism. He added, "There are other kinds of biases, as well. There's an age bias -- certainly the younger kids get much more attention than the older kids -- and a gender bias. You see much more attention being paid to girls than you do to boys."

Klaas' 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was kidnapped and murdered in 1993.

Gaetane Borders, president of Peas in Their Pods, an organization dedicated to finding missing children, said more children go missing than people realize. She said, "When we talk about missing kids, we are talking about 40,000 kids a year that go missing. That is a sizeable number that most people don't realize exists, and there is disparity among different areas. (Also,) age and race play a (role)."

So how does one missing child's story get thrust onto the national stage?

Klaas said a family member advocate can make a real difference.

"There is nobody that can do this as well as a family member," he said. "So you basically have to get over your shyness, you have to get over any issues you may have with media, and start working with them as much as you possibly can. If you can do that, and particularly local media, I think it's way more important, because kidnappings are local events. If you can deal with the local media and you can get them on your side, you are going to get the attention for your child's case."

Borders agreed, saying, "That's the key -- getting the local media on your side. But for many, many families, getting that media on their side is actually harder said than done, and that's the problem for the families of children of color that go missing."

Borders added how children are classified as missing is important. "Be mindful of the fact of how your child is listed as missing," she said. "Are they listed as 'endangered runaway' or are they listed as 'missing'? That is a big difference in the way the media will react to you and whether or not you will get the Amber alert."

Borders continued, "When we look at children of color that go missing, many of them are listed as endangered runaways. Whatever that perception is, whether they think children of color are a little more out there or more apt to run away, that is the perception, and it causes havoc."

But progress is being made, according to Klaas.

"I know where I live, in San Francisco, it's a very diverse community," he said. "There was a little boy about a year ago, about a year-and-a-half ago named Hassani Campbell, a little black boy, who received an enormous amount of attention. Just more recently in the Bay Area, there was a missing nursing student named Michelle Le, a Vietnamese young lady, and she was the only missing person anybody was talking about. But in both of those cases, there were local advocates working on behalf of the kids. I don't know if either of them got that much national attention, but they got an enormous amount of local attention, and I think that is really the key to any of these cases."

Hassani Campbell has not been found. Michelle Le's body was discovered in a canyon east of San Francisco.

Borders said, "(African-American) Phylicia Barnes got a sizeable amount of media coverage. But when we look at the amount of coverage she got to other missing children, it really pales in comparison."

Phylicia Barnes' body was found in the Susquehanna River near Port Deposit, Md., in April.

If you have any information about any missing child, please call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE LOST.