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BBC Admits Error in Claiming Race Played Role in Cleveland Kidnappings Coverage

Story had Charged That Plain Dealer Gave More Coverage to White Victim

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BBC Admits Error in Claiming Race Played Role in Cleveland Kidnappings Coverage
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The BBC has admitted it was wrong to claim that race played a role in the Cleveland Plain Dealer's coverage of three young women who were kidnapped and held captive for a decade.

Three days after Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight escaped from the Cleveland house where they had been held, a story appeared on the BBC website claiming that during the 10 years Berry was missing, the Plain Dealer published 36 articles about her. The story, by reporter Tara McKelvey, also claimed that over nine years the paper only ran 19 articles about DeJesus.

Berry is white, while DeJesus is Hispanic, and McKelvey cited the figures as an example of "Missing White Woman Syndrome," in which, critics say, white crime victims get more news coverage than minorities.

But the BBC story triggered an angry response from Plain Dealer assistant managing editor Chris Quinn, who pointed out that the BBC, in doing a Lexis/Nexis search, did not include all variations of DeJesus' first name, something Quinn called "a rather glaring lapse."

Quinn showed that the paper had actually done 24 stories mentioning only Gina or Georgina DeJesus, while doing 17 mentioning only Berry.

"Because your network saw fit to brand as racist The Plain Dealer's coverage of the Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus cases, based on an analysis so simplistic we would have thought it beneath an organization such as yours, we are sending you the following information based on a much more thorough review," Quinn said in a letter to the BBC.

"The suggestion that this newspaper has used race as any kind of filter in its story choices is offensive in the extreme. We're shocked that such a poorly reported story could be posted by a network with your reputation," he added.

Now, the BBC has responded. In an e-mail sent Tuesday, spokesman Matt Hall said "I can confirm that we have been speaking to the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the story has now been amended."

Hall added:

"This story has been amended to remove the suggestion that the Cleveland Plain Dealer published considerably more stories about Amanda Berry while she was missing than it did about Gina DeJesus. The numbers cited were based on erroneously compiled data and we regret that error."

The same message appeared in an editor's note at the bottom of McKelvey's story.

Quinn, in an e-mail, said he found it "reassuring that an enterprise such as the BBC, upon learning it had made a harmful error, had the decency to correct its mistake."

The corrected article omits any mention of the Plain Dealer or its coverage of the kidnappings.

But McKelvey reports that nearly half of those who go missing in the U.S. are not white, then adds, "though one might not know that from the news coverage."

She cites a 2010 study claiming that about 80 percent of news coverage about missing children is devoted to victims who are not black, while only 20 percent is given to black children.

And she quotes Charlton McIlwain, an NYU professor who says: "White women occupy a privileged role as violent crime victims in news media reporting."

With the help of neighbors, Berry, DeJesus and Knight escaped on May 6 after Berry screamed for help. In a 911 call Berry told a dispatcher, "I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years, and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now... I'm Amanda Berry. I've been on the news for the last 10 years."

Ariel Castro has been charged with kidnapping and raping the three women, who were abducted separately and held captive for periods ranging from nine to 11 years. Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Lauren Moore set bail at $8 million.

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