Like thousands of Utahns, I am dumbstruck by the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart. Unlike thousands of Utahns, I did not join in the volunteer search for her. When our issue of last week rolled around though, I instructed our art department to build a full-page ad calling attention to her abduction. I really didn’t give it much thought other than I believed we could get 60,000 copies of our paper out faster than the volunteers could get out 60,000 flyers. If just one reader had just one more piece of information, I reasoned, perhaps this case might come to quicker solution.
I don’t know if our efforts resulted in any new information to authorities. I do know, however, that several readers were offended. No sooner was our paper on the streets when a call came in that City Weekly was no different than any other media in town, displaying a bias towards Mormons, the rich, and young white victims. Why, the caller asked, did we not dedicate similar space to victims of lesser circumstance, specifically young brown or black abductees from the West Side of town? At first I was frustrated and a little pissed, but in retrospect, I quite understand what those readers were thinking.
Several years ago, a young girl was taken from her West Side bedroom and later found dead in the Jordan River. Her mother’s anguish could not have been any less than that of the Smart family. Her neighbors could not have been any less frightened. But I don’t recall a similar rally to volunteer by the community at large, nor do I recall that story beating all other major stories to the tops of the daily newspapers, nor to the beginning of evening news broadcasts for an extended period of time.
The victim was Hispanic. I don’t know if she was Mormon. She clearly wasn’t rich. In the case of City Weekly, none of those markers factored in to the decision to run the Smart announcement, nor as reasons not to run something similar years ago. The caller could not have known that during the very week of the Smart abduction, City Weekly made substantial donations to Colors of Success and to the Mark Eaton Standing Tall for Youth Foundation. I am not comfortable in announcing that, but what I did in the Smart case was very public, even by remote comparison. And the truth is, I don’t know exactly why I allowed City Weekly to be so public about it.
Will I do it again? Probably not, no matter the circumstance; it shouldn’t be our role to participate. But if I do, my decision will not be predicated on the victims being Mormons or Mexicans. I made a spurious decision, not my first, one that has nothing to do with race, religion or equity, and much to do with a complex crime that even has people far beyond Utah’s borders at odds with it. Something about this case stinks—even the notion of trying to help.