George Stephanopoulos: Spinmeister Gets Spun

Hi Readers!  Maybe you were watching “Good Morning America” today, with its incredible footage of Jaycee Dugard and her family. Jaycee is the 29-year-old who was kidnapped at age 11 and forced to live with her rapist for 18 years, bearing him two children. But, according to George Stephanopoulos, “Jaycee, in some ways, is one of the lucky ones. She finally made it home. But more than 2,000 children are reported missing every day.”

Great sound bite, George — but you got spun. Yes, 2,000 kids are reported missing every day. I’m sure my mom reported me the time I hid in my closet for three hours. (Every time I thought about coming out I felt too guilty, so in I stayed – feeling worse and worse.) The point is: 90% of those missing kids return home that same day. The vast majority of those who don’t come back that night are either runaways — usually teens — or kids taken by a non-custodial parent in a divorce dispute.

Ignore that critical part of the story and the average viewer is left to think, “Oh my god! TWO THOUSAND children are snatched like Jaycee every day! But only Jaycee was lucky enough to get out alive, so I guess the other 1,999 were killed!”  Two thousand missing children a day is 730,000 kids a year. But the number of children who are actually kidnapped and held overnight by strangers is, according to FBI stats, 115. Not a day. A YEAR. And 50 of them are killed.

Alas, that’s the way TV news works, and not just on ABC: Tell viewers the worst, avoid any explanation of an extremely alarming statistic, and cut to commercial. “We’ll be back with more after this!”

They always are. — Lenore

43 Responses

  1. I guess spending almost two-thirds of your life in your crazy rapist/kidnapper’s captivity is better than being dead, but it hardly qualifies as “lucky.” Stephanopoulos needs to get several clues here.

  2. This is important information to get our there Lenore. Thanks!

  3. I keep telling people this – I literally look up the stats a few times a month just in case they’ve suddenly changed! – but nobody wants to listen to me. It’s like asking them to give up a security blanket, but security blankets make people feel safe. I don’t know why people want to feel unsafe when they’re not.

  4. *reads comments*

    You’re right, Virginia. That’s a really good point.

  5. Virginia, I also agree.

    George Munchkin-opoulos is just another media hack who reports heart-tugging stories that bring on the tears, then takes out the scissors, cuts the strings and rips away your hankies. Then slaps your face and calls you insensitive when you take issue with their reporting. So irritating!

    Thanks for the opportunity to vent. I feel much better.

  6. Whenever I give these stats, people’s eyes bug out of their heads and either I hear, “Oh… huh.” Or “Yeah but what if…”

    The only one I didn’t hear that from? My sister the cop. Go figure. She grinned at me and was delighted to hear I knew the stats and delighted that my kids were outside playing and walking to school. She, of course, gave me tips on what predators **do** look for (like kids with old shoes, unbrushed hair – these two things mean kids aren’t cared for/kids wearing glasses, kids wearing coats – these are kids that are being watched over).

    @Uly: Totally agree… security blankets.

    @Virginia: Somehow I think people got the impression along the way that life – no matter the quality of it – is better than death… I realize that’s a whole other thread for a whole other forum, though, so I’ll stop there. 🙂

  7. He has a background in government and Presidential politics. ‘Nuff said.

  8. @Virginia: Somehow I think people got the impression along the way that life – no matter the quality of it – is better than death… I realize that’s a whole other thread for a whole other forum, though, so I’ll stop there. 🙂

    Good idea. I’ll put in my two cents and stop as well:

    Since none of us knows what Jaycee thinks of her life over the past several years, her life now, and her future, nor how she feels, none of us can actually say how lucky she is or isn’t. She might feel it would have been better to be dead, or she might not, and she might change her mind no matter what she thinks. She has that right – not so much us.

  9. This stuff makes news precisely because it doesn’t happen every day. If there really were 2,000 kids snatched a day, no one would cover it. I can just hear the news director now, “Nah, it’s just another snatched kid story. Cover the treed kitten in Canarsie. That’s news.” Sorry, with lots of family and friends in the news biz, that’s the way it works.

    And it is the biz, because you’ll stay tuned through the commercials to see what horror awaits your kids.

    On a tangential note, it always amuses me that at 7 o’clock they tease, “The 10 things in your home that could send your kids to the emergency tonight. Report at 11.” What am I supposed to do for 4 hours? What horrors could befall in that time???!!!

    It’s as the hard-bitten Roxie says in “Chicago,” They’ll fall for it hook, line and sinker because it’s what they want.” These fear-based narratives are part of our cultural identity. We watch them because we’re thankful that it’s not our kids, and we can feel lucky that this didn’t happen to us. When we can finally fight emotionalism with data, we get an accurate picture of the real, statistical truth, that treed kitten is looking mighty thrilling.

    Sarcasm aside, tragedies are awful, but they are rare. That’s WHY they’re news.

  10. The Jaycee Dugard case is unbelievably tragic. The idea that she is lucky is maddening. Lucky is being abducted by Crazy Aunt Linda for a day, and having ice cream before she takes you to the hospital because the aliens are eating your brains. Lucky isn’t being held captive for 18 years, with the police unable to thoroughly search a sex offenders property to find you.

    It is very hard for children who are abducted by relatives and held for months or a couple years to adapt to society. I can’t imagine how difficult it is in stranger abduction cases.

  11. That’s why I don’t trust news stories very much. They always go for sensational, even on the minor stories.

  12. Hm. Our satellite dish broke down last June. Still haven’t fixed it. Granted, over here news aren’t allowed to get interupted by ads, but reading articles like this make me wonder if I should bother repairing.

    I don’t get why people react to that stuff.

  13. I needed the true stranger abduction statistic when a policeman reported me to CPS when I left my thirteen year old son waiting in the car with his two year old brother (buckled happily in a carseat) at the grocery store. I took the keys. My teenager fell asleep with the car doors accidentally unlocked (for the first time ever – I am a door locker, even when I’m the one sitting in the car). The policeman kept telling me that in those twenty minutes someone would have had no problem kidnapping my toddler with my older son sleeping like that! That could very well be true, but I wondered how likely. Now I know! Would think a policeman would already have known something like that.

  14. Two thousand a day.

    If barely any of those kids ever made it back home, as Mr S would have us believe, we would have RUN OUT OF KIDS BY NOW.

  15. 340 people a year are injured by lightning. So you are 3 times more likely to be whacked by lightning than be abducted.

  16. Sean- the stranger abduction number only applies to children. If approximately the same percent of people, throughout different age groups, are struck by lightning then only about 85 children per year are struck.

  17. I am starting to believe that the world we live in right now is not a safe place for our children to be “free range.” In my relative small county alone, there are over 300 REGISTERED sex offenders. Who is monitoring these people?

  18. Gretchen, those sex offender lists, like Stephanopoulos’ reporting are deeply flawed and lack real credibility to be useful. Best to not fret about them, and to turn the TV news off.

  19. @Sean is that 340 ADULTS or children being injured by lightning?
    Since we are talking about abducted children we should get the statistics straight 😉

    I used to work for a bank, and we had a saying: Only believe a statistic you forged yourself….

  20. @Gretchen most sex offenders target relatives, family friends, etc. Most people on that list who committed acts of sexual violence (as in, the people who didn’t get on there for streaking…) sexually assaulted girlfriends, nieces, etc. It doesn’t make them any better, but they tend to target children and adults with whom they have established relationships. They also tend to target children who are in vulnerable situations.

    In addition, the majority of sex offenders never spend a night in prison, never mind end up on a registry.

  21. Gretchen – Have you any idea how many of those 300 registrants victimize children? Or how many of the registrants are predatory offenders? In some states you can get on the register for urinating in public or for sleeping with your 17 year old girlfriend (with her enthusiastic agreement). Those registers are virtually useless for helping you work out who’s a danger to your kids.

    The fact is your kids are most at risk of being sexually assaulted from the people they know – not a random stranger lurking in the bushes. Worry about traffic, that’s the most likely thing to harm them when they’re out and about. Or worry about obesity, a growing killer that we encourage in our kids by restricting their freedom to roam.

  22. Hmmm, George, which is “luckier”: dying quickly, or being raped for 18 years?

  23. “Those registers are virtually useless for helping you work out who’s a danger to your kids.”

    People keep saying this, but I don’t think it’s completely useless, because the registries (at least the ones in my state) specify the crime: indecent exposure, incest, taking liberties with a minor, statutory rape, child rape, possession of child pornography, rape, etc.

  24. @Sky considering you’re most at danger from someone you know, they do create a sort of false sense of security. They also facilitate victim blame, ex “why did you let your child near that man? he was on the registry!”. Nevermind that it would be near impossible to search every person you meet on the registry, and it’s easy as pie to just say your name is “John Doe”.

    If a perp wants to find a victim they will find them. If someone is so dangerous that we need to hold block meetings about them they should be in prison or another locked facility.

  25. Sky: The problem is that even those categories (and not all states even provide such categories) are still too broad. “Indecent exposure” could be “peeing behind a bush” or “flashing a 10-year-old girl.” “Statutory rape” could be “40-year-old man seduces 13-year-old-girl” or it could be “18-year-old HS senior makes out with his 17-year-old girlfriend.”

    But the biggest problem is that the vast majority of people convicted of genuine child sexual abuse have no priors. That’s not to say that they haven’t offended before, but they weren’t caught before. And very few of those who do get caught offend again (although since so much child sexual abuse is incestual, that may only be because their potential pool of victims is very limited). So the registries wind up disproportionately listing the least risky people. The biggest risks are the ones you don’t know about, and the only way to keep kids safe from them is to teach them how to recognize creepy behavior, no matter who’s doing it (note that this conflicts with teaching them to submit to authority unquestioningly).

  26. I think Uly is right — no one but Jaycee (years down the road from here) will be able to judge whether she was “luckier” to be rescued after 18 years of horror or to have been killed outright.

    But I don’t think it’s so outrageous a comment for Stephanopoulos to have made, even if it’s arguably incorrect. At least someone who’s still alive has a chance to enjoy a happy (albeit not undamaged) future. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but the possibility of it makes it at least possible that she was indeed “lucky”, and therefore not a definitively absurd thing to say.

  27. I am taking this post in to my 5yo daughters preschool teacher Monday! I kept her out of school Friday bc the were having a stranger danger speech from a police officer. She said it is important that they hear it. I told teacher I talk to my child about what happens IF someone tries to snatch her and that we have role played it and I’m comfortable with her knowing what to do, and that I don’t need someone who is such an authority figure making her scared to say hi to grampa in a grocery store 🙂

  28. I reported my 7 yr. old missing last month, because he didn’t come home from school (he walks) and I didn’t get his dad’s email that he was picking him up and taking him to the park.
    The cop that came to my house said the previous 5 missing kid calls he’d received were hiding in their own homes. It’s a missing child epidemic!
    Our “missing child” situation was very frightening and taught us a needed lesson about communication, but my son walked home from school the next day. I won’t let my children be imprisoned by fear.

  29. The cop that came to my house said the previous 5 missing kid calls he’d received were hiding in their own homes. It’s a missing child epidemic!

    Indeed, while a really high number of children are reported missing daily (a stat fearmongers will be happy to quote better), most of those are cases like your own – simple miscommunication. And those that actually do involve missing children are most often custody disputes or runaways. Not a pretty picture those cases, no (especially when the runaways are actually children whose parents kicked them out or such), but not really the danger of the week.

  30. A very interesting posting. In Sweden, according to the Swedish Civil Defense League 1700 children are reported missing each year – most because they get lost outside. What was the response? Let’s teach these children how to act and behave in this situation using age appropriate stories, games and activities. You can now get training so that your child knows about keeping warm, staying in one place and attracting attention. The courses are aimed at 3-5yr old 6- 8 yr olds and 8-12 yr olds. Once again a Scandinavian country takes a pragmatic approach to a serious matter. Result!

  31. Jaycee is very lucky to be alive but this tragedy will live with both her and her family for the rest of their lives. I hope they’ve got a great support group and counseling service to help them deal with the ups and downs that are sure to come. My heart goes out to them.

    As far as the reporting goes…this is a great example of how we must sometimes take the statistics that are being reported with a grain of salt. Exaggeration is so common!

  32. Juliet,

    That is a great, pragmatic way to handle the problem. It’s my family’s personal goal to teach our kids the same sort of skills, not only for being outdoors, but for life in general.

    We live on the far edge of a metro area and our home backs up to a forest preserve. It’s a lovely area, with a prairie, creek and pond surrounding our home (and our neighborhood). There are great things for our children here to explore and enjoy, like the creek and pond as well as deer, hawks, coyotes, turkeys and the like.

    We love the nature around us and chose this spot for that reason, but these benefits also present dangers and we’ve taken the time to stress to our kids the importance of respecting the reality of those dangers. Ponds are fun to explore, but it’s NEVER okay to walk on the ice. We occassionally hear or see a coyote on the prairie and enjoy that, but they are NOT like pet doggies and we can never, ever try to play with them or feed them. It’s fun to go explore, but you have to stay within the given boundaries so we know that you are safe and that we can trust you, etc…

    This is the world we live in. It is complex and beautiful and dangerous and glorious all at the same time. I have to teach my children how to navigate in this place, right where they are with the good, the bad and the ugly so they can be successful, safe and wise.

  33. Lenore, as always, thanks for the reality check. It’s so very needed right now.

  34. Hi Melissa

    It sounds like you live in a beautiful place and your children are lucky to have you as their mum.

    I do a lot of training events for and with education staff. Safety is overwhelmingly the number 1 concern or barrier that prevents teachers from taking children outside more often. Stranger danger, fear of a child running off or getting lost, eating berries, picking fungi, running onto a road, an accident happening…the list is considerable. I often end up having a brainstorming approach to this so that the participants come up with ideas and suggestions to manage their concerns (and to avoid me being the know-it-all expert which I’m not).

    Moving from fear to freedom is what we need to work at! Recently at the Olympic Games, the ski jumpers were talking about the need to conquer the “beast within” in order to jump effectively. Apparently most of them have a little voice inside telling them how crazy they are to even think of jumping. But they have learned to do the jumps safely and experience the freedom, joy and liberation that comes with it!

    Best wishes

  35. My kids have no fear of anything and I am not sure that is wise either. We live in the middle of nowhere in OK on 6 acres. They can roam to their hearts content, but when it worries me is when we travel. They have no concept of what could happen and therefore makes keeping them safe a bit harder. And while your statistics are good, it concerns me anyway. perhaps because I remember when the two girls a little older than me were taken from the ssate fair and about the same time the girl scout murders happened in the back woods here in OK….both enough to remind me that yes the danger is slim, but it is real.

  36. Rather than just preach to the choir here that agrees that abduction fears are overblown, I posted the link to the statistics Lenore included on the ABC web site to help spread the facts to the paranoid. Many may still not understand, but if it gets them thinking it will be a start.
    Our worst nightmares seldom are reality.

  37. Great post and well stated. I hate how the media does that! Like you said, they take some quote or stat out of context and create hype and shock. I love the way you broke it down!

  38. @Steffj89 – I think you just give it your best effort at teaching your kids the way to react in different situations, role play, etc. while at the same time emphasizing that any of this is highly unlikely to happen. Our local firefighters were a good example of this at my son’s recent Cub Scout pack meeting. They told the kids all the things to do if they hear a smoke alarm, if they are trapped in a burning building, if their clothes catch on fire. (FYI – They empahsized that kids should stay in the middle of the room if they can’t escape, and once they hear sirens start making a lot of noise so the firefighters can find them. One of the biggest problems firefighters have is kids hiding during a fire.) At the same time they stressed that it was highly unlikely that the kids would ever be in a fire, but, in the off-chance that they were, remembering these tips would help rescue them. Now, if only we could approach potential abduction or abuse the same way.

    You worry about your kids when they are away from their rural home, bu the opposite happens too – I remember when I first moved to a small, Midwestern college town with almost no crime. A police officer told me that most of the crime victims in town were from large urban areas – the area felt so much safer than their homes that failed to take usual precautions, such as locking doors!

  39. @Susan, yeah, That is it exactly. my kids know to look for snakes and listen for animals etc, but we don’t lock our doors. couldnt tell ya how many nights I have slept w/ keys hanging in the back door accidentally. We generally leave keys hanging in the ignition of most of the time.
    But when we go to town they don’t have any fears of being taken etc….
    It worries me though with my husbands work we travel and like last year spent several months around Dallas. 5 y.o completely could not understand why he had to hold our hand in parking lot cause we would never do that at home.

  40. Any chance of providing links to the “offending” media outlet so people can respond directly to them?

  41. […] Lenore Skenazy, a one woman liberation movement for children oppressed by mindless adults, points out, if that’s your definition of luck, what did that mean for the other 2,000 – they’re […]

  42. […] absolutely, that George Stephanopolous is correct when he says that 2,000 children are abducted every day? (and it’s been recently revealed that Purell, for one, doesn’t even […]

  43. […] She realizes that this is radical stuff to many parents today. Because to so many of us, a stranger is “a predator until proven otherwise.” Luckily, according to Lenore, actual statistics don’t support this bummer of a belief. […]

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