By Shawna Collier
Media Moguls mistakenly thought missing girl, J’hamee Myerson (No. 34), was white
(NEW YORK)–Editors at the nation’s largest media outlets are red-faced today, apologizing for spending the last two weeks chronicling the disappearance of blond-haired, hazel-eyed high school student J’hamee Myerson.
The cause of their embarrassment? It turns out the 16-year-old junior from rural Ashtabula, Ohio is not white. She’s actually half Puerto Rican and half African American. But her fair skin, light-colored eyes, and blond hair–which turned out to be a dye job–fooled the media elite, who treated her disappearance as if she were a white girl.
“I saw her photo, saw that she was missing and immediately sent out three crews to Ashtabula,” explained Rex Malpern, assignment director for Fox News. He said part of the confusion was that in initial reports, J’hamee’s name was spelled ‘J-A-M-I-E,’ like it sounds.
“Had we known the real spelling, we probably would have gathered more background information before dedicating so much time to her case,” Malpern said. “But we were blinded by the blond.”
Following J’hamee’s disappearance, Fox, CNN and MSNBC devoted dozens of segments to the girl and Larry King hosted a special called ‘A Nation Waits for Jamie.’ The girl, a top student who created a program that gives puppies to orphans, also graced the covers of Star, US Weekly and InTouch.
The truth was uncovered after the media found J’hamee’s grandparents. While J’hamee’s parents are very fair-skinned, well-spoken and, the clincher, married to each other, her grandparents appear much more ethnic.
“It was like ‘wait a minute,’ said June Krieg, assistant managing director for US. “We then asked the parents point-blank, ‘Are you white?’”
Kevin Myerson, J’hamee’s father, said he was stunned by the question.“Of course I’m not white. I’m black,” said Myerson, a truck driver. “If anyone had asked me, I would have told them I was black, but it never came up. And why would that matter?”
It was that type of innocence that endeared Kevin and his wife, Dora, whose first language is Spanish, to journalists. But times have changed. The couple initially hired a friend to handle media requests that came from around the world. Yet after admitting their ethnic makeup, they haven’t had a single inquiry about their daughter.
J’hamee, last seen after leaving a school party with a boy none of her friends knew, is still missing. But the media have moved on, with promises to be more careful in the future.
“We’ve already taken steps to ensure the missing white girls we cover don’t merely look white, but actually are white,” said Krieg. “We have to hold ourselves to the highest standard.”