There are occasional comments that I’ve read regarding the media coverage of the disappearance of former District Attorney Ray Gricar. Some people have suggested that there hasn’t been enough. The case supposedly isn’t well covered; not enough people know about it. A few people complained that there we not enough flyers posted around.
I want to start by biting the hand that feeds me, the Center Daily Times. 1 I was planning to do a count of the stories that they did in the first year touching on the Gricar. After the first month, I gave up. The first 30 days, 4/16/05 to 5/15/05, after the story broke, there were a minimum 22 news stories in the CDT. Yes, only a maximum of eight days did not carry a story about the case and that is exclusive of mid-day updates.
How did I know this? I found out from the chattering class, posters on message boards; I also found a few on my own. This Webslueth site in particular is useful, for several reasons.2 First, the posters liked to reference the material; they might have missed some. Second, the messages still exist, unlike most of the online stories. Third, it gives some idea of the reaction to people to the news stories. I think the variety of people who are not wedded to a particular theory on this site is fantastic.
That was just the CDT. The Daily Collegian had ten more issues prior to suspending publication for summer; ten articles, including a general one on how police investigate missing person cases appeared there, some issues having two articles. Seven articles appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, including a feature by Dennis Roddy.3 There were stories in the Sunbury Dailey Item and various Philadelphia Newspapers. Some of the stories were circulated nationally via the Associated Press. This was just the print media.
There was also broadcast media. You can see that first the many references to WJAC and WTAJ, but it also on the cable networks. In the first 30 days, there were stories on FOX and MSNBC, FOX covering it as of 4/18/05, and a reference to a story appearing on CNN. There was the Internet as well, with actually high quality debate on the Webslueth’s site listed. There were other expressions of the chattering class as well.
All told, there were more than 45 separate news reports in the first 30 days of the Gricar case. It was “All Gricar, all the time.” This was massive coverage.
The coverage continued into the summer and fall of 2005. I didn’t count them but I’d estimate the CDT did, on average, three to five on the Gricar case from May 16, 2005 until January of 2006, and the coverage continued in the other newspapers; Mr. Renner’s feature in the Cleveland Free Times in November.
Two new things appeared on the Internet. The Gricar family website appeared around 5//31/05; the CDT Q & A section on the Gricar began around 7/1/05. It would be fulcrum of the Gricar case for more than two and half years.
Someone about the end of 2005, there was some commentary on the top news stories in Centre County in 2005. It is no longer online, but the commentator debated which would be the second biggest story, because the Gricar story was clearly the biggest. In all seriousness, as someone who lived in the area for 25 years, I can only recall two local news stories that generated this about of attention, the Johnstown Flood of 1977, and the situation (and ultimate disappearance) of Cambria County Judge Joseph O’Kicki (at least that one had a funny parody song).
The coverage dropped off the radar from mid January and mid April, with even Q & A had no new questions.4 This was in aftermath of this comment from the then newly elected District Attorney, Michael T. Madeira, " They have left no stone unturned.” 5 For three months, this now laughably inaccurate quote was the final word on the Gricar case. Everything was done, according to Mr. Madeira. Only around the first anniversary did the cold case begin to thaw again. What really brought it to a boil was the publicity surrounding the Mystery Woman, and then the article, “Missed Leads.”6
After that, the Q & A flourished until it was closed, and blogs became the new media, though they did not replace the old. The first was Mr. Bosak’s on the police in general “Happy Valley Cops,” then his “Just Gricar.” Today there are two bogs on the CDT basically about the Gricar case, another blogger, Slamdunk, has done a series on the case. The Gricar investigation came up in the current District Attorney’s race, as an issue; all four candidates, now winnowed to two, and soon to be just one elected, addressed the issue. 7 The case is alive and well, with the media and the public.
I’ll ask you these questions. There are several other local missing persons cases in Centre County, Dawn Miller, Brenda Condon, and Cindy Song. Have you ever seen anything of this magnitude for any of them? Was there a Q & A site (the Internet was around in 2000) for Ms. Song? Where there investigative reports about the Miller or Condon cases? How much media did they receive at the time they disappeared? Making that comparison, it is silly to claim that the media has been trying to sweep the case under the rug.
In my neighborhood, I will see the occasion flyer regarding a missing person. They are put up by the families and often, other than a small blurb in the newspaper, that is all the media there is. The families would consider themselves blessed just to have one or two mentions on television or just a tiny fraction of the news stories that appeared on Mr. Gricar’s disappearance.
There is a problem, however. The news media reports news. If there is no news there is nothing to report.
It could be called the “Francisco Franco is still dead,” problem. The analogy was made in an editorial in CDT (no longer online) to the Saturday Night Live line of Chevy Chase reading the news, who said “This breaking news just in. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead. “ I think the title was “Ray Gricar is still missing.” Basically, when no stories were being released and nothing could be ferreted out, the only thing that they could do was to run stories saying that there were no developments. They could only complain about the lack of progress. The editorial found nothing funny about the subject. A rather funny thread in the same subject was posted on the same subject on the “Townhall” message board.8
Even with this problem, several stories were published on the Gricar family’s frustration with the process. These are actually articles covering the lack of progress in having the case reviewed by the Pennsylvania State Police. 9 The media, especially the CDT, took extraordinary steps to keep the case in the public ever.
There is, however, one more legitimate question, has the media coverage generated the interest or has the interest generated the story? I looked at the last article, at the anniversary. There were 44 comments; I made several, trying to convince folks that wanting to eliminate the data on the drive didn’t mean that Mr. Gricar walked away afterward.10
The Gricar case is a potential criminal case. Perhaps the local only criminal case it is comparable to it is the tragic murder of Betsy Aardsma in the stacks of Pattee Library in 1969. Even recently, the Aardsma case got some mention, nearly 40 years later. 11 I first heard about it, or remembered hearing about it, more than 25 years ago. I hope that the Gricar case will not be the next Aardsma case. I must admit, it is strange how the two cases intersected in one science fiction novel, 20/20 Vision.
It was Stacy Parks Miller, one of the candidates for District Attorney who said, “I don't think the community can ever really rest until we have an answer to Ray's disappearance."7 She summed it up perfectly. The community is restless and wants an answer; the interest is there, even without the press, websites and bloggers.
Late Edit: I found a reference to the family website being started from 5/18/05. http://boards.insessiontrials.com/showthread.php?t=218877
[General note: Both the DC and the PPG have an online archive, and it was easy to count the stories. If anything, I have undercounted the CDT stories.]
1 Well, sort of. The CDT provides the venue, but I volunteer my time.