Hundreds of news outlets are picking up the story of Patricia Krentcil, a New Jersey woman who allegedly brought her 5-year-old daughter into a tanning booth, but some outlets aren't acknowledging the obvious reason they're elevating a local news report: the woman is painfully, cringe-inducingly tan.
When we read this story, sure, we wondered at Krentcil's parenting choices. Police allege that she brought her daughter into a tanning booth and the daughter got burns. (She denies it.) But clearly what's driving this story's spread on the Web and TV (Krentcil appeared on The Today Show) is the woman's image. One look at comments on news reports or reactions on Twitter will confirm that this is the big takeaway.
Reports seem to take one of two distinct approaches: Letting this manifestly obvious aspect of the story speak for itself, or addressing it on its face (so to speak). NBC New York and The Today Show manage to air an entire interview without commenting on the first thing viewers will notice: her appearance and how that affects the story. The Associated Press takes a sort of middle ground, reporting further down:
A woman whose own skin is deeply bronze-colored from regular visits to a tanning salon has been accused of taking her 5-year-old daughter into a tanning booth in violation of state law, burning the girl's skin.
Compare that to the very direct approach taken by The New York Daily News' Larry McShane, who called her "crispy-looking" and led his story with: "Patricia Krentcil’s deeply disturbing tan, while not done well, makes her look well done" before launching into the details of the arrest.
That's pretty harsh, certainly. And of course, the televised news outlets like The Today Show can rely on the image to communicate the point. But the woman's appearance seems more than a peripheral part of the story to be communicated silently. It affects how the viewer judges her guilt. Being too tan doesn't in itself prove that a mother lacks the judgement to keep her child out of a tanning bed, but it certainly makes us wonder if she understands the negative effects of tanning. Her story seems otherwise plausible. She says there was a misunderstanding, and she brought her daughter to the salon, not inside the tanning bed, and a teacher overheard something that made police think otherwise. So it seems like a point-blank question about her appearance from an NBC reporter might have actually allowed her a chance to respond to what's now become a full-on tsunami of commentary. Given the volume of comments, we don't expect her to keep quiet about it for much longer.