Thursday, March 5, 2009


(1) New York Times; Wednesday, March 2, 1932
(2) The Washington Post; Times Herald; Aug 20, 1961;

The Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. kidnapping was not on the list of stories to cover as a “top news story of the twentieth century,” but I felt it deserved to be due to its value through topic and coverage. This New York Times story (1) reads more as a detectives report versus portraying the structure of a news story, as it provides a third person account of step-by-step events as they occurred, beginning with what happened exactly when the baby’s nurse, Miss Betty Gow, discovered Charles Jr. was missing.

The story was written the morning after the kidnapping of the child, and goes into detail of times that the child was checked on by the nurse, as well as the time he was discovered missing. It also includes much detail, almost exaggerated, when describing the scene of the crime and actions of those involved in some way or another, telling how the nurse “dashed downstairs” when she discovered Charles missing, to the description of Charles Lindbergh himself, “bareheaded, and wearing an old black leather jacket…” It reads almost as one would hear in a radio program, with the reporter describing every detail of the events occurring at that time in order to give the listener a visual of what is happening.

Looking through various articles written in the 1930s, it seems as if it was typical to find a news story with such great detail, although some of it may seem unnecessary and irrelevant. The NY Times was still working on its form of investigative news at this time, trying to separate it from a more sensationalist and interpretive approach by making the story the papers own.

It seems that although the reporters did gather much information of events, there are not many sources attributed to the information. The one and only quoted source was Colonel Lindbergh himself, and the way he is attributed is not in a fashion commonly seen in news stories today. The NY Times did not get the quote from Charles Lindbergh alone, but instead with a group of other reporters, so the quote is attributed as “Colonel Lindbergh explained to reporters.” Another source that was mentioned, although not quoted, was Mayor Schoffel and his announcement of obtaining a list of contractors that worked on the house during its construction.

If there were more sources quoted (including New Jersey state and county police officials and Nurse Gow) the story would read in a more structured way and would help with the accuracy of the information provided, although it is quite surprising for the reporter to have received a quote from Charles Lindbergh himself only a few hours after the kidnapping allegedly occurred, as that does not happen often in news stories today.

The Washington Post, Times Herald article (2), written 29 years after the kidnapping, provides a full history of detail, and adds some insight to information missing in the NY Times article. For example, in the NY Times article, the speculation of a ransom note is mentioned, but it is reported that "State police denied all knowledge of it." The Washington Post article does in deed mention a ransom note existence, demanding $50,000, and also includes details of the design of the note. A detail that the Washington Post mentions is the reporting, at the time of the kidnapping, of the anguish, sorrow and misery of Col. Lindbergh and his wife. Nowhere in the NY Times article is this mentioned, but instead just the description of how Col. Lindbergh looked on that day, as mentioned previously.

A story that could be compared with this is the kidnapping and homicide case of the nephew, mother and brother of American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson. When reading an article on this case, there are many differences when compared to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping stories. One of the factors that I noticed right away was that in the Lindbergh story, as stated, a quote and other information was obtained from Charles Lindbergh himself, whereas in news stories such as this today, it takes much more than a day, definitely, for a reporter to be able to get a direct quote from a source so closely involved with the case, if they are ever able to obtain one at all.


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