Analysis: National media, meet Kingston

KINGSTON — New York City has no shortage of terrified young people with no idea who they are.

But the story of Kacie Aleece Peterson, 18, has captured the nation’s attention and made Kingston and Hansville, two of Kitsap’s farthest-flung outposts, familiar names.

What perhaps sets Peterson apart from every other penniless young person in New York City is that she claims she doesn’t know her name, or how she got, as David Bowie might say, “all the way from Washington.”

It’s a story made for modern, Internet media, which privileges sordid stories to drum up page hits to sell ads.

For example, on Tuesday, Peterson’s story on CNN’s Web site was keeping company with headlines containing, “Gang rape lasted over two hours,” “Child pimps arrested” and “Kids care for mom who lost arms and legs.”

What has been overlooked by news agencies tripping over themselves to report there is no news to report — and very little is being overlooked in this overreported story — is that Peterson lived here for all of four months, and attended school at Kingston High School and Olympic College for less than a month.

Her roots run so shallow in Kitsap loam that it is hard to understand the level of media interest.

“She was with us for three weeks,” said Chris Case, spokeswoman for the North Kitsap School District.

Peterson is actually from the Eastern Washington burg of Colville, about 70 miles northwest of Spokane.

She came to Kitsap to stay with a friend of her late mother’s in June. Her father, according to reports, said she has had memory problems in the past.

And it was her father, of Colville, who reported her missing Oct. 2.

It was enough that the media keeps declaring her hometown as “Kingston” — CNN says Peterson is from Hansville — for a man claiming to be a New York Post photographer to skulk around Kingston High School until he was asked to leave, Case said.

And on Monday, Case said she spent her day fielding questions from media outlets aplenty, from the “New York Times” to CNN.

“Everybody called,” Case said Tuesday. “Literally, that’s all I did yesterday.”

As for Peterson’s actual hometown, it’s been mainly Spokane media that has invested the time and money to try to find people who actually know her.

Kevin Knight, principal of Colville High School, said the media interest there hasn’t been overwhelming, but there has been interest.

“You can turn on the news and I’m on it,” Knight said, noting that reporters have also been calling about a football player with a serious head injury.

He said students have gone about their business.

“It doesn’t affect them,” Knight said.

The lesson here, one we know all too well, is when a story takes on a mystery-novel affect like amnesia — see last summer’s Seattle story about a man claiming he emerged from a fugue to find himself a complete stranger — expect the media to erupt in a lather.

Kitsap County Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson handled much of the media inquiries, spending full days fielding calls from a list of media outlets from when the story broke Saturday morning.

He said the initial interest in Kitsap can be explained: She was reported missing from here.

But the lack of people with personal information about Peterson makes the level of interest in Kitsap, rather than Colville, curious.

“We’re not hiding anything,” Wilson said. “We told them that’s where she was from.”

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