Thursday, September 23, 2021

MSNBC's Reid: Media Afflicted With 'Missing White Woman Syndrome'

On Monday night, the MSNBC host Joy Reid was discussing the case of Gabrielle Petito, a 22-year-old woman whose disappearance during a cross-country road trip generated a cascade of front-page headlines, news alerts and prime-time segments on cable news channels.  Reid pointed out that the PBS anchor Gwen Ifill, the journalist who broke barriers as a Black woman in the Washington press corps, coined a term for the phenomenon nearly two decades ago: “missing white woman syndrome.”

“The Petito family certainly deserve answers and justice,” Ms. Reid said on air. “But the way this story has captivated the nation has many wondering, why not the same media attention when people of color go missing?”

The NY Times reports the coverage of Petito’s disappearance in August, the discovery of her remains and the search for her missing fiancĂ©, Brian Laundrie, 23, has been relentless, with three front-page articles in The New York Post in less than a week. The New York Times published a breaking news story and a live briefing, and sent a news alert to subscribers.

There were also live briefings from Newsweek and The Independent, a British publication, and frequent segments on cable news channels. On Wednesday morning, the day after a coroner confirmed that the remains were Ms. Petito’s and determined her death a likely homicide, the case was the main story on the Fox News website, as well as a top online story at The Washington Post, USA Today, BuzzFeed, ABC News, CBS News, CNN and NBC News.

The intensity of the coverage has mirrored the interest of social media users, who have discussed and debated the case on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter as they pored over the videos and photos posted by Ms. Petito on YouTube and Instagram during her summertime cross-country trip. As of Wednesday morning, the hashtag #gabbypetito had received more than 794 million views on TikTok.

The demographic makeup of major news organizations is another factor in the emphasis on narratives of white women who go missing or are murdered, said Martin G. Reynolds, co-executive director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

“What I’m most concerned about is the amount of coverage, and if you look at newsrooms, the coverage decisions are made in places that continue to be disproportionately white,” said Mr. Reynolds, whose organization works with journalists of color. “These cases tend to involve white, middle-class women. And that resonates with assignment editors and news organizations. The one area of diversity that has actually improved relatively well in news media is actually women, particularly white women, in leadership roles.”

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