Having a family member go missing must be a heart wrenching situation for their loved ones.
On any given day, there are tens of thousands of people in this country categorized as ‘missing persons’ by law enforcement. Sadly, only a fraction of those people will receive news coverage.
This disparity in coverage has led some commentators to claim that missing persons with certain characteristics are more likely to receive national media attention than others.
Their contention is the person who is white, and female receives a disproportionate amount of media coverage over other non-white females or any male missing person.
In fact, there is now a term to describe such coverage. It is referred to as “missing white woman syndrome.”
This term refers to how media tends to focus on disappearances involving young, white females.
The topic has repeatedly come up over the last few months in reference to the disappearance of Gabby Petito. It almost seemed as if there was an obsession with coverage of every aspect of her disappearance and subsequent death.
Some members of the media took to the air to criticize the unbalanced coverage that Petito received versus other missing persons.
One Emmy-award winning journalist, Frank Somerville was suspended for wanting to discuss the disparity in coverage on air. Apparently, his news director felt the topic was off-limits.
MSNBC host, Joy Reid, was criticized for agreeing with Somerville. She blasted the media for their fascination with the Petito case.
Reid expressed empathy for them and said no family should ever have to endure such pain. But she also expressed frustration that the same media attention is not given when “people of color” go missing.
She went on to express her opinion that the reason for the difference in coverage was because “women of color are not paid attention to by the public because they do not look like the daughters and granddaughters of newsroom executives.”
Not everyone who leaves home is missing. Some leave on their own for various reason but others, like Gabby Petito, go missing and are found murdered.
Petito’s family have recently spoken out about the issue.
While they say they welcomed the amount of coverage their daughter’s disappearance received, they want to change the inequality and asked for changes in media coverage.
Gabby’s father, Joseph broached the subject during a news conference. Petito said, “I want to ask everyone to help ALL the people that are missing and need help. If you don’t do that for other people that are missing that’s a shame. So, look to yourselves for why it’s not being done.”
Shame on the media for having to be chastised by a grieving father.
However, due to the nationwide search for Gabby Petito by law enforcement and private individuals, several cases of missing people have been resolved. The interest in and subsequent search for Gabby and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, resulted in the discovery of seven people who had also been reported missing.
The lives of those missing people, who received no national coverage, were no less important than Gabby Petito.
I do not want to accept the conclusion drawn by Gina Masullo, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas. Masullo claims, “we live in a system that puts white women at higher value.
That simply cannot be true, can it?
According to reports from the FBI, there were over 89,000 missing person cases at the end of last year. Forty-five percent of those were people of color, according to ABC news.
Yet, only one-fifth of missing person cases involving minorities were covered by the media, according to public data.
When you read those numbers and I am a person who believes in numbers, it appears the media selectively increase coverage of individuals if young, white females are involved.
I had to ask myself about when the last time I saw nationwide coverage of a missing person of color or even a male of any race or age.
Those commentators, who had the courage to speak out about the media bias, has led to raising the lid off an ugly truth about disparity in coverage of missing persons.
Anybody who turns on the television or reads the news or has a presence on social media knows it to be true. It is time to say it out loud.
The media blame the police for the disparity in coverage and the police say they are just doing their job by reporting it.
Any family with a missing member deserves all available resources. It is time to change the narrative. The missing are mothers, sisters, brothers, husbands, sons and beloved friends. Their age and color of their skin should be irrelevant.
Anita McGill is a former publisher of The Sentinel. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The media have the power to balance the scales and it should.