The late Gwen Ifill once lamented the double standard the media apply to missing-person cases.
Pretty white women get lots of media attention, the esteemed journalist noted, while women “of color” get, well, passed over. The stories are good for a day, maybe two or three … then they vanish.
The media now are obsessed with whoever killed Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old woman whose body was found in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo., where she had been traveling with her boyfriend.
The cops have declared the boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, a “person of interest” and are now search high and low for him in Florida, where he returned several days ago … without Petito.
Ifill’s observation about the media makes an important point. Yes, Petito deserves the coverage she is getting. Then again, so do all the missing women, and men, and children — regardless of their race or ethnicity — deserve the attention that’s being leveled at the fate of one young woman.
Charles Blow wrote this in the New York Times:
In 2004, at the Unity journalists of color convention in Washington, Gwen Ifill coined the phrase “missing white woman syndrome,” joking that “if there is a missing white woman you’re going to cover that every day.”
It is not that these white women should matter less, but rather that all missing people should matter equally. Race should not determine how newsroom leaders assign coverage, especially because those decisions often lead to disproportionate allocation of government resources, as investigators try to solve the highest-profile cases.
It speaks quite graphically at how far we still have to travel to reach some sense of balance in the way the media handle certain stories.