Activists Address Racial Imbalance in Media Coverage of Missing Women

In Summary

Gabby Petito’s disappearance and subsequent search is raising concerns about disparities in media coverage of missing white women in comparison to their Black peers. 

As the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified the remains of missing Florida woman Gabby Petito, Father Michael Pfleger is drawing attention to dozens of Black women in Chicago who have been killed or remain missing. 

Pfleger is well-known for his efforts to curb gun violence in Chicago and believes the destiny of so many Black women is being overlooked because the value of life is determined by race and color, per NBC Chicago

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“Another deadly weekend in Chicago 10 KILLED and 54 WOUNDED… And After a National search it seems sadly that the body of the missing Florida women was found, while nobody is looking for the 51 Black women who are missing,” Pfleger said in a Facebook post Monday.

In an interview on Monday, Pfleger urged local law officials to increase their efforts to solve the cases, asking “Where’s the outrage? Where’s the commitment? Where is the press conference from law enforcement and city officials to say ‘We’re gonna find the roots of this’?” 

People go missing every day, whether they’re Black or white, man or woman, adult or child, so why is it no one receives quite the same media coverage as white women? It’s a regular occurrence which late journalist Gwen Ifill coined as “Missing White Woman Syndrome.”

“There is no way to defend this imbalance of coverage. These women are not politicians, leaders of industry or celebrities. They are everyday people [and] this imbalance is an outgrowth of white supremacy,” said BNC’s Charles Blow of Prime w/ Charles Blow. “It signals who the leaders of newsrooms value, who they see as worthy of sympathy, who arouses their sense of valor, and the imbalance of coverage leads to an imbalance of resource allocation.” 

Making the Case host Yodit Tewolde chimed in, saying systemic failures leave Black women and girls disposable, starting with the juvenile system. 

“Adults see juveniles as less innocent; they see them as more adult-like than their white peers and instead of giving Black girls the protection of childhood innocence, what they do is they think of them as more adult-like, more knowledge about sex, more independent,” Tewolde said. 

RELATED: WNBA players to spotlight female violence victims on jerseys 

Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old Florida van blogger, went cross country with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie in July, documenting much of the journey with adventure-filled YouTube videos and carefree social media posts, per New York Times. In late August, her family lost communication with her and she was reported missing on September 11, 10 days after Laundrie returned to Florida alone. 

Human remains consistent with her description were found in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sunday and identified Tuesday afternoon.

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