The media’s “missing white women syndrome” problem

The media’s “missing white women syndrome” problem

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You may have noticed – for years – that the media obsesses on news of missing white women, almost always missing blonde, blue-eyed women. This media obsession has been painfully obvious for at least 2-3 decades.

There is now academic research that backs up this media obsession.

Academic research done on the subject suggests that disparities in coverage exist, not only between white women and women of color, but also between women and men.

Sociologist Zach Sommers, who has studied the topic, found “striking support” for the existence of white-women syndrome when he examined 2013 news coverage on and newspapers in Minneapolis, Chicago and Atlanta.

“Blacks definitively face dual types of disparity, as they are both less likely to appear in the news at all and also tend to receive less coverage even when they do appear,” he wrote. But men receive even less coverage than women, and white men received the least of all, Sommers found.

Source: Gabby Petito case: What is ‘missing white woman syndrome’?

In this quote, “We” refers to the media, not all of us:

But for many people, including criminologist Scott Bonn, the coverage of Petito’s death hinges on her looks.

“It’s about our culture and our society,” Bonn told the Washington Post. “We place a priority on whiteness. We place a priority on youth and on our expectations of physical beauty.”

Another way to describe this is as “privilege”. There are numerous forms of “privilege” besides race – please see my extensive list on my Social Panic blog. “Pretty privilege” is just one example, which that is further emphasized in the era of social media (notably Instagram, TikTok and Youtube).

The racism inherent here points to systemic racism within all news rooms. Journalists spend much time pointing the finger at others, on this subject, when many of them are among the worst at furthering this behavior.

Update: A few days later, the media has sort of noticed their own racist coverage of lost persons. Today we have reports of the body of Jelani Day being found, reports of a Native American woman lost a month ago in Las Vegas (found just after they ran the stories), and reports of a geologist who vanished in Arizona three months ago. All of these should have been reported at the time they went missing, as the media did for Petito. The media is admitting, without saying so, that their coverage of missing persons has been highly racist and sexist.

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