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Gabby Petito: Unfair media coverage? 710 indigenous people went missing in same area

The extensive media coverage for 22-year-old Gabby Petito has been attributed to the 'Missing White Woman Syndrome'
UPDATED SEP 21, 2021
Has the Gabby Petito case got too much media coverage (@gabbypetito/Instagram)
Has the Gabby Petito case got too much media coverage (@gabbypetito/Instagram)

GRAND TETON, WYOMING: MSNBC’s Joy Reid brought up "Missing White Woman Syndrome" while talking about 22-year-old Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito’s mysterious disappearance and now suspected death. Speaking about the overwhelming media coverage the case has received, Reid said on Monday, September 20, “The way this story captivated the nation has many wondering, why not the same media attention when people of color go missing? Well, the answer actually has a name: Missing White Woman Syndrome.”

Reid said that missing indigenous women receive next to no media coverage. She asked, “From your point of view, why is it that indigenous missing — particularly women — don’t get that kind of attention?” Reid’s question is a fair one. 


What is Missing White Women Syndrome? Gabby Petito case triggers racism controversy

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A body suspected to be Petito was found in a remote area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, near the Spread Creek Dispersed campground. The human remains were discovered on Sunday, September 19, and was immediately suspected to be the missing 'van life' vlogger. The FBI said, however, that formal identification of the remains has not been made and the cause of death is yet to be determined. 

Petito’s case has attracted wannabe sleuths from all corners of the internet and public attention is being fed by constant, minute by minute updates and round the clock media coverage. In comparison, as per a report, hundreds of Indigenous people have been reported missing in the same state for over the past decade. None of them received this much attention. At least 710 Indigenous people, mostly girls, went missing in Wyoming between 2011 and 2020. According to a January report published by the state's Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Task Force, of these 710 missing people, 85 percent were juvenile, and 57 percent were female. They were reported missing from 22 counties in Wyoming.

One-fifth of the missing Indigenous people, the report noted, were missing for 30 or more days, “which is a higher percentage than White people missing for 30 or more days (11 percent).” 


The report also noted that only 30 percent of Indigenous homicide victims had newspaper media coverage, as compared to 51 percent of White homicide victims. Indigenous female homicide victims had the least amount of newspaper media coverage — 18 percent. The report also added that newspaper articles for Indigenous homicide victims were more likely to contain violent language, portray the victim in a negative light, and provide less information as compared to articles about White homicide victims. 

Scott Bonn, a criminologist spoke to the Washington Post earlier about the connection of race and the media and public frenzy around Petito's disappearance. Bonn too said that if Petito were a woman of color, the national fixation on the case would likely not exist. “It’s about our culture and our society,” he said. “We place a priority on whiteness. We place a priority on youth and on our expectations of physical beauty.”

Martin Reynolds, an executive director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, told the New York Times that he was struck by news outlets’ disproportionate attention on missing white women, a focus that he said is compounded by competitive coverage. 


“Our newsrooms don’t reflect the diversity of the country, and folks in editing roles are even less diverse,” said Reynolds, whose organization works with journalists of color. “Until journalism corrects this, we are going to continue to be more and more irrelevant to the audiences that reflect the future.”

Alvin Williams, a host of ‘Affirmative Murder’, a podcast that focuses on true crimes with Black and brown victims, said, “I’m incredibly glad she is getting the resources needed to help find her, but there is an obvious disproportionate focus on her story,” adding, “We can play the game of, ‘Oh it’s because she was a vlogger’ and all those things, but we can also see that she is a Gen Z, blonde, petite girl, and that is what gets the clicks.”