A number of pundits and media personalities complained about Gabby Petito’s case and the fact that it quickly consumed so much of the nationwide news cycle.
They weren’t angry that the nation was glued to the coverage of Petito’s disappearance — followed by her alleged murder and the disappearance of he fiancé, Brian Laundrie. What concerned them, they said, was the disparity in the way similar cases involving people of color were covered.
The Daily Beast reported that between 2011 and 2020, in the area where Petito disappeared alone, some 710 indigenous people had gone missing — most of them girls — but none had gotten the kind of media attention that Petito did.
“In the same area that Gabby Petito disappeared, 710 indigenous people— mostly girls—disappeared between the years of 2011 and 2020 but their stories didn’t lead news cycles …” https://t.co/HJ01B6CsRK
— Eugene Scott (@Eugene_Scott) September 21, 2021
CNN reported that families had struggled to get media attention when the missing person was a person of color.
As cases like Gabby Petito’s get national spotlight, Black and brown families with missing loved ones say their cases struggle to grab attention https://t.co/THnMNLDRtT
— CNN (@CNN) September 23, 2021
MSNBC’s Joy Reid called it a case of “missing white woman syndrome,” arguing that when black women went missing, “no one is looking for us.” (RELATED: Joy Reid Says Media Coverage Of Gabby Petito’s Disappearance Is A Case Of ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’)
“No one is looking for us.” With all the coverage on the Gabby Petito case, Joy Reid calls out the media’s obsession with missing white women, and calls it “missing white woman syndrome”. pic.twitter.com/FPbA3bHjNq
— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) September 21, 2021
MSNBC host Chris Jansing and “Dateline” host Keith Morrison discussed the possibility that race was a factor as well.
“You’ve done a lot of stories like this, but every once in a while one catches fire online and in the public imagination,” Jansing prompted.
“It’s amazing. I continue to be, you know, kind of uncertain as to why. Why that one as opposed to some other one. There’s usually some very ancient story, I think, that gets our guts going with a story like this. And it immediately – It’s like a weather system that suddenly exists everywhere in the country. Everybody knows about it,” Morrison replied.
“You know, I mean, obviously, there’s a whole question, which we don’t – it’s not for us to get into. But we’ve talked a lot about it here on MSNBC, and that is, it’s a lot of pretty white women,” Jansing said then, and Morrison appeared to agree. “Pretty white women missing,” he said.
CNN anchors Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon also talked about the possible racial implications, noting that they had even been asked whether the coverage was in part due to Petito being a “cute white girl.”
“They say you’re only covering this because she’s white —” Cuomo began.
“A cute white girl,” Lemon said.
“— And attractive and what about the minorities that go missing? Listen, to me it matters Gabby Petito is missing,” Cuomo continued. “I mean, it just speaks to a huge fear that we all have of vulnerability. It should not be an ‘or’ proposition. It should be an ‘and’ proposition. You cover Gabby Petito and cover any other story that presents itself this way. Remember, it’s not just about her.”
Lemon agreed, adding, “It’s also a mysterious story that’s intriguing and people want to hear about it and people are interested in it. I agree with you. I know, you go on social media. I don’t like to do it. Don Lemon is turning this into a race thing. No, Chris and I talk about the real stuff that people do. People are talking to me about this as it relates to race. They’ve spoken to Chris about it. You see it online. Don’t pretend I’m turning this into something it’s not.”
But while the pundits complained about the dearth of coverage for women who did not look like Petito, some of their critics argued that they might be a part of the problem.
Conservative radio host Larry Elder asked whether Joy Reid was aware that she could talk about missing women of color on her national cable news show.
— Larry Elder (@larryelder) September 23, 2021
And he was not alone.
If only CNN had a platform to do something about that. https://t.co/yPEi83h1Nh
— Britt 🧂 (@TweetsByBritt) September 23, 2021
Maybe you could start a 24/7 news channel and give stories the coverage you think they deserve. https://t.co/4AVCqFu3xz
— Anna James Zeigler (@ajzeigler) September 23, 2021
Beyond parody https://t.co/1oxC2tr74E
— Nicholas Fondacaro (@NickFondacaro) September 23, 2021
Cuomo did take steps to use his platform in an effort to raise the level of awareness on cases that had not captured the nation’s attention in the way that Petito had. He shared the story of a missing Native American woman, asking his followers to “take up the cause” and bring more attention to her case.
Let’s see if the attention on #gabbypetito and the concern about neglect of others who are missing can generate sustained interest in finding folks. Another family is desperate. Will you take up the cause? pic.twitter.com/12XEys0wDq
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) September 23, 2021
“The View” host Ana Navarro also argued that race was likely a factor in the coverage, but she argued that instead of giving Petito’s case less attention, the burden should be on everyone to give other cases more attention.
“Look, I’m so happy that this case is getting this much attention, a vigorous law enforcement investigation, this family needs closure, we need to know what happened to this girl,” Navarro said. “No one wants to take anything away from this case, investigation. We just want there to be equity… All the Asian women, all the black women, all the Hispanic women, all the transgender women who are missing. So I don’t want there to be one less minute of coverage for Petito, I want there to be the same coverage for those women of color.”