MSNBC’s Joy Reid spoke out about something she calls “Missing white woman syndrome” on Sept 21, 2021 on her show “TheReidOut”. The anchor who is not actually a journalist but a commentator is allowed to speak of whatever she wants for the most part. She gets to tell people whatever she wants because she’s not technically reporting on the news, but rather commenting on it. Even though she wants justice and peace for the Petito family, she said; “But the way this story has captivated the nation has many wondering, why not the same media attention when people of color go missing?”
MSNBC’s Joy Ann Reid: Media reporting Gabby Petito’s disappearance/presumed murder is symptom of "Missing White Woman Syndrome." pic.twitter.com/UYAWgaDyYr
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) September 21, 2021
Wikipedia tells us that: “Missing white woman syndrome is a term used by social scientists and media commentators to refer to the alleged disproportionate media coverage, especially in television, of missing-person cases involving young, white, upper-middle-class women or girls compared to the relative lack of attention towards missing women who are not white, women of lower social classes, and missing men or boys. Although the term was coined in the context of missing-person cases, it is sometimes used of coverage of other violent crimes. The phenomenon has been highlighted in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa.”
This belief and phrase is credited to have come from late news anchor Gwen Ifill who died of breast cancer in 2016.
Reid continued to explain that the obsession in the media with women who look like they could be related to executives of news companies is why people of color are ignored. Reid seems to believe that the media like her own MSNBC, which has it’s own daily updates on these missing “white women”, are unfairly focused on some disappearances but not others.
However, in 2013 Elisa Lam, who is not a white woman went missing and caused a nearly hysterical obsession with the case. Elisa Lam a Canadian born woman of Asian descent disappeared. The video that was released by police had been viewed over three million times and had more than forty-thousand comments within ten days!
— Hailey Reese (@itshaileyreese) February 18, 2021
Even after Elisa’s body was discovered and police decided that Lam had gotten into the water tank on the roof of the Cecil Hotel by herself, hundreds of YouTubers continued to make conspiracy videos. People still believe that Elisa Lam was murdered and had even gone so far as to accuse a man called Morbid who stayed in the Cecil Hotel a year prior to Lam’s own visit.
The point is, Elisa Lam was definitely not white and to this day is still considered one of the most “covered-up” or lied about disappearances in the country. Just to reiterate Elisa Lam was not even an American citizen, and her parents are Hong-Kong immigrants. She does not meet the criteria for “Missing White Women Syndrome” and yet people still passionately debate the merits of ghosts, murders, and even government assassination about this poor young girl who died.
While no one will ever argue that there is a disproportionate amount of coverage on missing persons cases, it may not come from a place of race but rather from the need for drama and gossip. Most “missing white women” turn out to be murdered, often brutally by their own husbands. It may not be a race issues or seeing ourselves in the missing women that drives us to obsess over these cases, but rather in sheer amount of drama that tends to surround the cases.