Missing white woman syndrome

Why do so few missing people ever make national headlines?



Jayme Closs, whose recent escape made national headlines, is among those whose disappearances was widely broadcast.

Somebody call the doctor because it seems the media is severely suffering from ‘missing white woman syndrome’.

Elizabeth Smart, Mollie Tibbets, Jayme Closs. We know their names, we know their faces, we know their stories. They’re strangers, yet we dedicated our prayers to them and hoped for their safe return to their families. Why did their stories spark national headlines? No need to dig deep, what they all have in common is right on the surface.

Bingo! You guessed it! They’re female, beautiful and white.

A white female who is missing is far more likely to attract media attention than any other missing person. Now, this isn’t some coincidence or unsupported theory. Missing white woman syndrome is the biased news reporting practice of selectively covering missing person cases involving young, white females, according to Psychology Today.

Unbalanced news reporting sends a message that these victims are more important and deserve more consideration than others. This theory holds true to more than just kidnapping, but other crimes as well. Just think about the recent fascination with Ted Bundy and the immense coverage of his crimes. The victims he murdered were all young white women.

I would like to be clear that my intentions are not to shame the women who   received this publicity. I’m simply trying to bring attention to the clear bias of news reporting, and the fact that these white women received a lot more news coverage than any other male, lower class or minority victim ever has.

“Such factors as the missing children’s race and social status matter,” said Washington Post staff writer Howard Kurtz.

These are factors that shouldn’t matter. Especially in the case of missing child. According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services records, 56.3 percent of missing children are white while 43.7 percent are non white children. Of those missing children, those who are non white are twice as likely to never be found, and the media is partially responsible.

In 2002, Alexis Patterson, a young black girl disappeared after walking to school. For the past ten years, her mother, Ayanna Patterson has made appearances on national television, according to The Denver Post. Yet, Patterson received far less national coverage and media attention than Elizabeth Smart’s abduction that very same year.

This is a clear example of a racial bias in the media. What if Alexis Patterson had received the same attention from the media as Elizabeth Smart? Would she be home right now?

Walleser can be reached at [email protected]