Missing White Woman Syndrome: An Empirical Analysis of Race and Gender Disparities in Online News Coverage of Missing Persons

By Sommers, Zach | Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Missing White Woman Syndrome: An Empirical Analysis of Race and Gender Disparities in Online News Coverage of Missing Persons


Sommers, Zach, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology


TABLE OF CONTENTS  INTRODUCTION I. PRIOR LITERATURE: DEMOGRAPHIC DISPARITIES IN MEDIA        COVERAGE OF ABDUCTION AND CRIME MORE GENERALLY        A. Race in Media Coverage of Crime: The Benefits of            Whiteness        B. Gender and Intersectionality in Media Coverage of Crime        C. Theories Explaining Race and Gender Disparities in News            Coverage of Crime II. DATA AND METHODOLOGY        A. Stage I Analysis: Who Garners Missing Person Media            Coverage?            1. Subset of Missing Persons Covered by Internet News                Sites            2. Overall Missing Person Data: FBI Missing Person File            3. Comparative Analysis of Missing Individuals in the                Media and Overall Missing Person Population        B. Stage II Analysis: Do Certain Groups Receive a Higher            Intensity of News Coverage? III. RESULTS        A. Stage I: Race Across Individuals        B. Stage I: Gender Across Individuals        C. Stage I: The Intersection of Race and Gender Across             Individuals        D. Stage II: Race And Coverage Intensity        E. Stage II: Gender and Coverage Intensity        F. Stage II: The Intersection of Race and Gender and Coverage             Intensity        G. Stage II: Regression Analysis and Coverage Intensity IV.  DISCUSSION CONCLUSION 

INTRODUCTION

On Sunday morning, November 3, 2013, Aaron Hubbard went to church. (1) It was the last time his family would see him alive. (2) A few hours later, Chicago police received a report that Hubbard had been kidnapped. (3) According to witnesses, Hubbard, a seventeen-year-old high school student, was attacked and thrown into a truck that quickly drove away. (4) After eight days of searching, police found Hubbard's decomposing body in an abandoned building not far from where the abduction had occurred. (5) A handful of short news stories documented the story in Hubbard's hometown of Chicago, (6) but the case received no coverage on a regional or national scale.

Three months earlier, in August, California native Hannah Anderson disappeared, triggering a massive manhunt for her and her alleged kidnapper. (7) The incident sparked a media firestorm, with news agencies across the country covering the sixteen-year-old's disappearance. (8) Local and national media outlets tracked the investigation, (9) with CNN.com alone publishing more than twenty print stories and over thirty video segments on the developments. (10) One week later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found Anderson alive and killed her captor. (11)

Much about the two cases was similar. The incidents, which occurred within a few months of each other, both involved abducted teenagers who were located about one week later. Why, then, was there such a huge disparity in the amount of media attention paid to the two cases? Perhaps it was because a suspect was identified early on in Anderson's case, (12) whereas the initial investigation into Hubbard's disappearance was less successful. (13) Or, alternatively, maybe geography played a role. National or regional news agencies might deem an abduction in Chicago as less newsworthy than one in southern California. But what if the disparity resulted from the simple fact that at the time, Hubbard was a young black man and Anderson was a young white woman?

Many bloggers and commenters have argued that there are widespread and systematic race and gender disparities in the amount of media coverage dedicated to abduction or missing persons cases like those of Hubbard and Anderson. (14) They have termed the phenomenon "Missing White Woman Syndrome," or alternatively "Missing White Girl Syndrome," based on the belief that white women (15) tend to disproportionately receive the most amount of news coverage. (16) Academics have joined the fray in theorizing and trying to understand why these perceived disparities exist. (17) However, even with those theoretical contributions, surprisingly little work has been done to actually establish empirically that the disparity is real. …

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Missing White Woman Syndrome: An Empirical Analysis of Race and Gender Disparities in Online News Coverage of Missing Persons
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