Analyzing the Coverage Given to Various Missing Women Cases
The Gabrielle Petito case was, and still is, a widely publicized case. The public outcry at a young girl murdered while away with her fiancé hit home for many. Briefly, Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito had traveled to a national park with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie . In the beginning of August, roughly a month into their trip, the police in Utah had arrived to Petito and Laundrie after a domestic dispute, yet neither of them had pressed charges. On September 1st 2021, Laundrie returned home to Florida without Petito, and ten days later, Petito’s family reported her missing (Hauser, 2022). Social media followed along and encouraged the search for Gabby. Soon after Petito’s remains were found in September 2021, her death was ruled as a homicide by strangulation. As soon as September 2021, Laundrie was taken as a person of interest but died by suicide with a gunshot wound to the head (Hauser, 2022). Later, in January 2022, Laundrie’s notebook was fo
und which included specifications about him killing Petito.
Petito’s case was incredibly unique as it had elicited intense internet sleuthing. Crime podcasts and social media as a whole had contributed to raising awareness of her case, which even brought about new video evidence. Following this, sites such as CNN, New York Times, and Fox News immensely covered her case even before her remains were eventually found.
Following this, an executive director for Maynard Institute for Journalism Education named Martin Reynolds called attention to racial inequality. He claimed that news outlets go for “competitive coverage” and therefore, give disproportionate attention to missing white women compared to other races. Yet, he attributed this issue to journalism as a whole. He said that the staff and newsroom do not reflect the overall diversity of the nation and therefore, the stories they tend to focus on is on the demographic that reflects their own; white. This is an important attestation that even those who work within media outlets recognize the basis of the disproportionality.
Another case of a missing woman that took place in a similar timeframe to that of Petito’s was the death of Lauren Smith-Fields, a black woman. However, the handling of this case carr
ied out much differently. Accordingly, Smith-Fields died after a night of drinking with her Bumble date, Matthew LaFountain . Her case also received much media attention due to the fact that LaFountain was not named as a suspect, even though he was the last person to see her alive. Though resources do go towards finding missing women, the same is not true when black women go missing. The disparity is so severe that the family sued the police of Bridgeport for mishandling the case. The detectives in her case were suspected due to ignoring the concerns of the public and also failing to follow police policy. Smith-Field’s autopsy revealed her death to be caused by drug overdoses despite no previous record of drug use or substance abuse and as of late January 2022, her death was ruled as an accident.
The major difference between these cases is that a lot more pressure was placed on the police to solve the Petito case due to public outcry. On the other hand, the awareness of the Smith-Fields case arguably amplified in response to poor investigation efforts by the police, and also the recognition of the racial disparity of attention given to missing women. To this day, Smith-Fields’ case has not been investigated further. The police did take Laundrie as a suspect for being the last individual to see Petito alive. The same was not true for Smith-Fields.