Racial bias affects search efforts, media coverage

Amber alert show up on cell phones when a child is reported missing. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Latanya Jamison

Staff Writer


How do several missing girls go unnoticed by mainstream media and news platforms? Roughly three weeks ago, a collection of electronic missing person flyers began circulating the internet.

International Education Week

Although there are various renditions of this issue floating around, the general message is the same. Several young women and adolescents in Washington D.C have disappeared without a trace.

Much of the public is unaware of these missing girls because mainstream media is not giving this issue any coverage. Why is there a lack of this lack of attention?

Families of the missing women have claimed racial bias, due to women of other ethnicities gaining more media coverage in the past. Although mainstream media cannot report on every missing person, the complete ignorance of these missing women is quite odd. Are certain communities treated with racial bias when being covered by the media?

The Problem with Mainstream Media

Mainstream media can be defined as major newspapers, cable news programs and radio programs. Media outlets such as the Philadelphia Tribune, ABC News, and KYW NewsRadio are considered mainstream media because they to inform the public of issues on a large scale. Since mainstream media outlets have such a vast influence as well as a responsibility to inform, the lack of reports on a major story has the public severely uninformed. Mainstream media’s choice not give attention to the missing girls from Washington D.C may reveal an underlying problem with mainstream media. By not giving attention to this issue, the media are neglecting their responsibilities and possibly revealing their bias. The purpose of news and media platforms is to provide the public with information on issues and events occurring in their community as well as in their country. However, the media is not fulfilling its responsibility when it does not give the necessary attention to major issues.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, mainstream media has ignored the fact that “…children of color went missing” in Washington D.C and “… garnered very little media attention.”

A story of several missing girls should garner major attention by media outlets because the public deserves to informed of this information. If people are unaware of a major issue happening in their community, the people themselves or their loved one could be in danger. Because mainstream media is such large part to the lives of many people, it would be a great disservice to withhold coverage on a major issue.

“Any child gone missing is serious matter,” according to the D.C. mayor’s office spokesperson, Kevin Harris, “But when numbers stack high, it merits a nation conversation.” When media coverage of a big story can bring awareness to a crisis in our community mainstream media should make it a necessity to give it news coverage.

The Missing White Woman Syndrome

The story of several missing young women deserves attention because similar stories receive a significant amount of coverage. In the early 2000s, missing young white women would rule news and media headline all over the country. One of the most polarizing abduction that swept the nation was the disappearance of Natalee Holloway.

According the Washington Post, “[Natalee] Holloway, a blonde Alabama teenager who went missing in Aruba in 2005, dominated headlines and cable news for months.” The media attention caused by Holloway’s disappearance and those of other young white women led to academic and cultural critics declaring a new phenomenon – “the Missing White Woman Syndrome,” according to Paul Farhi from The Washington Post. The media craze that came after the disappearance of young white women from the upper class became such a societal norm that a phrase was created to describe the spectacle.

The problem is there is a disproportion in media coverage when it comes to non-white communities. Non-white communities receive a significantly less amount of attention from the media compared to the white communities. This was evident in the case of Natalee Holloway as it showed an imbalance in media coverage. Even though Natalee Holloway was just one women her disappearance managed to muster a significant amount of attention from the media. However, it takes two weeks for several inner-city girls to be the focus of a single article. The missing young women from Washington D.C were either Black or Latinx between the ages of 13 and 19, according to Courtland Milloy from The Washington Post. This has led many believe that the reason for the lack of attention given to these missing women was due to their ethnicity.

Social Media Comes to the Rescue

Although media outlets initially gave the missing girls from Washington D.C. no attention, the story has begun to gain traction in mainstream media. Despite the attention the story is now getting from mainstream media outlets, the missing young women from Washington D.C. received much of its attention on social media.

Social media was the sole reason for this issue getting attention in mainstream media. Although it’s just a tool for fun, many families used it as their last resource to seek justice for their missing loved ones.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, this “social media-driven story about a number of missing teenage girls in Washington, D.C., has captivated the nation, twitter and even lawmakers on Capitol Hill…who called the FBI and the Department of Justice to Investigate.”

Social media has not only brought needed awareness to these missing young women, but also pushed for authorities to get involved. Since mainstream media outlets have failed to bring awareness to this crisis, the families of the missing young women have used social media to spread awareness.