Gabby Petito: Sensationalism and superficiality, NOT ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’

By Lee Cleveland, Polls and Trends - September 25, 2021

As the tragic story of Gabby Petito continues to play out, many are crying ‘racism’ again.


The case of yet another missing white woman became the hottest story in America. And even now, nearly a week after her remains were found, we are STILL consumed with the status of her missing fiance, Brian Laundrie.

And we are obsessed with learning how and why Petito died, Laundrie’s role in her death, and every detail of their topsy turvy, star-crossed romance.

Although heartwrenching, this story is massively intriguing with all sorts of wild twists and turns. Like so many who are following this ordeal closely, I’m asking myself, “Is all this really real and what will we learn next?”

For the last week, I’ve Googled Gabby or Brian’s name at least three times per day to follow the situation as it unfolds.

So, as a middle-aged American brotha, do I have Missing White Woman Syndrome?

Absolutely not.

Does America?

Not necessarily.

It would be ignorant to say forms of racism and prejudice don’t exist because they do. However, and I think I can speak for at least half of America, my interest in this story would be the same if Gabby and Brian were Black, Hispanic, or Asian.

What some fail to realize is the missing white women who’ve received top billing over the years have had two things in common.

They were a) young and attractive and b) part of real-life dramas so sensational their ordeals made the famous TV soap operas of the 1980s resemble the Saturday morning cartoons of that era.

People go missing daily and the vast majority of those stories fail to garner front-page news because they lack a compelling backdrop.

Simply put, there’s not enough drama, deceit, romance, violence, and mystery in most missing persons cases to draw the interest of the masses.

Admit it. That’s exactly what you’re interested in.

Sensationalism. If the story isn’t sensational, you’re just not that intrigued.

Race is moot.

And yes, stories that do have the aforementioned elements are even more interesting if the missing person has a glamorous appeal or is aesthetically pleasing in one way or another, whether we want to admit it or not.

So yes, our superficiality also plays a role in determining our level of interest. Would we be just as interested in Gabby if she weighed 300 lbs?

Remember Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, and Natalee Holloway? All were attractive young women whose circumstances surrounding their disappearances were extraordinary, to say the least.

Don’t blame the media… This is what YOU gravitate towards.

While most of us would be disheartened to learn about the abduction of an ordinary-looking 45-year-old, Black single mom in Detriot, it would, like any other missing persons’ situation, take a hell of a storyline to make national news and for us to obsess over it.

Does that make us racist?

No, but it might make us sensationalistic and superficial.

Most of us don’t have Missing White Woman Syndrome – We have Obsessed with Sensationalism and Superficiality Syndrome and it’s not the media’s fault. They are simply giving us what we ask for.

When ratings/clicks on a particular story surge, we are, in essence, telling that media outlet we want more. And it’s their job to satiate our appetite.

Anyone with an iota of understanding of how the media works knows this one indelible fact – The public dictates to the media what the important stories are, not vice versa.

The media didn’t make the fictional J.R Ewing one of the most significant people of the 1980s – We did. And the same curiosity that fueled America over ‘Who Shot J.R.’ is alive and well today with the death of Gabby Petito.

However, and unfortunately, the tragic real-life event is so much more fascinating than anything we would have seen on Dallas, Dynasty, or All My Children.

And THAT is why the story is so huge. It has little or nothing to do with race and everything to do with sensationalism and superficiality.

It’s awful when ANYONE goes missing and no race is any more valuable than the other. However, we, as the public, have proven time and time again we aren’t interested in missing persons whose stories are devoid of extreme, mindnumbing circumstances.

In fact, the missing person, alone, doesn’t captivate us at all. At least not at first. Only real-life dramas that seem almost too extraordinary to be true are worthy of America’s obsessiveness.

And, again, if a beautiful princess is involved, even better.

Sensationalism and superficiality.

Not race.

It’s not fair and a bit small-minded, but it is true. And it’s not necessarily racist because over 99 percent of Whites who go missing probably never come close to making national news.

That stated, missing Whites, all things being equal, probably generate a bit more coverage than lost people of other ethnicities because most Americans are White and people tend to gravitate towards folks who are most like them.

Nevertheless, if a young, attractive Black woman went missing in another one of these sensational, real-life soap operas, the public would probably salivate over the story almost as much.

We are too dialed in and superficial not to.

Missing people don’t sell, but young and attractive missing people who play a leading role in extraordinary, over-the-top storylines do.

If a missing persons’ story isn’t extraordinary and doesn’t prey on your shallow instincts, are you interested?

Sure, you may genuinely sympathize with the missing person, BUT are you going to be glued to your TV seeking details?


Tags: gabby petito, missing persons