I start my mornings, before getting out of bed, with a quick glance a Google News. That’s where I first read the name Gabby Petito. Something about her disappearing. I didn’t read the details. I was more interested in other news, including the then-pending “J6 Justice” protest, hurricanes, Congress, migrants in Texas, and a few other things.
But Petito’s name kept showing up. That prompted me to read more. I now know that the story includes her disappearance while on a cross-country tour with her fiancé, domestic violence, some kind of mental health call to arms, a disappearing fiancé, and discovery of her body The story is still developing, but it appears Petito was murdered by a violent fiancé, who is now a “person of interest” who could face murder charges and is claimed to be somewhere on some massive Florida nature preserve. We know Petito died tragically, but just don’t know the details, yet.
Petito’s apparent murder is tragic, but why so much coverage? To me, at least, there are several answers, not all of them reflecting well on our society.
First, Petito was a young white woman. I wonder if we would be reading dozens of stories about her if she had been poor and a person of color. Dare I say that that the media is demonstrating racism by focusing on Petito’s disappearance while effectively ignoring murders and disappearances of dozens of other people?
Second, the Petito story reads like a murder mystery The media has focused on it because it is easy to understand. If the fiancé is the “bad guy,” he is easy to hate. He was witnessed slapping Petito and has since disappeared. Stories like Petito’s get people’s attention much easier than things like the debate over the Biden infrastructure bill or the huge crowd of migrants living under a bridge in Texas.
Third, is domestic violence. As a society, we are becoming less tolerant of it. The fact that the finance physically abused Petito gets our attention. Some of us relate more to domestic violence victims than to murder victims. That has heightened interest in the story.
None of the above makes light of the fact that a woman was apparently murdered. That alone should heighten our awareness of the problem of domestic violence. Did you know that 500,000 woman are physically assaulted or raped by an intimate partner in the U.S. each year? A 2018 UN report found that worldwide 50,000 woman are killed each year by intimate partners.
Do you recall seeing similar news coverage of any other domestic abuse/murder case this year? I don’t.
So, what to make of the Gabby Petito case? First, we should all be saddened by her murder but should remember that she is but one of thousands of domestic violence victims. We need to take the problem of domestic violence more seriously and press government to do more to combat it.
Second, we should be angry that the press does not publicize all crimes equally. Bias should not be tolerated. If Black lives matter, it should be reflected in what news we see.
Finally, the press must enhance coverage of “boring news” like politics and government. One of the reasons things are not going well in Washington is because too few of us understand the nuances of current events. The media must step up its efforts to inform an educated citizenry with “just the facts”.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and occasionally goldendoodles.