KTVU news anchor ‘suspended’ after row over ‘disproportionate’ coverage of Gabby Petito case

KTVU news anchor ‘suspended’ after row over ‘disproportionate’ coverage of Gabby Petito case

A news anchor in the US has apparently been suspended after disagreeing with the news director over the coverage of the Gabby Petito homicide case.

The argument between KTVU anchor Frank Somerville and news director Amber Eikel was apparently sparked when Sommerville suggested they include a short tagline in their bulletin acknowledging the “extraordinary” amount of media coverage the case has received, sources told Mercury News.

Petito, 22, a blogger, went missing while travelling with her fiancé Brian Laundrie, 23, in August. Her body was discovered near a remote campsite in Wyoming on 19 September, and a search warrant has now been issued for Laundrie.

Somerville apparently wished to highlight his view that such cases involving white women receive more media attention than cases involving women of colour.

Two anonymous sources told the San Francisco Chronicle that Sommerville wanted to add a 46-second tag to the end of the station’s update on the Petito case which showed, through domestic violence statistics, that black women are more likely to get killed “but their deaths are rarely reported and almost never get the kind of national attention that Gabby Petito’s death is getting.”

He also wanted to quote a professor who was describing the media’s apparent tendency to overlook cases involving women of colour. But concerns were raised, partly amid fears that it would be legally unsafe to do so while the case is still being investigated.

Somerville, who has an adopted black daughter, was apparently told the tagline was “inappropriate” but was said to have he pushed back. The next day it was announced that he was going to be suspended from the channel.

MSNBC host Joy Reid has referred to this coverage of Petito as “missing white woman syndrome”, a term used to describe the disproportionate amount of media coverage cases involving missing white women receive compared to women of colour.

On her show The ReidOut, the journalist said: “It goes without saying that no family should ever have to endure that kind of pain but the way this story has captivated the nation has many wondering – why not the same media attention when people of color go missing?”

Similar discussions have taken place over the last week in the UK following the murder of Sabina Nessa, a 28-year-old teacher who was attacked in east London on 17 September. Once police formally identified her last week, Women’s Aid tweeted: “It is not good enough that victims from marginalised communities do not receive the same level of attention.”

Reclaim These Streets urged people to ask themselves why women of colour are not given the same coverage or support.

The New York Times highlighted a study which showed that 710 Indigenous people were reported missing in the same state between 2011 and 2020. A different study found that black people are “significantly underrepresented” in terms of missing persons media coverage in comparison to their numbers on the FBI’s list of cases.

Somerville was previously suspended in May when he appeared to slur while struggling to read a teleprompter.

Indy100 has reached out to KTVU for comment.

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