Many are riveted by the case of a missing Massachusetts woman, and the media coverage has been criticized by some over what they say is an example of “Missing White Woman Syndrome.”
Ana Walshe went missing New Year’s Day, and her husband has been arrested in connection with the case. He was charged with misleading investigators, who say they discovered potentially incriminating Google searches on his computer, including how to dispose of a woman’s body.
Ana Walshe was last seen Jan. 1, when she was expected to take a rideshare from her home in Cohasset, Massachusetts, to Boston International Airport for a flight to Washington, D.C. She commutes from her home to D.C., where she has a townhouse.
Her husband said she left home at 4 a.m. and friends say she never got on the flight. It’s not clear if she took the rideshare.
Brian Walshe did not report his wife missing until the Wednesday after her disappearance, when her employer notified police she had not shown up for work. During the arraignment, investigators said Ana’s phone last pinged at her home after Brian said she had left.
Critics — including a Boston Globe columnist — are calling the media coverage another instance of missing white woman syndrome, a term coined by the late journalist Gwen Ifill at the 2004 Unity: Journalists of Color conference.
“If there is a missing white woman, we are going to cover that every day,” Ifill said at the time.
Dr. Danielle Slakoff is an assistant professor in the division of criminal justice at Sacramento State University. She specializes in media and crime, feminist criminology and women’s issues and race/ethnicity.
Slakoff has researched how media outlets portray women and girls as victims of crime and how she says race/ethnicity may impact coverage.
She has published work on missing white woman syndrome, and she said Friday on “Dan Abrams Live” that not enough time has elapsed to say whether coverage of the Ana Walshe case falls in that category.
“She was just reported missing Jan. 4 and went missing New Year’s Day, so I think it’s just too soon to say,” Slakoff said.
In her own research of newspaper stories over a four-year period, Slakoff found missing white woman received more initial and repeated coverage than missing Black women.
“The reason that repeated coverage is important is because that means that the consumer who may not be tuning in every day … they’re still likely to see it in passing,” Slakoff said.
Syracuse University professor of communications Carol Liebler defines missing white woman syndrome as “a term that refers to the practice of news media focusing extensively on the missing persons case of white women.”
The Columbia Journalism Review created a tool called “Are You Press Worthy?” that lets people look at their so-called “press value” if they ever went missing and share their findings on social media to advocate for change and expose bias or gaps in coverage.
CJR matched about 3,600 articles from 2021 on missing people by U.S. news outlets with information including race, gender and age from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
According to CJR, someone who is young, white, female and a resident of a big city will receive media coverage that is “vastly out of proportion.”
“Younger missing people do tend to get more attention, regardless of race,” Slakoff said.