California anchor suspended after advocating for segment on racial disparity in coverage of missing women

KTVU anchor Frank Somerville was suspended following a disagreement over "missing white woman syndrome"

Popular KTVU anchor Frank Somerville has been suspended after a disagreement with the news director over coverage of the Gabby Petito homicide case. 

Somerville, 63, who has an adopted Black daughter, was “suspended indefinitely” last week by Channel 2 management at the Oakland-based station after he pushed to cover “missing white woman syndrome,” a term coined by late journalist Gwen Ifill. 

MSNBC host Joy Reid recently used the phrase to describe media coverage of missing white women like Petito. Somerville, a three-time Emmy winner, reportedly wanted to piggyback off of Reid’s remarks during KTVU’s coverage of the popular YouTube vlogger, but News Director Amber Eikel reportedly shut him down.
Frank Somerville (Credit: YouTube screenshot)

“The way this story captivated the nation,” Reid told her viewers, “has many wondering why not the same media attention when people of color go missing? Well, the answer actually has a name: Missing White Woman Syndrome, the term coined by the late and great Gwen Ifill to describe the media and public fascination with missing white women like Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway while ignoring cases involving of people of color.”

While noting the inconsistencies in the media’s coverage of Americans gone missing, Reid acknowledged the sadness of the Petito case, theGrio previously reported. “It goes without saying that no family should ever endure that type of pain,” she said, “and the Petito family certainly deserves answers and justice.”

Petito’s lifeless body was found in a Wyoming park on Sept. 19. A manhunt is underway for the prime suspect in her murder, her fiancé Brian Laundrie

Eikel and newsroom producers reportedly rejected Somerville’s suggestion to discuss “missing white woman syndrome” because it wasn’t appropriate to run the tagline during the Petito coverage. The conflict resulted in the veteran reporter being “suspended indefinitely” from his job.

The suspension comes six weeks after Somerville returned to the newsroom following a May 30 incident in which he reportedly struggled to read from a teleprompter live on air.

Meanwhile, Laundrie, Petito’s 23-year-old fiancé, disappeared before her body was found. The Petito family is doubtful that Laundrie’s parents will help investigators find him.

“The Laundries did not help us find Gabby,” their attorney Richard Stafford said at a press conference in Bohemia, N.Y., as reported by Yahoo. “They’re sure as not going to help us find Brian.”

During the news conference, Stafford asked Laundrie directly “to turn yourself in to the FBI or the nearest law enforcement agency.”

Steve Bertolino, the Laundrie family’s attorney, said his parents do not know where he is.

“Chris and Roberta Laundrie do not know where Brian is,” Bertolino said in a statement. “They are concerned about Brian and hope the FBI can locate him. The speculation by the public and some in the press that the parents assisted Brian in leaving the family home or in avoiding arrest on a warrant that was issued after Brian had already been missing for several days is just wrong.”

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