Soledad O’Brien talks lack of coverage of missing Black people, launching ‘Black and Missing’ docuseries

Searching for missing Black persons is not made a priority in the U.S., O'Brien says in interview

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Award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien wants to know why national media outlets that spent so much time covering the late Gabby Petito don’t offer the same level of attention for missing Black Americans, especially Black women and girls like Keeshae Jacobs.

The disparity in coverage is something the late PBS NewsHour anchor Gwen Ifill once famously referred to as “missing white woman syndrome.” It’s also the subject of Black and Missing, O’Brien’s new HBO docuseries, which the premium cable network released on Tuesday.

“Why are the stories about missing Black women, and Black people generally, why are they not told, why are they not shared, why are they not so interesting to the media? ” O’Brien asked during a recent interview on The Dean Obeidallah Show, which aired on Friday, as reported by Mediaite. “And why is law enforcement seeming to be unwilling to really chase after these stories?” she added.

CEO of Starfish Media Group Soledad O’Brien. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

O’Brien’s four-episode series follows former law enforcement officer Derrica Wilson, who now serves as co-founder and CEO of the Black and Missing Foundation, a non-profit that brings awareness to missing people of color. Derrica and her sister-in-law, Natalie Wilson, lead a team helping families of color find their missing loved ones.

It’s a task made more difficult by both the media and law enforcement agencies that seem to show greater interest in missing people who are white, even though Black children are more likely to go missing than their white counterparts.

Black kids represented less than 14% of the nation’s child population in 2018, but they made up more than a third of missing child cases the same year, according to a report from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center cited by CNN.

Credit: HBO on YouTube

“If you don’t meet those criteria — blonde hair, blue eyes — your stories are not newsworthy,” Derrica Wilson said in a trailer for Black and Missing.

During her interview, O’Brien said she’s been working on the new docuseries for about three years. Recently many people have told her releasing it now, with Petito’s name in the headlines and questions about racial equity being raised, would be good timing. But O’Brien suggested the topic is evergreen.

“There’s so many versions of this story, you could just do it over and over and over again, unfortunately,” she said. “I think that there is a large number, and often it is also because people are not really searching for them and don’t prioritize looking for them.”

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