Former TV and radio host John Gibson, who provided extensive coverage of the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, weighed in on Gabby Petito’s disappearance and death, calling out the media for falsely portraying coverage as a symptom of “missing white girl syndrome” and contrasting a potential trial with the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial. He also slammed the media for misrepresenting the recent Haitian migrant crisis.
In an interview with Steve Malzberg on his weekly Sunday commentary show Eat the Press, former talk show host and bestselling author John Gibson weighed in on the Gabby Petito case and the ongoing search for her fiancé Brian Laundrie.
Twenty-two-year-old Gabby Petito vanished while on a cross-country excursion with her boyfriend, 23-year-old Laundrie, who returned home without her and disappeared September 14, days after Petito’s family members reported her missing.
Petito’s body was found September 19 near a Wyoming national park, the Teton County coroner confirmed Tuesday, with her death ruled a homicide.
The search for Laundrie, who was initially a person of interest in the case, is underway with a warrant issued for his arrest as he faces a felony charge of debit card fraud.
Asked how a potential televised trial of Laundrie would compare to the 1995 O.J. Simpson case, Gibson — who covered Simpson’s trial extensively — noted that much has changed since.
“The background has changed a lot,” he said. “In 1994 and ‘95, during that trial, the country was focused on the trial and obsessed with sympathy for [Simpson’s ex-wife and murder victim] Nicole Brown Simpson.”
He attributed part of that change to allegations of what the media has termed “missing white girl syndrome,” which suggests a disproportionate coverage of missing-person cases involving white women.
“Now we have at least a couple of networks and a couple of major newspapers talking about ‘missing white girl syndrome’ and how we should not be paying that close [of] attention to a murder victim like Gabby Petito when there are other people, women of color, who go missing and don’t garner that attention.”
Gibson listed similarities between the Petito and Simpson cases, though expressed concerns that the media may try to obscure a trial today to avoid accusations of racism.
“There are elements about this story that are similar [to the O.J. Simpson trial]: there’s drama, there’s [a] guy on the run, [and] the woman obviously abused by him,” he said.
“So while it should garner a similar kind of attention, I think you’re going to see a lot of media trying to throw a wet blanket on it because of this new concept we hear about: ‘missing white girl syndrome,’” he added.
Asked about CNN hosts who’ve recently condemned themselves for “daring” to cover the Petito story while women of color are missing, Gibson explained how the media’s sensation with Petito’s case is actually not due to race.
“A lot of these stories that involve missing women of color or murdered women of color are pretty straightforward: they’re gone, there’s no suspect, there’s no video, there’s no drama attached to it that the media could exploit as we did during the O.J. trial,” he said.
He also noted the recent death of primary school teacher Sabina Nessa in London and the supposed little coverage it received compared to Petito’s death.
“There was in Britain a very attractive young woman who happened to be of some nationality that made her of color who was murdered on the street mysteriously, and in the British press, they’re asking how come she doesn’t get the attention this Gabby Petito does,” he said.
“But you look at the Gabby Petito story: all the video that’s involved, the police call-out on the road, witnesses seeing that she was being slapped,” he added. “There’s a lot of stuff there for people who are interested in this thing to attach themselves to that are elements that are missing from other stories of missing women.”
Gibson also weighed in on the media’s misrepresentation of the recent Haitian migrant crisis.
Asked about the speed at which the media “switched the narrative” from the horrors under a bridge in Del Rio where Haitian refugees have been living in life-threatening situations to the “phony story of border agents whipping Haitian immigrants,” he called it “classic changing the subject.”
“The story is: [President] Biden said the borders are open; Haitians went to Brazil [and] then they made the long trip up; [and] they crossed the border in the thousands to enter the United States and stay here permanently,” he said.
“A big mess Biden caused, [so the media seeks:] ‘how do we change the subject?’” he added. “‘Look at those guys on horseback — they have reins, they’re twirling the reins around, they must be whipping them; it is slavery in 2021!’”
Gibson referred to the new narrative as a mere “political dodge” aimed at taking the onus off of President Biden’s “disastrous” policy.
“The media that is trying to cover up for Biden jumped on it immediately because they saw the value in whipping Haitian migrants and, frankly, they’ve gotten away with it,” he said.
Petito’s case triggered a large amount of interest due to the disconnect between how she and Laundrie’s road trip appeared on social media as the couple shared images and videos of fun and smiles while they surveyed national parks, and the tragic reality of abuse and the eventual disappearance and death of Petito and the now-missing Laundrie.
Despite the multiple factors which make Petito’s case unique, figures on the left have blamed racism for the media coverage.
On Thursday, Joy Behar told her co-hosts on ABC’s The View that the media’s coverage of Petito was in part “racist.”
“People are also calling the obsession over Petito’s case another example of ‘missing white woman syndrome,’” she said. “When people of color go missing, it’s barely covered by the media and mostly ignored by the public.”
Behar added, “What I think happens is now this cute little 22-year-old blonde girl goes missing, and immediately people are interested in that. I don’t know why exactly. I think part of it is racist, part of it.”
Co-host Sunny Hostin agreed.
“There is no question [Petito’s coverage] comes down to race,” she said. “[Just as] there’s no question if it were white migrants [instead of Haitians at the border], they wouldn’t be rounded up on horses.”
On Monday, on her show, The ReidOut, MSNBC anchor Joy Reid said media coverage of Petito is a clear case of “missing white woman syndrome.”
Reid said, “If you’ve been watching the news for the past few days or on Twitter or TikTok, you’re familiar with the name ‘Gabby Petito.’”
She continued, “The way this story captivated the nation 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 people of color,” she added.
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.