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Some murder cases don’t receive widespread media attention. Is bias at work?

Some murders make national news and others do not. Is there media bias in place?

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Crime scene tape.

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In 2021, the CDC released statistics that show a 30% increase in murder in the U.S. from 2019 to 2020 — making it the highest increase in modern history. According to Pew Research, murder is not one of the most common crimes, but it does hit the headlines. But how does the media decide which murder victims are covered and which are not?

Is there bias in reporting on victims of murder?

A group of scholars analyzed newspaper coverage of murders and found “that victims killed in predominantly Black neighborhoods receive less news coverage than those killed in non-Hispanic white neighborhoods.” They also discovered that victims who are killed in predominantly Black or Hispanic neighbors are less likely to be discussed as “complex, multifaceted people.”

Specifically, this study found that Black victims received 2.8 news articles each, Hispanic victims received 2.6 articles each and white victims received 3.8 news article each on average.

Another earlier study from Louisiana State University also found that white victims receive higher and more prominent news coverage than Black victims. In a different study published in January 2011, researchers found that Black and Hispanic homicide victims had less news coverage than other victims.

Even though murder has a disproportionately higher chance of being covered by the news than other crimes, another study found that Indigenous women and girls who are murdered as less likely to receive news coverage, receive less news coverage overall and also receive less prominent news coverage.

Homicide is the third highest cause of death for Indigenous women between the ages of 1-19, accounting for 8.4% of deaths for that age group, according to a report from the CDC.

Murder cases that received less media attention

CBC News in Canada has started cataloguing and looking into reports of Indigenous women whose deaths were ruled as homicide, who are still missing and whose deaths were not ruled as homicides, but families did not accept the findings of autopsy reports.

According to CBC, Savannah Hall was a three-year-old girl who loved to play with blocks and other toys. She was taken away from her mother, Corinna Hall, in 1998 and was found unresponsive in 2001. At first, Hall was told that Savannah had the flu and she needed to go to the hospital, but that wasn’t the case.

Savannah was held in her crib using leather restraints when she was at the foster home. Even though investigators declared her death a homicide, the investigation did not lead anywhere and no charges have been pressed. Hall said, “Everyone’s ignoring my daughter’s death. I love my daughter and it hurts knowing that (police are) not doing nothing to help me to get justice for my daughter’s death.”

In another example, Yarianna Wheeler’s murder was covered by Chicago news outlets, but it did not receive national media attention.

Our Black Girls compiles the often-untold stories of Black women who are missing or who were murdered. According to Our Black Girls, Wheeler was between six and nine months pregnant when she was discovered floating in Lake Michigan. Her death was investigated as a homicide.

According to Cook County records, the suspect was booked on Nov. 6, 2021, and was charged with first-degree murder. He is being held without bond.

Erika Marie Rivers, the journalist behind Our Black Girls, said in an interview with NPR, “I think when we bring that awareness, especially when it comes to Indigenous women and with Black women, and we’re like, ‘Hey, we exist as well.’ It’s not to say stop searching for that white woman. It’s like, search for our women as much as you do anybody else and make sure that whatever energy that you place into one case is the same energy that you place into others.”