An on-air fixture in San Francisco Bay Area news has been indefinitely suspended after raising concerns about racial disparities in media coverage of Gabby Petito’s disappearance and homicide, sources familiar with the situation told several outlets in recent days.
Frank Somerville, who has anchored the news at Fox affiliate KTVU for nearly 30 years, is facing the repercussions after a reported disagreement with the station’s news director regarding how to cover Petito, a 22-year-old white woman whose body was found in Wyoming after a massive search involving multiple police departments and the FBI.
According to people familiar with the matter, Somerville wanted to include a tagline at the end of a report on Petito questioning “the extraordinary level of media coverage devoted to the story,” The Mercury News ― which was the first to report on Somerville’s punishment ― reported Friday. Somerville wanted to point out, as many others have throughout the Petito coverage, that American media often disproportionately covers missing white women while overlooking cases involving people of color.
KTVU news director Amber Eikel reportedly rejected Somerville’s plan for the 46-second tagline, and their disagreement over the matter led to his suspension.
KTVU did not immediately return HuffPost’s requests for clarity on the matter.
Somerville, 63, is the father of an adopted Black daughter.
The ordeal at KTVU unfolded shortly after police found Petito’s body last week after a weekslong search, but interest in the case has remained high as her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, with whom she was on a road trip before her family reported her missing, disappeared as the investigation began to heat up.
The police resources and media coverage dedicated to Petito’s case are not typical of missing person cases involving ethnic minorities, critics have argued. Several have pointed out that more than 700 indigenous women went missing in Wyoming from 2011 to 2020 to little media fanfare. According to a January report published by the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Task Force, 21% of missing indigenous people remain missing for 30 days or longer, while only 11% of white people remain missing for that long.
Others have drawn comparisons to the mysterious disappearance and death of Illinois grad student Jelani Day, whose remains were identified last Thursday nearly three weeks after his body was found floating in a river. Day, who is Black, disappeared around the same time Petito did, but his case has largely flown under the radar.
Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, recently spoke out about the perceived racial disparity in her son’s case on “Good Morning America.”
“I shouldn’t have to beg. I shouldn’t have to plead,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to feel that there is a racial disparity. I shouldn’t have to feel anything like that. I want these people that have these resources to realize this could happen to them.”