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Gabby Petito and the Quest for Media Accountability

We live in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, wading through a labyrinth of updates from every which way. In a world where perception is reality, how do we begin to hold the media accountable for its deeply felt influence?

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I took a moment to discuss this with Kelsey Vlamis, a breaking news reporter at Business Insider. We focused specifically on the media frenzy surrounding the disappearance and murder of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old “van life” vlogger. This conversation ran the gamut but something that stood out to me was when the well-spoken and thoughtful Ms. Vlamis expressed the idea that “bias” means something different now. It means you have picked a side; it means you stand for something.

Though the news media has long-been accused of biased or one-sided reporting, the measure of that is in the eye of the beholder. Objectivity requires a kind of 360 degree understanding of a situation that seems next to impossible. But for many folks, it has become normal to go to multiple news sources for well-rounded impressions of what is unfolding in the world around them.

Law enforcement officials investigate the home of Brian Laundrie. (AP Photo/Curt Anderson)

We have reached a point with journalistic pursuits where truth is relative and misinformation and disinformation run the show. Perhaps that was always the case with news; there was just less of it. And one would think that with the breadth of options, news would be much more diversified and representative. Why is this important? Because where art has the potential power to shift viewpoints or reframe ideas and ideologies, news media tends to be slightly more insidious. It subliminally controls how we move through life.

Members of the media broadcast across the street from the entrance of the Carlton Reserve during a search for Brian Laundrie in Venice, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Immediately after Petito went missing in Wyoming, her face was everywhere. Coverage splashed across platforms – Instagram, Tiktok, online news outlets and live television were full of the story. Thoughts, prayers and hashtags all in the hopes that awareness would help bring back someone it felt like “we” lost.

Considering her small to medium following online, the wave of attention felt like it came out of nowhere. It was called out as possibly another case of “missing white woman syndrome” a newly-coined phenomenon where the public gets extremely emotionally invested and consumed by the disappearance of a (usually) white woman.

Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito talking to a police officer after police pulled over the van she was traveling in with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie on Aug. 12, 2021. The couple was pulled over while they were having an emotional fight. Petito was reported missing by her family and later found dead. (The Moab Police Department via AP)

White women are portrayed in media as benign, fragile, the consummate damsel-in-distress, the loving wife, doting middle-class mother or the free-spirited young girl with a bright future ahead of her.

The pictures chosen are of her with her family and friends, smiling, enjoying life before someone cruelly cut the joy short.

What’s wrong with that? Is it bad that we feel instantly endeared to the Gabby Petitos and the Elizabeth Smarts?

No – that feeling is empathy, and it induces a potent pathos that will not let us separate ourselves from what goes on in our midst. We stay glued to the story; we organize search parties and obsessively share each and every update.

Elizabeth Smart addresses the media outside the court house following the guilty verdict of her kidnapper in 2010 (AP Photo/Colin E Braley)

On the other side of this coin, however, is an ugly, inconvenient truth.

Between 2011-2020, it has been found that 710 Native people, mostly women or girls, have gone missing in the same area that Gabby Petito disappeared from. Their identities and tribal affiliations remain obscured, we don’t even know if that number is accurate. Their pictures never make the paper. No noteworthy public vigils or press conferences are held.

What is glaringly obvious, is that news regarding the Indigenous members of our communities is not newsworthy. It is like trees falling in an empty forest.

The real number of missing and murdered Native people is probably staggering, considering our country’s attitude towards them historically. Native advocacy groups have evidence of decades of abuse and ignorance.

Miranda Muehl, of Mustang, Okla., marches during a march to call for justice for missing and murdered indigenous women Friday, June 14, 2019, at the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma in Concho, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

This leads me back to my discussion with Kelsey Vlamis. She reminded me that holding media responsible is not only about what we cover, it’s how.

What happens when you grow up consistently seeing news showing the stark, lonely mugshots of Black homicide victims or bone-chilling footage of a group of Latino migrants being detained at the border?

It promotes implicit bias and stereotyping while also cementing prejudice into the social fabric of our communities. We rarely know the whole story but our brains make associations and generalizations about entire groups of folks based on how they are portrayed.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in 2019 is presented with an honoring blanket held by members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, after Inslee signed a bill into law creating liaison positions within the Washington State Patrol, and requiring the agency to develop best practices in hopes of reducing disproportionate rates of violence faced by Native American and indigenous women, and also the frequency with which perpetrators of the crimes avoid justice. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Control the narrative and you control the people, skew the narrative…you get the point. Thanks to the internet and social platforms, people have the tools to become town crier, data analyst and investigative journalist in the palm of their hand. In this fraught epoch, almost no piece of information can be taken without a grain or a handful of salt.

There are a few fixes, though. Inclusive hiring practices, press accountability and journalistic integrity, to name a few. We as a public have gotten quite good at fact-checking and calling mistakes or misnomers out when we see them. In fact, Gabby Petito’s family has leveraged the high-level publicity of her story, to elevate those of other open, unsolved missing persons cases. Hopefully the future holds more of that; hopefully what we are beginning to understand is that every human life is relevant and deserving of the same dignity granted to those at the top of the social hierarchy. Every tree is a part of the forest.

Our hearts go out to Gabby’s family and the families of all the missing and murdered Indigenous people, whose names we have yet to learn but whose memories we must honor.

You can watch my full conversation with Kelsey below.

Syd is an LA-based performer, writer, Erupt moderator who can't stop talking and genuinely believes art can save the world.

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Why No One Is Truly Opposed to Dumb COVID Rules

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A staffer holds up a sign to advise fans of the mandatory mask rule in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game between Tennessee and Colorado Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Animals,

Let’s face it. We all work in customer service. If you sell car insurance, you better be ready to provide speedy payment to your clients when a tree falls onto their Prius.

And if you’re a doctor who wants to keep his patients, you’d better treat them with respect. That means short waiting room times and pretending that their questions (“Does this rash mean I have cancer”) aren’t as crazy as they sound.

Then there are professionals in 100% service-based industries like marketing, law, and — GASP – government. For them, customer service is arguably the most important part of the job.

In these industries, clients don’t really understand what you do for them, so appearing to be responsive, empathetic, and on-top of things is half the job.

Which brings us to Joe Biden’s COVID speech on Thursday, where he laid out his “Winter Plan” to stop COVID’s seasonal spike that happens whenever the weather gets cold.

President Biden speaks at the National Institutes of Health, Dec. 2, 2021, in Bethesda, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Lurking in the background of Biden’s speech was the omicron variant, which some experts fear will bring new dangers to our shores.

The president proposed several interventions to dampen omicron and COVID’s winter spike, but if we’re being honest, his speech was really just a customer service exercise. It was President Joe Biden attempting to convince his clients – voters – that he’s responsive, empathetic, and on top of things.

As The Washington Post reported: “The president’s plan includes campaigns to increase vaccinations and booster shots, more stringent testing for international travelers and plans to make rapid at-home coronavirus testing free for more people.”

So basically… more of the same, plus an annoying COVID test if you travel internationally.

That doesn’t sound like much news at all.

(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

By now, we know that COVID policies like mandatory masking and compulsory testing aren’t going to deliver great results, especially in an increasingly vaccinated America. Deep down, most of us probably agree that these policies are more about creating the appearance that our leaders are on top of things than actually yielding compelling public health benefits.

But is there another way for Joe Biden? Should he just sit in the White House and do nothing, as his critics in the Republican Party demand?

And would President Ron DeSantis or President Nikki Haley really act differently, if given the chance? Would they want to be on the hook personally for preventable death, even if it meant burdening Americans with dumb masking and testing rules that cut against their small government philosophy?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The national debate surrounding COVID boils down to risk. The president and many others believe that added COVID mandates, as onerous as they may be, are worth it because they’ll save lives. Critics see it the other way. They believe that continuing to disrupt American life is causing greater damage to the economy and the nation’s social fabric than whatever the public health benefits these mandates may hold.

Both arguments are true. And that’s why it stinks to be the president.

Joe Biden’s bully pulpit has enormous power when it comes to shaping the world’s opinion about any given issue. Unfortunately, the virus isn’t listening.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Alex “Keendawg” Keeney is a media personality whose work has been published widely. He has worked as a Congressional aide, TV writer, and marketing executive for the real Wolf of Wall Street. Follow him on Twitter @keendawg.

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Queen Nicki Leaves No Crumbs After Hosting the RHOP Reunion| The Tea

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Plus, Kanye’s Heartbreak, Celebrity Illness shockers and Jen Shah’s legal woes just got worse.

On this episode of “The Tea” Ashley, Blake and Brie dive into celebrity illness and heartbreak. To share, or not to share, that is the question. 

Keep reading and watch the episode below for fresh takes on the latest entertainment and celebrity news shot live from the Erupt studio in Hollywood.

RIP Virgil Abloh

On Sunday November 28, the fashion and entertainment community lost designer and fashion visionary Virgil Abloh.

He was the first African American artistic director at Louis Vuitton and founded the renowned culture and streetwear brand Off-White.

Abloh kept his 2-year battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare cancer of the heart, hidden from most. He was 41.

“The Tea” hosts discuss Abloh’s decision to keep his diagnosis a secret like some stars including Chadwick Boseman and Robin Williams, versus stars who choose to share their battles publicly, like Selma Blair and Christina Applegate.

(AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Kanye Wants His Family Back

Kanye West, who was a close friend to Virgil Abloh, took to social media over the weekend expressing his intention to bring his family back together. Saying that doing so would influence millions of other families to reconcile too.

As reported in earlier episodes of The Tea, there is speculation Ye’s estranged wife, Kim Kardashian, is currently dating comedian Pete Davidson.

Could Kimye 2.0 be in our future? The Tea hosts discuss.

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Jen Shah’s Right-Hand Man Pleads Guilty

Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star Jen Shah along with her personal assistant Stuart Smith were charged with fraud back in March.

Initially, Smith gave a not guilty plea but recently flipped his plea to guilty.

Shah still maintains her innocence.

(Bravo TV)

Nicki Hosts RHOP Reunion

Nicki Minaj took over Andy Cohen’s chair to host episode 4 of the Real Housewives of Potomac reunion and we are here for it!

Nicki didn’t hold back and asked all the questions we’ve been dying to know. On top of that, no housewife was spared. 

They all got the smoke-equally.

Could celebrity reunion hosts bring new life to the housewives’ franchise? 

The hosts discuss who we’d love to see host next.

Watch The Tea get spilled here:

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The Omicron “Scary-iant” & Football Funny Money | Political Drinking Games

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Animals,  

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year has just intersected with the most wonderful time of the week. 

By that I mean, it’s time to put a little Christmas spirit into Erupt’s political drinking games. 

On offer this week: 

  • The world has a new COVID variant. Congratulations, omicron! 
  • Twitter has a new CEO. Will he be as powerful as his predecessor, Jack Dorsey? 
  • CNN cancels Chris Cuomo (“suspends”) for using his anchorman powers to help embattled brother, Andrew 
  • The USA and EU cancel South Africa in COVID panic 
  • Trump’s top advisor sets a date with Congress to snitch on the Boss 
  • The NFL and College football continue to spend ridiculous amounts of money on truly ridiculous things.  
  • The term “Happy Holidays” gets put to rest. 

AND… A VERY SPECIAL GUEST JOINS: 

Curt Mills, contributing editor at The American Conservative and also a writer for Un-Herd. We’ll see how this silk-stocking Washington, D.C., columnist holds up in our chamber of pain.  

WATCH THIS WEEK’S POLITICAL DRINKING GAMES:

Alex “Keendawg” Keeney is a media personality whose work has been published widely. He has worked as a Congressional aide, TV writer, and marketing executive for the real Wolf of Wall Street. Follow him on Twitter @keendawg. 

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