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MPH Program in Health Services
More Black History Month Profiles . . .

Gwen Ifill (1955-2016)

Journalist, TV newscaster, and author Gwen Ifill was the first African American woman to host a national news program, Washington Week in Review on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Other African American newscasters include Tamron Hall, Joy Reid, Soledad O’Brian, and Fredricka Whitfield, the daughter of African American Tuskegee Airman and Olympic gold medalist Mal Whitefield (1924-2015). 

Ifill famously coined the term “missing white woman syndrome” to describe the phenomenon of the media’s extensive (and obsessive) coverage of white, upper-middle-class women and girls who have gone missing. Social scientists have noted that white women’s disappearances are given disproportionate attention and media coverage, compared to when lower-SES women disappear, or when women, men or children of color go missing. Examples include the media’s coverage of Polly Klass, JonBenét Ramsey, Chandra Levy, Elizabeth Smart, Laci Peterson, Natalee Holloway, and Caylee Anthony, among others. 

Ifill’s analysis and terminology helped to shed light on the important intersections of race, gender, and hierarchy as they relate to media attention. 

Ifill has moderated vice-presidential debates, and she is the winner of outstanding honors such as the Peabody Award.

Author: Dr. Clarence Spigner, Health Services Professor and MPH Program Director

Photo: Gwen Ifill