By: Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.
Decades of research on the media and crime have generated 10 major facts about the media depiction of crime and justice in the United States. With a repeated level of certainty these facts show:
- Saturated—Media presentations are over-saturated with stories about crime, criminals, and criminal victimization;
- Uncritical—The depiction of crime by the media relies heavily on police and criminal justice officials as primary sources and reporters uncritically accept criminal justice officials’ views of crime;
- Exaggerated—The level and seriousness of crime in society is greatly exaggerated by the media, often intentionally, as compared to the actual rates and seriousness of crime;
- Influential—Distorted representations of crime by the media shape the publics’ judgment about crime, criminals and the proper response to crime;
- Sensational—The media over-represents violent and sensational crimes like serial killings, murder and rape, as compared to less serious crimes like burglary and theft;
- Ageist—Youths are depicted as criminals by the media in rates that far exceed their actual involvement in criminality;
- Racist—The media over-represents people of color as criminals and criminal suspects;
- Victim Biased—Crime against whites are given more attention by the media than crimes against people of color;
- Police Biased—Police officers are most often depicted by the media as white while criminals are depicted as people of color; and,
- Punitive—Exposure to crime news reports raises people’s concerns about crime, especially when the news is racist which leads to public support for punitive crime control measures.