Ten Facts About the Media Depiction of Crime and Justice

Written 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:

  1. Saturated—Media presentations are over-saturated with stories about crime, criminals, and criminal victimization;
  2. 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;
  3. 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;
  4. Influential—Distorted representations of crime by the media shape the publics’ judgment about crime, criminals and the proper response to crime;
  5. 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;
  6. Ageist—Youths are depicted as criminals by the media in rates that far exceed their actual involvement in criminality;
  7. Racist—The media over-represents people of color as criminals and criminal suspects;
  8. Victim Biased—Crime against whites are given more attention by the media than crimes against people of color;
  9. Police Biased—Police officers are most often depicted by the media as white while criminals are depicted as people of color; and,
  10. 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.

Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.
Associate Dean and Foundation Professor
College of Justice and Safety
School of Justice Studies
Eastern Kentucky University

Published on August 26, 2014