Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

The Evidence Against Media Violence:  TV Fear

More on The Evidence Against Media Violence. From the LA Times, 4/10/01:

Coverage of Youth Crime Promotes Fear, Study Says

Media: The focus on juvenile violence is out of proportion to the problem, the authors contend. They say reporting on minorities is also negatively skewed.

By ERIN TEXEIRA, Times Staff Writer

Although national crime rates have plummeted in recent years, a report to be released today argues that violence and crime dominate media reports, creating unwarranted fear and reinforcing inaccurate images of young people and ethnic minorities.

Newspaper and television stories are more likely to depict African Americans as criminals, the studies say, and to portray young people as violent and connected with gangs, contrary to police data. At the same time, the authors contend that the media also underreport instances in which minorities and youths are crime victims.

The result is that average Americans increasingly support tough laws to crack down on youths, who are viewed as out of control.

"Young people today are less likely now than in [past generations] to take drugs, drink alcohol, get pregnant as teenagers or assault each other in schools, yet we're so much harder on them," said Vincent Schiraldi of the Justice Policy Institute, which was a co-author of the report.

"I think now there's a special responsibility on the media to address these issues."

Dori Maynard, of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland, said she does not believe that media outlets set out to distort reality. But she agrees that the media could do better.

"I don't say that they're ill-meaning; they just don't see it."

"Historically, those of us who watch journalism and diversity know that there's been a problem," Maynard said. "As we become an ever more complex society, we need the media to help us understand ourselves if we are to create a more coherent public policy."

The report, "Off Balance: Youth, Race and Crime in the News," surveyed trends in the results of dozens of studies, one of which examined articles in the Los Angeles Times. Among the findings:

* Although homicides by juveniles dropped 68% from 1993 to 1999, most people believe youth crime is on the rise.

* In 1998, violent crime by youths reached a 25-year low, according to the Census Bureau's National Crime Victimization Survey. But nearly two-thirds of those responding to a poll said they believed juvenile crime was growing.

* Homicide news coverage increased by 473% on network television from 1990 to 1998. Yet, nationally, homicide arrests dropped 33% over that same period.

"The majority of Americans who get their information on which to base decisions—whether it's voting decisions or what policies to support or what to be afraid of in the world—get that information from the news," said Lori Dorfman of the Berkeley Media Studies Institute, a co-author of the report. "When the news limits the information that people get, that leads to distortion."

The 52-page report does not use new data, but compiles the results of 77 studies conducted from 1910 to 2000 on violence, youths—people under age 18—and race in television, news weekly magazines and newspapers.

The results show that television coverage tends to be more out of line with actual crime than coverage in print news outlets.

The report is to be released today in Washington.

"These studies have never all been assessed together," Dorfman said. "You need to take a step back and look at whether there are trends and patterns in the data that are consistent."

One dominant theme in the data showed that the media disproportionately cover the most unusual crimes. A study that examined five years of articles about homicides in the Los Angeles Times found that the least common murders—those committed by strangers and where killer and victim are of different races—received the most coverage. In reality, crime data show, many murders involve people who know each other and are of the same race.

A 1993 study in California found that half of television news stories concerning children or youths involved violence, but only 2% of young people in the state were crime victims or perpetrators.

Experts say such coverage leads viewers and readers to fear situations that actually are unlikely.

"What does that lead to?" asked Franklin D. Gilliam, a political science professor at UCLA whose study is included in the report. "It leads to public policy prescriptions that say these are bad kids and the way to deal with them is punitive."

Last year, more than 60% of California voters approved Proposition 21, which made it easier to try youths as adults when they are accused of serious crimes. Since 1992, more than 47 states have made their juvenile justice systems harsher, the report said.

Sig Gissler, former editor of the Milwaukee Journal and now a journalism professor at Columbia University, agreed that news reports often don't contain enough context.

"This feeds misperceptions, and scares the pants off people," Gissler said. "It's not in the name of being do-gooders [that things should change] but in the name of accuracy."

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

Rob's comment
The message to take from this article isn't that youth violence is an overstated problem. The message is the media's overpowering influence to teach them stereotypes and make them fearful of society. Which, of course, leads them to become hostile and lash out preemptively—to get the other guy before the other guy gets them. (Can anyone say "Bernard Goetz"?)

Our failed policies of getting tough on crime, locking people up, lengthening sentences, trying kids as adults, extending the death penalty, eliminating exceptions for the mentally ill, fighting a war on drugs, etc., etc. are the results. We're scared so we act first and think later. Or don't think at all.

Whether people have focused too much on youth violence is another issue. See Why White Boys Keep Shooting for more on the subject.

TV news distorts violence
The following article helps generalize the point. Not only are people afraid of youth violence, they're afraid of violence in general. Why? Among other reasons, because TV, even TV news, is violent.

This article also suggests why we need to be vigilant even though the crime rate is decreasing. Actual crime may be decreasing, but perceived crime isn't. As long as people see crime on TV, they'll think the world is more violent than it is—and respond accordingly.

From the LA Times, 12/1/01:

TV News Distorts Nature of Violent Risk, Study Says

Media: The emphasis on stories with a tragic visual component gives a false impression, researchers say.


Local television news programs distort their coverage of traumatic deaths and injuries, emphasizing violence and giving viewers an unbalanced portrayal of the risks they face in everyday life, according to a new study by UCLA researchers.

Nine Los Angeles TV stations—including two Spanish-language outlets—covered nearly all murders and aviation and fire deaths in the county during late 1996 and early 1997, the period covered by the study.

The stations gave far less air time to less-violent traffic accidents, falls and accidental poisonings, the researchers wrote in the December issue of the Western Journal of Medicine. "It's clear that the portrayal doesn't match reality," said David McArthur, an epidemiologist at the UCLA School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "In some very significant areas, the local news is presenting but a mere snippet of the range of possibilities."

Previous studies have shown that people perceive their personal risks based upon what they read and see on television. The UCLA researchers say their study, an effort to compare depictions of risk with actual perils, is the first to correlate news coverage with actual events.

The problem with having an erroneous perception of violent risks is that people don't necessarily take the proper precautions against less-violent perils that are just as likely or more so to occur, McArthur said.

Several of the TV stations contacted for comment on the study did not return telephone calls. A spokeswoman for one, KNBC-TV, said managers there had not seen the study and could not comment.

UCLA researchers studied 1,134 broadcasts over 63 days. They then examined death records and hospital reports from all traumatic events. The study, conducted under the auspices of the Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center at UCLA, did not break down results according to each TV outlet.

Among the findings:

* Local TV newscasts reported on 47.8% of the traumatic deaths in Los Angeles County, but only on 3.4% of traumatic injuries.

* Deaths from murders, air crashes, fire, weather or environmental factors and police shootings represented nearly two-thirds of all news coverage of traumatic deaths in late 1996 and early 1997. But they accounted for just 31% of the traumatic deaths in Los Angeles County during the same period.

* Deaths due to car crashes were portrayed about 35% less than their actual occurrence. Accidental fatal poisonings were covered less than 5% of the time. Drowning deaths were covered about a quarter of the time.

Part of the reason for the coverage, McArthur said, is that TV news directors tend to run only stories that have a visual component. "Obviously, the attention is going to be drawn to something that's violent, something that's unexpected, something that's tragic," he said.

"On the other hand, these folks that die after falling, they didn't expect to fall, and their death in many ways is equally tragic," McArthur said.

USC sociologist Barry Glassner, who did not participate in the study, agreed with its conclusions.

"If you want to know where your real dangers lie out in the world, TV news is not a good place to get your information," said Glassner, author of the 1999 book "The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things."

"If you watch TV news, you'd get the impression that the crime rate has stayed high when, really, it has decreased substantially. You would hardly know that one of your greatest dangers is on the roadways, and you would have virtually no sense that common, everyday accidents are as prevalent as they are."

Both McArthur and Glassner point to a slogan that has long been associated with TV news decisions, "If it bleeds, it leads."

"It really is almost a governing principle," Glassner said. "There's no reason why TV news can't be interesting and can't attract an audience while reporting on real dangers."

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

TV news stokes racism
Not only does TV news promote the notion of a violent culture, it also attributes this violence to minorities. From the Boston Globe, 5/22/05:

Crime scenes

Does crime-happy local TV news perpetuate racism? One professor argues yes—and suggests some drastic measures to fix it.

By Christopher Shea | May 22, 2005

EARLIER THIS MONTH, police in Long Beach, Calif., gunned down—on live television—a man who had led them on a high-speed 40-minute car chase which concluded with the driver stumbling out of his car, drawing a gun, dropping it, and seeming to reach for another. Two LA newscasts rode the chase, and the climactic shooting, to dizzying ratings heights in the 5 p.m. time slot. And the star of the grim show was a 37-year-old Hispanic man named Angel Galvan.

After Galvan's on-air death, there was the usual tsk-tsking from media critics about the voyeuristic coverage, followed by a quick return to the "if it bleeds, it leads" school of TV news. But at least one observer in the LA area says the trouble with such spectacles goes beyond mere tastelessness: Local news shows, he argues, are doing nothing less than blocking progress in race relations—and the Federal Communications Commission is unwittingly helping them do it.

Jerry Kang argued in the Harvard Law Review this spring, is one of the engines driving lingering racism in the United States. So counterproductive is local broadcast news, he says, that it is time the FCC stopped using the number of hours a station devotes to local news as evidence of the station's contribution to the "public interest," which has traditionally been a requirement for a broadcast license. (The FCC does not have quotas on how much news must be produced. But Kang points out that the FCC defended its controversial decision in 2003 to loosen ownership rules governing who can own stations on the grounds that the new arrangements would lead to more hours of local news programming.)

More broadly, Kang's article—titled "Trojan Horses of Race"—is an attempt to jump-start a conversation about race and public policy by drawing on the latest psychological research. That conversation is currently stalled, with predictable divisions. "I don't think most people above college age change their views about how the law should intervene to bring about racial equality," Kang said in an interview. For example, you're either for or against affirmative action—and that's that. "What could break this deadlock is not new moral arguments but new information about how racism works."

The new information he has in mind comes from psychological studies of "implicit racism"and how video imagery can trigger or mitigate it. The Harvard social psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, for example, has shown that people who reveal no overt racism (including many people of color) still associate black faces more easily with words like "violence," and white faces with words like "smart." (You can test yourself at www.projectimplicit.org.)

In another study cited by Kang, white and black subjects played the role of a cop in a simulated video game, in which they were forced to make split-second decisions about whether to fire at a suspect on the screen. Both white and black subjects shot unarmed black men more often—mistaking, say, an innocuous wallet for a handgun. Yet another study showed that white test subjects were more likely to favor the death penalty if they watched a news story about a black murderer than if they watched an identical story about a white murderer. (The two "stories" were designed by researchers and differed only in that detail.)

On the other hand, white subjects who take an "implicit racism" test after seeing footage of a respected black figure—like Bill Cosby or Martin Luther King, Jr.—find that their measure of implicit racism drops significantly.

Far from contributing to the public interest, Kang argues, local news, with its parade of images of urban criminality, serves as a "Trojan Horse" or "virus" keeping racism alive in the American mind. And so, with its rules encouraging local-news programs, he writes, the FCC has "unwittingly...linked the public interest to racism."

Related links
Highlights of the US report to the UN on racism
Why white boys keep shooting
Violence in America

* More opinions *
  Join our Native/pop culture blog and comment
  Sign up to receive our FREE newsletter via e-mail
  See the latest Native American stereotypes in the media
  Political and social developments ripped from the headlines

. . .

Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.

Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.