Crime, Justice, the Media (and Donald Trump)

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For the first time in two decades, much of the news media coverage of criminal justice in a national election year focused on politics.

Crime issues were prominent in both of Bill Clinton’s campaigns for president in the 1990s. But it wasn’t until Donald Trump made “law and order” a theme during his 2016 campaign that crime emerged as a high-profile issue in the race for the White House.

Because crime is primarily a state and local concern, the national campaigns of Trump, Hillary Clinton, and competitors for their parties’ nominations inevitably touched on issues that already had commanded media attention during the year.

Those included crime increases in many big cities, a continued focus on shootings by police, broader issues of police reform, and a crisis in opioid overdoses. Getting somewhat less attention from the media were perennial issues like gun control and prison reform.

Much of this analysis is based on print and online media, but a snapshot of what captured media attention can be seen in the compilation by Andrew Tyndall of the top ten stories covered by the three major broadcast networks’ nightly newscasts, based on the number of minutes they consumed.

They were: the gay night club massacre in Orlando; the killing of five police officers in Dallas; gun control; the killing of a man by a Charlotte police officer; the murders of police officers in Baton Rouge; Chicago violence; routine police stops that ended in violence; follow-ups on the Charleston, S.C. church massacre; ambushes of police officers generally; and the capture of drug lord “El Chapo” Guzman.

Ted Gest

TCR’s annual analysis of media criminal justice coverage is based in part on a conference call conducted by Criminal Justice Journalists on February 1, 2017, with James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, William Freivogel of Southern Illinois University and the Gateway Journalism Review, and Marea Mannion, a senior lecturer in journalism at Penn State’s College of Communications, with contributions from Brandt Williams of Minnesota Public Radio.

It is supported with a grant from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and published to coincide with the 12th annual John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, which opens today.

Read the report (parts 1 and 2) here

 Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists, and a co-founder and Washington bureau Chief of The Crime Report.



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