Monday, October 26, 2009

Crime in the Media

Since the emergence of “yellow journalism”, newspapers have given space and importance to “disasters, scandals, gossip and crime, particularly personal crime” (Surette). Centuries later, the portrayal of murder, rape and assault is still prevalent and has taken on the form of infotainment, which is “tabloid-style television programs that mix news and entertainment formats in exploitative depictions of crime” (Surette). A recent example is the breaking news story regarding Jaycee Dugard, a young girl who was abducted by two religious fanatics, Phillip and Nancy Garrido 18 years ago only to be found a couple months ago. Information regarding this story was broadcasted worldwide in newspapers, news stations as well as in tabloids such as People Magazine (infotainment). Large, powerful headlines summarizing Jaycee’s horrific story and melodramatic depictions of her and her abductor were broadcast all over the news.

People have always enjoyed reading crime because of its “extra-ordinariness, its novelty” (Surette). Stories such as Jaycees’, where someone is kidnapped 18 years ago, and found healthy and alive with two children after being kept in a shed for more than half of her life is an extremely extra-ordinary, novel story that extends beyond the boundaries of the usual crime stories. This tragic story was definitely portrayed to audiences as being a “frightening new strain of crime” (which it definitely is) and thus was able to capture the attention of a wide audience.

“The repeated message of the news and entertainment media is that crime is largely perpetrated by predatory individuals who are basically different from the rest of us” (Surette), and Phillip was definitely portrayed in the media as being different; he was described as having “sick sexual fantasies about little girls for decades” and having “dark desires” and that he was known to neighbors as “Creepy Phil” (NY Daily News).

Lastly, in Surette’s article she mentions that in stories involving crime, “the public is simultaneously shown that the traditional criminal justice system is not effective and that its improvement is the best solution to crime.” In this particular story, it was discovered that Garrido had previously raped a young girl when he was 25 and was sentenced to 50 years in prison but was released after serving just a dozen years. Thus, the media is insinuating that if the criminal justice system had been stricter then this horrific event would have never occurred for Jaycee. 


  1. Has the story been turned into an episode of "Law and Order" yet? NBC reps have said that stories ripped from the headlines, so to speak, tend to be more popular than those stemming solely from the writing team. Is it that viewers like seeing the depiction of a criminal from a familiar crime ultimately getting his or her justice, or the seeing the depiction of the crime itself?

  2. Thats an interesting comment...i think it would be interesting to see whether or not people become more involved and or invested if they are seeing a depiction of the crime say in Law and Order or one of the other criminal shows on television. There are so many of them today and a lot of the cases are so realistic, it's scary.

  3. It's interesting because this is SUCH a weird case and extremely unusual, but the sensationalism of stuff like this is what makes people fearful about letting their children play outside for fear of having them abducted-- although that happens only once in a very great while. Child abduction isn't a 'real' crime wave because it rarely happens, but when it does happen, the cases are so sensationalized that we think it happens more frequently than it does.