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 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, CRIMINOLOGY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 19 October 2018

Media, Criminology, and Criminal Justice

Summary and Keywords

In the 1840s, cheap mass-marketed newspapers raised the relationship among the media, crime, and criminal justice to a new level. The intervening history has only strengthened the bonds, and comprehending the nature of the media, crime, and justice relationship has become necessary for understanding contemporary crime and criminal justice policies. The backward law of media crime and criminal justice content, where the rarest real-world events become the most common media content, continues to operate. In the 21st century, the media present backward snapshots of crime and justice in dramatic, reshaped, and marketed narrow slices of the world. Media portraits emphasize rare crimes like homicide, rare courtroom procedures like trials, rare forensic evidence, and rare correctional events like riots and escapes to present a heavily skewed, unrealistic picture. Significantly exacerbating this long-term tendency are new social media.

When the evolution of the media is examined, the trend has been toward the creation of a mediated experience that is indistinguishable from a real-world experience. Each step in the evolution of media brought the mediated experience and the actual personally experienced event closer. The world today is the most media-immersed age in history. The shift to new social media from the legacy media of the 20th century was a crucial turning point. The emergence of social media platforms has sped up what had been a slow evolutionary process. The technological ability of media to gather, recycle, and disseminate information has never been faster, and more crime-related media content is available to more people via more venues and in more formats than ever before.

In this new mediated world, everyone is wedded to media in some fashion. Whether through the Internet, television, movies, music, video games, or multipurpose social media devices, exposure to media content is ubiquitous. Media provide a broadly shared, common knowledge of society that is independent of occupation, education, ethnicity, and social class. The cumulative result of this ongoing media evolution is that society has become a multimedia environment where content, particularly images, is ubiquitous in the media. Mediated events blot out actual ones, so that media renditions often supplant and conflict with what actually happened. This trend is particularly powerful in crime and justice, where news, entertainment, and advertising combine with new media to construct a largely unchallenged mediated crime and criminal justice reality.

The most significant result is that, in this mediated reality, criminal justice policies are generated. What we believe about criminal justice and what we think ought to be done about crime are based on content that has been parsed, filtered, recast, and refined through electronic, digital, visually dominated, multimedia entities. Ironically, while the media are geared toward narrowcasting and the targeting of small, homogenous audiences, media content is constantly reformatted and looped to ultimately reach wide, multiple, and varied audiences.

In the end, the media’s criminal justice role cannot be ignored. Until the linkages between media, crime, and justice are acknowledged and better understood, myopic and punitive criminal justice policies will be the norm.

Keywords: media, new media, social media, legacy media, content analysis, social constructionism, crime images, criminal justice images, criminogenic media, mediated justice

The History of Media and Crime

A first step toward comprehending the relationship between the media, crime, and justice is to understand the structure of the media and how the media have evolved with the development of the Internet and social media. Regarding content, the three historical types based on their formats are print, sound, and visual media. A fourth type with the ambiguous label of “new media” has hastened the combining of all content types by providing easy access within one device to all content formats. Together, films, television programs, radio, popular music, newspapers, books, and magazines comprise what is termed “legacy” media and their development parallel the history of crime, criminal justice, and media into the later decades of the 20th century. In the 1990s, an important media evolution step occurred with the emergence of the Internet and social media.

Looking briefly at legacy media from a historical perspective, print in the form of inexpensive newspapers was the first medium to generate a mass media market. Early papers were subjective and portrayed crime as the result of class inequities and justice as manipulated by the rich and famous (Papke, 1987, p. 35). In addition to daily newspapers, two popular early print crime media were detective and crime thriller magazines and “dime” novels (Gorn, 1992). By the turn of the 20th century, special-interest magazines focusing on crime, scandals, corruption, sports, glamour, and show business flourished (Casey, 2011). Thus, while the commodification of crime and justice in the media was well underway by the 20th century, the reach of the media remained limited. To interact with media, the consumer needed to be literate, to have access to printed materials, and to make a clear decision to read them, all of which limited the media’s influence and allowed different content to be marketed to, or withheld from, different audiences.

The first medium able to reach most of a population was radio. Together with films, radio established the business framework for modern media. As exemplified by coverage of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial in 1935, radio established itself as the first live, on-the-scene reporting venue, and radio producers created the still-dominant crime reporting model of short-term, visceral, emotional news coverage of discrete crimes (Defleur & Ball-Rokeach, 1975). On the entertainment side, radio dramas included a substantial amount of crime content (Cheatwood, 2010). Similar to crime news, radio entertainment programming provided the models that modern crime-and-justice reality programming still reflects: stereotypes of criminals and criminal justice, heavy emphasis on law enforcement activities over other elements of criminal justice, and the exploitation of sensational crimes (Cheatwood, 2010). The reach of radio and music lyrics were limited only by language and the cost of purchasing dedicated technologies in the form of a radio receiver or phonograph.

In contrast, consuming visual media in the form of inexpensive silent movies, which also arrived in the early 1900s, did not require understanding English or the personal purchase of technology. Consumed in movie theaters, film images still quickly came to shape American culture, and movies heralded the creation of a 20th century mass culture that crossed geographic, economic, and ethnic boundaries (Oliver & Marion, 2013). Film reached its initial peak during the 1930s, but after World War II film began to be supplanted by television, which provided both visual and audio content for home consumption. As it came to dominate the media landscape, television fundamentally influenced the content of all other media (Curran, 1982, p. 210). Borrowing its basic themes and programming ideas from film, radio, and stage, and formatting them in palatable, noncontroversial products, television came to be described as a wasteland of recycled, mediocre content (Minow, 1961). Despite its many critics, television was embraced by the public, and crime and justice became a substantial, deeply rooted topic in TV programming.

As the 21st century approached, new digital interactive media began to surpass legacy media. New media are made up of devices and communication capabilities that utilize digital and Internet technology, are interactive, and provide multimedia, often live content. Therefore, new media were able to distribute digital print, sound, and image content that was quickly and easily shared among consumers (Flew, 2002, p. 11; Lister, Dovey, Giddings, Grant, & Kelly, 2003). In a development important for the social impact of new media, the experience of immersion in new media is substantially different from the prior legacy media experience. As a result, new media users are players or surfers more than watchers, readers, and listeners, and role-playing and the creation of content are common new media audience activities (Lee, Peng, & Klein, 2010, p. 1022). New media have irrevocably moved audiences from being passive consumers to being active co-producers of content (Grodal, 2003).

In addition to the four types of media formats, four types of media programming appear throughout the media: entertainment, news, advertising, and infotainment. Crime-and-justice entertainment often shows impossible crimes, lethal fights, and incredible adventures enacted by people with special abilities. In total, crime-and-justice entertainment has been estimated to account for about one-fourth of all entertainment output (Reiner, 2002, p. 389). Crime news is typically marketed as true, current, and objective information about significant crime and criminal justice events. Crime and justice news has long been popular and essentially voyeuristic, and has commonly focused on crimes that are rare (Hughes, 1940, p. 23). In essence, crime news provides heavily filtered, molded snippets of abnormal crimes. While legacy crime news traditionally involved criminal justice officials who commented on individual criminals and crimes, the contemporary public also receives many accounts of crime directly through new media avenues (Lipschultz & Hilt, 2002), and legacy news organizations frequently use unedited images and on-scene social media accounts produced by bystanders. Advertising, in turn, has broken out of its traditional separate content packages, as exemplified by the 30-60 television ad, to become the embedded stealth product placement element found in the other three programming types. Product placements in crime-related content, for example, have boosted gun and car sales (Koeppel & Nobles, 2017; Saylor, Vittes, & Sorenson, 2004). Last, the fourth programming type, infotainment, has relatively recently emerged as socially significant. Infotainment is the marketing of edited, highly crafted information about commercial products constructed to look like entertainment or news programming. Crime is popular and meets the requirement for infotainment programming about real events that can be delivered in a dramatic, entertaining fashion. Today, a clear demarcation between news, entertainment, and advertising programming no longer exists, and it is difficult for media consumers to differentiate between crime and justice news, entertainment, and infotainment. Confounding the merging of types of content, social media has emerged as a watershed development in human communication.

Social Media, Crime, and Justice

The evolution of new media, which initially consisted of search engines and special interest discussion blogs, has resulted in mediated interactions that challenge in-person face-to-face conversations as the most common and influential means of social interaction (Surette, 2015). The simplest path to understanding the impact of new media is to look at how they differ from legacy media. Legacy media are composed of the dominant 20th century traditional media forms of news broadcasts, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, film, and music. New media incorporates the content from these older forms into new, high-speed, digital, personalized, and interactive platforms. The key difference between old and new media, therefore, is not content per se but access to, distribution of, creation of, and discussion of content.

As they evolved, new media have crafted their content for small, homogeneous audiences, instead of large, heterogeneous audiences. The result is myopic content consumption where consumers tightly control and restrict the media content they consume. Distribution of content is no longer a centralized organizational legacy media process but instead is a diffused decentralized experience (Kiousis, 2002; Mittell, 2013, p. 37). Due to the increasingly active role of audiences as content producers, the traditional domains of media (where content is produced) and society (where content is consumed) are no longer separate (Lindgren, 2011). The traditional research question about the effects of media on society has been supplanted by a question about how a mediated society functions. The legacy media research tradition of measuring the “amount” of a selected media content category and extrapolating from media exposure to that content to specific outcomes and social effects has waned. Early media-effects models, such as the “hypodermic needle” (where media content effects were thought to be directly inserted into audience members), were first replaced by newer perspectives, such as “uses and gratifications” and “audience reception analysis” models that emphasized reactive audiences and varied content effects across consumers (Clifford & White, 2017, p. 15). More recently, research in the social construction perspective and on social media has been emphasized.

An example of the significant changes brought about by social media is provided by news production. Historically, the news production process was marked by checkpoints through which potential crime news was vetted prior to becoming reported crime news (Shoemaker, 1991). With new media, the gatekeeping process is more fluid, rapid, and multidirectional, allowing the entire legacy news industry to be skirted (Schlesinger, Tumber, & Murdock, 1991). The legacy media method of fact-based rendering of what a crime means and its genesis and placement in broader social contexts is no longer fast enough for social media communication, where content is delivered live, on demand, and often before events have concluded (Maratea, 2008). Additionally, whatever contextualization is provided is often narrowed to fit firm, preset ideological viewpoints (Maratea, 2008, pp. 143−144).

With new media, then, the boundaries among the four media programming types of entertainment, news, advertising, and infotainment are currently blurred and it is difficult to determine which category much contemporary media content fits in. Hence, it is not uncommon to find advertising product placements and endorsements in entertainment and social media postings, news stories produced by government and business entities, infomercials disguised as talk and news shows, and infotainment and false content being presented as objectively vetted factual reporting (Surette, 2012).

Each evolution in media technology has brought the mediated experience—the comparative experience that an individual has when he or she experiences an event via the media versus actually personally experiencing an event—closer (Grodal, 2003). Because they are the most like actual experienced reality, new media underpin the current heavily mediated society. The result is a multimedia social environment where ubiquitous content appears in a constant flow of events, personalities, and products (Manning, 1998). In many instances, the mediated version of an event blots out the objective facts of the event, a trend notable in crime and justice, where news, entertainment, and advertising combined with infotainment content and social media platforms construct a powerful crime and justice mediated reality (Eve & Zuckerman, 2012; Rushkoff, 1994).

Mediated Crime and Justice

The evolution of media and the emergence of social media have created a new criminal justice reality in which the media-rendered world is more important in many ways than the directly experienced world. For one thing, social media provide means for offenders to commit traditional crimes in new ways (Grabosky, 2001; Surette, 2012). For example, social media have altered both how acts of terror are committed and the strategic goals of terrorists, so that an act of terror that is a tactical failure can still be a strategic success (Weimann, 2006). New forms of other older crimes, such as bullying and stalking, have also appeared with new dynamics of anonymity, widespread social exposure, and continuous threat to victims. Social media based peer-to-peer criminal harassment has been reported as being more harmful than its older face-to-face version (Brown, 2010; Hinduja & Patchin, 2009; Turan, Polat, Karapirli, Uysal, & Turan, 2011).

An important additional criminal justice change induced by new media is a shift in temporal focus within criminal justice systems. Traditionally, crime first occurred, and the criminal justice system reacted by investigating, arresting, prosecuting, and punishing. New media not only have shortened the time between a crime and the distribution of news of the crime, but also have helped to reverse the point in time considered appropriate for intervention. Criminal justice systems are increasingly involved in proactive pre-crime activities, as exemplified by surveillance and crime prevention aimed at victim target hardening, anticrime programs aimed at recognizing and reducing risk, and preemptive reverse stings and preventive interventions by law enforcement agencies (Zedner, 2007). Criminal justice personnel and policymakers are more often held to a “no-crime” standard, where the reaction to serious crime is not just “What should be done next?” but also emphasizes the questions “Why was this allowed to happen and who is at fault?”

Similar to offenders, the activities of criminal justice agencies have also changed. Police agencies commonly employ social media in crime prevention efforts and to investigate crime, to identify suspects, and to locate and apprehend offenders. With a wary eye on the negative effects on due process protections, the courts have begun to employ new media in case processing. From the dual streams of high-interest cases and low-visibility proceedings where negative effects on trial participants have been noted, concern about undermining the integrity of the judicial system has emerged (Eve & Zuckerman, 2012). Social media effects on attorneys and jurors have also become major judicial concerns, with jury tampering, professional responsibility, trial disruption, and privacy at the forefront (Johnson, 2008). Misuse of social media by jurors has also caused a number of mistrials, juror dismissals, and contempt rulings (Eve & Zuckerman, 2012, pp. 13−15; Grow, 2010). For corrections, new media content has resulted in increased bail and violation of pretrial release findings, and enhanced probation, and parole conditions for individuals (Strutin, 2009). In addition to its effects on criminal justice systems, the content of mediated crime and justice is also important, but not in the manner commonly perceived.

Media Portraits of the Criminal Justice System

Like the media, the research methodologies used to study media, crime, and justice have evolved. Historically, research was dominated by content analysis and a search for media effects, but today research aims to accomplish not just describing content, but also understanding the social context in which content is created and shared. The oldest and still most popular starting point for studying crime and the media, content analysis, is at heart a quantitative method but can be easily combined with qualitative interpretations. Content analysis answers both how much quantity and attention are given to a category and how the content is depicted in terms of slant and tone (Moore, 2014). Content analysis research results on crime and criminal justice are often compared and contrasted with official counts and are used to support arguments for media bias and negative social effects. Unfortunately, causal effects are often assumed without necessary causal research being conducted. Frequently untested in the literature is the conclusion that exposure to crime content results in increased consumer criminality. When a question arises about what the crime-and-justice content found in the media is, dozens of content analysis studies provide a distinct answer. For crime and justice, the cumulative result of the content analysis studies can be summarized by the phase “backwards law,” which states that, in nearly every instance, the media present a world that is an inverted portrait of reality (Mason, 2007, p. 491; Surette, 2015, p. 59). The entertainment media content reflects this law most clearly in a front-end-loaded portrait that concentrates on crime fighting. The further past law enforcement and into the criminal justice system one looks, the fewer criminal justice activities and agencies appear. In addition, and opposite to how it exists in the real world, crime is presented in the media as divorced from other social problems, such as poverty and racism.

Specifically regarding criminality, Western media have long reflected public interest in crimes and criminal with violent portraits (Westfahl, 2013). As media evolved, the inclusion of visual violence as acceptable mass entertainment content increased. The history of entertainment media shows a steady trend toward more violent acts in more graphic portraits (Westfahl, 2013). By the mid 19th century, the dominant image of criminals had shifted from early romantic and heroic figures to feared and violent predators. Similarly, in the news media, criminals’ youth and poverty were underplayed, while violence was emphasized. A random sample of media portrayals of criminality would reveal animalistic, irrational, and innately predatory criminals who commit violent, sensational, and senseless crimes. In the media, criminals are shown as basically different from law-abiding people, and criminality stems from individually rooted deficiencies. The predominant causes of criminality found in the media are greed, insanity, and evil, and crimes are shown as being committed by people who know right from wrong and freely choose crime.

Because the media’s criminal justice content is front-end loaded, the construction of law enforcement dominates over the courts and corrections. Crime fighting is portrayed as a glamorous, violent process of detection, pursuit, and capture where individual loners are the most successful (Gorelick, 1989). For law enforcers, the media present two competing portraits of “good cop” and “bad cop” (Surette, 2015). In the good-cop portrait, the police are part of a justice system where dedicated professionals use the latest technology to fight crime. In the bad-cop scenario, the criminal justice system and its police are shown as inefficient and bound by regulations, politics, corruption, and incompetence. Both types of crime fighters are further differentiated by who they work for. Professional crime fighters are employed in some fashion within a criminal justice system, while civilian crime fighters work outside of the system.

Specific to policing, three stereotypes coexist in the media: lampooned police, G-men, and cops (Reiner, 1981). The lampooned police officer is used to satirize law enforcement as a slapstick activity. G-men, historically known as “crime-busters,” are periodically invigorated by media attempts to provide realistic violent content. Cops, especially in police procedural programming that follows an investigation, reveal dramatic backstage views of police work. Recent cops portrayals show local police as aggressive frontline soldiers in a war on crime or as forensic crime fighters. These front-end-loaded depictions portray professional crime fighters toiling in competent criminal justice systems filled with effective crime scene technicians and criminal profilers who operate with small caseloads and limitless resources.

Crime in the media is also fought by private citizens who, when present, denigrate mainstream criminal justice personnel as either corrupt, inept, or part of the crime problem. Citizen crime fighters are shown to be successful where the bureaucratic, hampered, and not so quick police are not. Unfettered by red tape and due process considerations, the citizen outsider gets to the heart of a crime problem and quickly and usually violently deals with it. One group of unique civilian crime fighters, private investigators, occupy the boundary between citizens, police officers, and the deviant. Private investigators solve crimes with inside knowledge combined with the freedom to act outside the restraints of agency policies, due process rules, and the law. Combined, citizen crime fighters, private eyes, and rogue, special-unit, maverick police officers portray non-mainstream criminal justice system outsiders as more successful in the media-constructed world of crime fighting than traditional criminal justice system personnel. In addition to crime fighters, another important crime-fighting focus involves guns and violence. Over time, the media have come to portray both crime fighters and criminals as more violent and aggressive and to show this violence more graphically. Guns in particular are shown as useful problem solvers and necessary crime-fighting tools. In the media, the people who solve problems, both heroes and villains, are the ones who are armed (Price, Merrill, & Clause, 1992).

When portrayed indirectly in the law enforcement–focused media, the courts are portrayed as soft on crime and as due process–laden institutions that repeatedly release the guilty (Robinson, 2011, p. 133). In law enforcement portraits of crime fighting, most of the criminals are recidivists, sending the message that criminals go through the court system and return to the streets undeterred. The clear message is that the legal system is an obstacle, rather than a solution to crime reduction (Rafter, 2001, p. 9; Tyler, 2006). In the media, crime control trumps due process and punishment trumps deterrence (Robinson, 2011). In another backwards portrait, in the media attorneys are not shown spending much time practicing law, and when they do practice law, it is overwhelmingly criminal law (Surette, 2015). When practicing law, media-portrayed attorneys are usually immersed in high-stakes dramatic trials, rather than in more common judicial criminal hearings or plea bargain negotiations (Asimow & Mader, 2004; Stark, 1987). Even when the portrayals are based on real cases, the infotainment criteria that drive the selection of cases cull out the usual and nonviolent and favor the abnormal and predatory (Surette, 1989).

Every 3 to 5 years, some selected cases typically become multimedia, pop-culture bonanzas, generating enormous markets, profits, and spinoffs for news, entertainment, and infotainment programming (Carpenter, Lacy, & Fico, 2006; Fox, Sickel, & Steiger, 2007). These “media trials” offer the simple individualistic explanations of lust, greed, immorality, jealousy, revenge, and insanity for crime and complete the process of merging judicial news and entertainment into infotainment. With social media increasing virtual participation in courtroom proceedings, the portrayal of the courts is currently rendered through a combination of trial and law films, infotainment-style courtroom programs, and heavily publicized media trials. All of these judicial portraits in the media emphasize rare judicial events like trials, rare charges like homicide, rare evidence in the form of forensic laboratory results, and rare dramatic courtroom confrontations to present a heavily skewed, unrealistic picture of the courts and the practice of law.

The public’s lack of direct information about corrections and the correctional field’s inability to successfully get realistic correctional information into the news and infotainment media make the public more dependent on the correctional images and stereotypes found in the entertainment media than is the case for other criminal justice components (Surette, 2015). Driven by profit motives, the entertainment media use correctional institutions as backdrops for morality and action stories that are little connected to real-world correctional issues. The limited images of corrections found in print, television, news, and infotainment programming contribute to the public’s perception of corrections, but prison films have been the most influential sources (Freeman, 2000, p. 47). The attraction of prison movies lies in their ability to combine escapist fantasies that purport to reveal the backstage realities of incarceration with role-reversal tales of adventure and heroism. In their renditions, correctional movies commonly show harsh, brutal, uncontrolled human zoos (Cheatwood, 1998; Freeman, 2000). The movie world of corrections is a place where, ironically, the prisoners are trustworthy and the keepers are the villains.

In addition to commercial films, the news media also pay attention to corrections (Mason, 2006, 2007; Russell, 2005, pp. 32–33). Most news references, however, are found inside stories focused on a trial or investigation, or trace infamous offenders through the criminal justice system. The most common correctional news stories refer to an infamous offender’s commitment to prison, behavior on parole, or execution (Garland, 2001; Greer, 2006; Hochstetler, 2001). When not focused on an individual, three types of negative stories typify correctional news. The first are stories about correctional failures to protect the public. These include prison escapes, staff negligence, and riots. Second are stories where punishment is absent while amenities are highlighted in descriptions of prisoner idleness, recreation and exercise rooms, and plush cells. Third are stories of correctional horrors, which often involve the death of an inmate and are exemplified by corruption and misconduct exposés of sadistic guards and corrupt wardens. To provide some counterbalance, release policies, institutional conditions (as follow-ups to riots, deaths, and escapes), execution coverage that incorporates the death penalty debate and the racial composition of death row, and the incarceration of juveniles and mentally retarded offenders all receive sporadic news media attention. Overall, though, negative stories dominate correctional news (Freeman, 2000).

Concerning inmates, two portraits are popular in the mass media, one for male prisoners and one for females. The dominant portrait of male prisoners derives from the role reversal of a heroic offender caught up in a violent correctional system run by predatory correctional personnel and where prisoners are portrayed as victims. Female inmates fare worse and are portrayed in content containing high levels of gratuitous violence and sex (Ciasullo, 2008). Collectively, the more normal and similar to law-abiding people male and female prisoners are portrayed, the more likely they are to be shown as victims of corrupt correctional systems. Victimization and exploitation of offenders are portrayed as coming from other predatory, violent, psychotic inmates or predatory, violent, psychotic correctional officers, a portrait summarized in the phrase, “smug hack corrections” (Freeman, 2000).

The portrait of smug hack corrections has been described as the interwoven portrayals of several negative images of corrections. A brutal response to trivial rule violations in order to maintain discipline is common and is often linked to the exploitation of inmates as cheap sources of labor. The media portray prisoners as under the thumb of despotic staff and suffering systemic racial prejudice, rape, and institutionalized violence. If female, they suffer additional degradation and sexual assaults. Although inmates are often shown sympathetically, the overall portrait of corrections as a brutal place staffed by people indifferent to suffering does not encourage public support for correctional programs (Freeman, 2000; Wilson & O’Sullivan, 2004). Lacking direct knowledge of corrections, the public is delivered a series of correction myths showing living conditions in prisons as either exceptionally harsh or luxurious; convicts as physically unattractive and violent; correctional officers as violent, uncaring, and unintelligent; and corrections as a failed means to rehabilitate offenders (Ross, 2012, p. 412).

In sum, from what crimes are committed, how they are investigated, how the courts operate, to how corrections functions, the media present a backward picture of crime and justice. Irrespective of the accuracy of the portraits, a more important concern is whether they result in more crime—is the media criminogenic?

Criminogenic Media

Criminogenic media involves content hypothesized to be a cause of crime. The associated debate revolves around the causal position of the media in relation to subsequent behavior. Does exposure to media precede criminal behavior, so that predisposed individuals selectively seek out and attend to media content that supports their preordained criminal behavior? Research from three areas is relevant: (1) violent media and aggressive behavior, (2) copycat crime, and (3) media and terrorism.

Concerning the first area, research shows that there is certainly a correlation between exposure to violent media and social aggression, but the strength, configuration, and, most importantly, the causal nature of the relationship is not resolved (Gunter, 2008; Huesmann & Taylor, 2006). Research on the link between media depictions of violence and social aggression has looked for a media stimulation effect. The stimulation effect hypothesis is that a diet of media violence stimulates violent behavior and the acquisition of values that support violence (Boyle, 2005; Sparks & Sparks, 2002). Under the stimulation perspective, the most commonly advanced mechanism is imitation, in which viewers learn values and norms supportive of aggression, learn techniques for being aggressive, and learn acceptable targets of aggression (Sparks & Sparks, 2002, pp. 278−280). Advocates of a stimulating effect feel that children in particular learn aggression the same way they learn other behaviors—by watching how parents, siblings, peers, teachers, and others behave. Accordingly, the logic is that the more violence children see, the more accepting they become of aggressive behavior and the more likely they are to act aggressively. Stimulation proponents assert that a consistent pattern of empirical results proves that media violence is one of a set of causes of aggression in individuals (Huesmann, 2007; Huesmann & Taylor, 2006; Murray, 2008; Westfahl, 2013). In contrast, opponents of media stimulation argue that the media have not been empirically established as a cause of aggression or violence (Ferguson, 2002; Freedman, 2002; Grimes, Anderson, & Bergen, 2008; Gunter, 2008). In their view, exposure to violent content and violent behavior may be linked, but are not causally connected. Instead, both stem from the predispositions of some media consumers who seek out violent content and also act violently because of preexisting aggressive traits.

Adding to concerns over violent media content, worries about the effects of new media have reinvigorated the debate’s urgency. The new media that have generated the greatest concerns, due to their interactive and immersive nature, have been electronic video games, particularly those with crime and violent content. With video games presenting realistic cinematic storylines, an ongoing debate about the effect of playing video games on video game players continues (Lee, Park, & Jin, 2006). As with prior research on violent visual media, video game research results have yet to produce a consensus, so that currently two sets of research compete regarding the effect of violent video games on game players. One camp champions the conclusion of significant negative effects, the other camp points to insignificant, largely neutral effects. In general, the negative-effects research concludes that video game players who play violent video games show significant increases in aggression over time (Willoughby, Adachi, & Good, 2012). The contrasting neutral-effects research argues that violent video games have insubstantial effects on behavior. These researchers conclude that other factors beyond violent content are responsible for elevated player aggression, for example, game competitiveness (Willoughby et al., 2012, p. 259). Critics of the aggression-increasing effects conclusion also point out that increased gaming in the United States ran parallel with significant declines in societywide crime and homicide rates, a relationship that belies a strong societywide video game effect on violent crime levels (Ward, 2011).

What is most clear in the debate about violent media and consumer aggression is that a consensus does not exist. The media appear capable of being rudders in the emergence of aggression, not directly causing it, but in the right social setting and with a predisposed individual, shaping it. Other social and individual factors play a greater role in whether subsequent aggression occurs or not, but once aggressive forces are in play, exposure to violence-saturated media can provide powerful models to follow. At this time, a multifactor model, in which exposure to violent media is one of a set of factors that facilitate or inhibit aggression, seems reasonable (Gentile & Bushman, 2012). The more risk factors an individual carries, the more likely the person is to behave aggressively; the more protective factors the person has, the less likely aggressive behavior is. In this perspective, exposure to media violence is equivalent in effect to other factors and deserves neither special attention nor dismissal as a cause of social aggression (Gentile & Bushman, 2012, p. 138).

A media-generated criminogenic effect that is more generally accepted is the ability of the media to generate copycat crime (Helfgott, 2015). Past waves of fads and fashions have established the fact that people lift behavior from the media, and this connection has been extrapolated to include the mimicking of media-portrayed criminal acts (Miller, 2000). In addition to numerous anecdotal reports of copycat crimes, surveys of offenders have indicated that a substantial proportion (about 25%) of incarcerated offenders report that they have attempted a copycat crime in their careers (Surette, 2014). By what mechanism do the media generate copycat effects? In that the concept implies the imitation of an initial crime, the obvious starting point is imitation. Imitation, however, has been criticized as unable to fully explain copycat crime; for example, imitation is unable to explain why most children imitate media gun play with toy guns and only a few imitate with real guns. With its focus on behavior matching, imitation tends to downplay other social factors, and today imitation is considered a necessary but insufficient factor in the generation of copycat crime (Helfgott, 2015; Surette, 2013).

While there is reason to believe that media have criminogenic effects, there is no evidence of a strong criminalizing effect on previously law-abiding individuals. The media influence how people commit a crime to a greater extent than they influence whether people commit a crime. Criminogenic media content is often erroneously described in the media as a crime trigger. In reality, the media are most often a crime rudder, molding crime’s form rather than being its engine. The factors that launch the short-term bursts of high-profile criminogenic copying that periodically occur are unknown, and still not understood are the dynamics of copycat crime waves, such as have product tampering, hostage beheadings, airline hijackings, and suicide bombings (Borowitz, 1983; Gupta & Kusam, 2005; Holden, 1986; Pape, 2003).

Whether criminogenic effects, such as copycat crime, emerge in any particular individual depends on the interactions of the content of a particular media product (its portrayal of crimes and criminals), the individual’s predispositions (personal criminal history, family, and environmental factors), and the media’s social context (preexisting criminal norms, opportunities to commit crime, and pervasiveness of the mass media). A media-generated criminogenic effect ultimately depends on the combined influences of social context, media content, and consumer characteristics. The more heavily consumers rely on the media for information about the world and the greater their predisposition to criminal behavior, the greater the likelihood of an effect. Thus, although many will acquire knowledge on how to commit crime from the media, few will do so. The current consensus is that a criminogenic influence applies most frequently in preexisting criminal populations (Surette & Maze, 2015).

Regarding the third research area, it has been long noted that media and terrorists share a basic goal: both are trying to reach the greatest number of people possible (Matusitz, 2012). In the research literature on terrorism, little doubt has been expressed for at least a quarter century that the media motivate terrorism (Poland, 1988; Weimann & Winn, 1994). Driven by the goal of maximizing audience size, media-oriented terrorism scripted to generate publicity has significantly increased with the advent of social media (Surette, Hansen, & Noble, 2009; Tuman, 2003). A stream of terrorist acts characterized by the selection of high-visibility targets, graphic violence, pre-event contact with media outlets, and post-event videos, interviews, and postings has emerged. The impact is twofold. First, heavy coverage of a terrorist act encourages copycats (Holden, 1986; Jetter, 2017; Nacos, 2010). The copycat effects are especially strong after a well-publicized successful terrorist act using a novel approach. Second, the Internet provides new avenues for terrorists to disseminate their messages and has reduced their need to attract legacy news media attention to reach target audiences (Nacos, 2007; Ross, 2007).

The research on violent, copycat, and terrorism-related media suggests the following propositions. Most people exposed to pernicious media will show no negative effects. A small proportion of people will show slight effects that are concentrated more in attitudes than in behaviors. Strong behavioral effects are relatively rare and are most likely to appear in at-risk individuals already engaged in crime. However, the reality of long-term effects on a large number of people remains a possibility through cultivation effects. Over the long run, the media have the ability to generate greater numbers of criminally predisposed individuals by changing the culture in which the media sit. Regarding new media, they are felt to enhance criminogenic effects by providing criminal models to copy and by stimulating conversational communications about crime techniques. The expectation is that the media’s criminogenic effects will be enhanced as their current criminogenic content combined with social and political strife renders more individuals at risk for negative media influences.

In sum, the media alone cannot make someone a criminal, but media effects are real. An idea of the impact of media is provided by looking at crime and violence levels before mass media. Before mass media, the United States, for example, was a violent country with many violent people (Courtwright, 1996). That fact means that it does not make sense to blame the media for the bulk of violence and crime. If a county has a violent heritage, it will be a violent, crime-burdened society regardless of its media. But can it be more violent and criminal because of its media? This also appears to be true. Violent media alone do not make a violent person, but violent media can apparently make a violent person more often violent. Criminogenic media won’t make a law-abiding person a criminal, but preexisting criminals may become greater threats and more successful criminals. Most distressingly, social media appear to be a common contemporary route to radicalization, and, with some criminogenic effects in play, how the media interact with criminal justice is important.

Media and Criminal Justice Policy

Research in the area of criminal justice policy and the media has looked at policy formation, public support for differing policies, and media effects on public beliefs and attitudes about crime as a social problem. A major set of research has looked at the impact of targeted public service announcements (PSAs).

PSAs apply Madison Avenue-style advertising formats to generate short messages about crime and justice that are aimed at reducing victimization and increasing witness cooperation. PSA campaigns are usually driven by crime-control values, whereas critiques of these programs usually raise due process and civil liberty concerns. Recent PSA campaigns separate into three groups: those targeted at potential offenders, those aimed at potential crime victims, and those aimed at increasing citizen cooperation with law enforcement.

The first group, aimed at offenders, is best exemplified by anti-drug-use PSAs. In general, these PSAs are designed to deter people from committing crimes by showing negative consequences, such as arrest or death. The second group of PSAs is aimed at reducing victimization and increasing crime prevention via victim target hardening. Similar in format to the offender-targeted deterrence messages, victim-targeted PSAs use available media outlets to distribute crime-reduction information and often rely on the persuasiveness of celebrities (Engle, 2012). The difficulty faced in these campaigns is that crime prevention is a self-protective behavior akin to avoiding health risks. Keys for triggering self-protective crime behaviors are a person’s estimates of their likelihood of harm, the expected severity of harm, the perceived efficacy of recommended precautions, and the costs of taking action compared with the costs of inaction (Weinstein, 1987). Due to interactions among the four factors, programs advocating the adoption of behaviors to prevent unpleasant future events, such as crime, tend to be less successful than those that encourage actions with an immediate and recognizable reward, such as weight loss from exercising (Weinstein, 1987). In general, unless individuals are recent victims of crime, they do not see crime as a likely event, do not feel that they will be injured if victimized, do not see taking precautions to prevent crime as useful, and they foresee better uses for their time and money (Surette, 2015). For these reasons, victimization-reduction campaigns are considered useful for disseminating anticrime information to the public and influencing attitudes toward crime prevention, but they have not been shown to be a means for significantly changing the behavior of potential crime victims.

In the third group, anticrime PSAs are designed to increase arrest and clearance rates by encouraging witness cooperation with law enforcement investigations (Rosenbaum, Lurigio, & Lavrakas, 1989). These efforts use crime reenactments to obtain information through anonymous tips and reward money, and they have demonstrated some positive effects (Rheingold, Campbell, Self-Brown, de Arellano, Resnick, & Kilpatrick, 2007; Santa & Cochran, 2008). The number of cases cleared due to witness-cooperation programs has not been found to affect overall crime rates, but anecdotal evidence suggests they solve felony cases that are unlikely to be solved otherwise (Rosenbaum, Lurigio, & Lavrakas, 1989, p. 417). They appear effective in cases involving fugitives, bank robberies, and narcotics, and they are useful in terrorist investigations. Their high visibility is also effective in attracting secondary tips for unadvertised crimes. While PSAs have made the transition to new media platforms, their actual impact on crime remains ambiguous. The primary difficulty in using the media to reduce crime and victimization is the need to raise concern about crime and its consequences in target audiences without triggering negative effects from creating high levels of fear of crime (Surette, 2015).

Concerning criminal justice policy development, the available research indicates that, among criminal justice officials, the media do influence development and support (Gillespie, McLaughlin, Adams, & Symmonds, 2003; Thompson, 2010). However, the media are not the most important factor in the construction of criminal justice policy: real-world conditions and direct experiences are more important (Pfeiffer, Windzio, & Kleimann, 2005). Pertinent research on the relationship between media and criminal justice policy has focused on agenda setting, beliefs about crime, and direct media effects on criminal justice policy formation. Relationships between media and policy have been reported in all three areas, but consistent effects have not been found. The relationship between the media and criminal justice policy is complex, hard to predict, and prone to unanticipated effects (Surette, 2015).

Overall, the cumulative results of the media’s portraits of crime, crime fighters, courts, and corrections appear to support punitive criminal justice policies (Beale, 2006). Recalling the nature of the bulk of the criminal justice media content, the media-constructed world of crime and justice has the police embedded in a randomly violent environment where they battle irredeemable predators; the courts deal with psychotic offenders and conduct investigations; corrections is a bizarre, primitive world; and the entire criminal justice system points toward the need for swift and sure punishment (Altheide, 2006; Hron, 2008). This socially constructed environment, combined with an emphasis on the front-end of criminal activity, investigations, and arrests, supports law enforcement and crime-control policies where the best way to stop crime is to punish offenders and forcibly deter them from committing future crimes (Sotirovic, 2001). Although the media frequently portray the criminal justice system poorly, the depiction of harsher punishments and more law enforcement as the most effective response to crime paradoxically implies expanding the criminal justice system (Surette, 2015).

Additionally, public agenda research has looked at whether, by emphasizing or ignoring topics, the media influence the public’s ranking of social problems. The hypothesis is that people will tend to judge a social problem, such as crime, as significant to the extent that the media pays attention to it (McCombs, 2004). When a correlation has been looked for between media attention and crime’s ranking as a social problem, a weak to moderate relationship has been reported (Boda & Szabo, 2011; Lasorsa & Wanta, 1990; Protess et al., 1991). However, the media’s influence on the public agenda is seldom direct and is modified through multiple steps and interpersonal social networks. Effects on where crime falls on an individual’s agenda appear to increase with media exposure; are more significant the less direct experience people have with crime; are more significant for newer, observable types of crime, such as cyber stalking, than for abstract ones like money laundering; diminish quickly; and are highly interactive with other social and individual factors (Rogers & Dearing, 1988).

Specifically regarding beliefs about crime and justice, the media emphasis on crime and embedded claims about the nature of crime have been credited with raising the public’s fear of being victimized. The relationship between exposure to media content and one’s attitudes appears to diminish when neighborhood crime levels are taken into account or if one lives in a violent household (Banks, 2005). The attitude that has been most often linked to the media is fear of crime, but like other research results on media and criminal justice policy, the linkage is not consistent (Callanan, 2012; Chadee & Ditton, 2005; Dowler, 2003; Kohm, Waid-Lindber, Weinrath, Shell, & Dobbs, 2012). Currently, research suggests that media exposure to crime content is more strongly related to fear about distant places than to fear about nearby locales (Heath & Petraitis, 1987; Sparks & Ogles, 1990). The most common crime-related beliefs affected are increased belief in the prevalence of crime, victimization, and violence and increased cynical, distrustful social attitudes (Ditton, Chadee, Farrall, Gilchrist, & Bannister, 2004; Eschholz, Chiricos, & Gertz, 2003; Lane & Meeker, 2003).

The Future of Media and Crime

Prior research has uncovered a host of relationships between media, crime, and justice, but the effects research based on content analysis has plateaued, and the search for direct effects from media content has waned. Alternate research looks at the media’s roles in how the social reality of crime and justice is put together and how a mediated criminal justice system functions. Termed media criminology, this approach follows the general precepts of social constructionism (Clifford & White, 2017). With media-based framing as its central concept and combining concepts from journalism, media studies, and criminology, media criminology encompasses the study of media, the creation and distribution of content, and social interactions in a mediated world (Clifford & White, 2017). The expanded approach includes and expands content analysis to incorporate narrative discourse analysis (the examination of the stories found in media) in research. Generally, narrative analysis is a qualitative research methodology that looks at the structure, characters, and motifs used to tell a crime story. Historically tied to structuralism, which looked for shared common elements such as stock characters and generic story lines (Moore, 2014, p. 178), narrative analysis seeks to reveal prejudices and counter-narratives in media crime content (Moore, 2014, p. 186). Related to narrative analysis is discourse analysis. Discourses are more encompassing concepts than narratives and are thought to widely influence social behavior (Moore, 2014, p. 194). Concerning crime and justice, discourse analysis illuminates what is available and unavailable to the public for social discourse about crime at a particular time. Discourse analysis tends to focus on the historical shifts when a previous discourse is replaced by a new one (Moore, 2014, p. 195). For example, after dominating in the Middle Ages, the discourse of crime resulting from demonic possession became less significant after the Enlightenment but has remained visible within entertainment media since.

Underpinning these research perspectives are the concepts of social constructionism (Gergen, 1985; Specture & Kitsuse, 1987). Social constructionism views knowledge as the result of people’s social interactions while reaching agreements about the nature of the world. People socially construct their view of the world from their direct experiences, from information from other people, and from the media. Because a limited number of people have direct experience with crime, the media are more important in the construction of crime-and-justice reality than in other social areas. The dynamics of the social construction process involves competing constructions forwarded by claims makers who argue that their claims about reality should be adopted by other people. The degree to which a constructed reality prevails is not directly dependent on its objective empirical validity but is instead strongly influenced by shifting cultural trends and social forces, with the media playing central roles. Social constructionism argues that not only which social behaviors are criminalized or decriminalized independent of changes in actual real-world victimization or offense rates; such disconnections should be expected.

Understanding social constructionism helps to understanding the impact of the media on crime and justice (Specture & Kitsuse, 1987). The main elements of the socially constructed reality of crime and justice are a set of crime narratives—small, preexisting, commonly recognized mini-portraits common in the entertainment media. An example is the “evil predator” narrative about offenders (Surette, 2015). In the news media, high-profile symbolic crimes, selected and highlighted by claims makers to support why their crime-and-justice construction should be accepted, are used to champion specific criminal justice constructions (Surette, 2015). Symbolic crimes are trumpeted to convince people of the existence of a pressing criminal justice problem and a needed criminal justice policy. They are taken up by claims makers and are forwarded as the type of crimes that can be expected to happen more often because a set of social conditions have been allowed to fester and what a new justice policy will correct if implemented.

An important goal in the social construction competition is “ownership” of a criminal justice issue. Social construction ownership gives a claims maker greater access to future resources and the media. To improve their likelihood of success, claims makers frequently make use of established constructions, or frames, to advance their claims. In the social construction of crime and justice, five frames compete as explanations of crime: social breakdown, violent media, racist system, faulty system, and blocked opportunity (Sasson, 1995). Each frame includes factual and interpretative claims and associated policies, and their adoption simplifies dealing with crime by organizing experiences and events into established groups and by guiding what are seen as the appropriate policy and action responses. Hence, a senseless murder becomes “another killing because of a lenient criminal justice system” when incorporated into the faulty criminal justice frame (Sasson, 1995). Sasson’s frames jockey with one another for influence over how criminality is understood in society, which criminal justice policies enjoy public support, and how new crimes and criminals are perceived. The process through which criminal justice frames fall in and out of favor is closely tied to the social construction competition that is constantly being conducted in the media. By focusing on certain types of crimes or by giving access to specific frame-promoting claims makers, the media can boost one frame ahead of another (Dardis, Baumgartner, Boydstun, De Boef, & Shen, 2008).

While the concepts and elements of social construction have remained stable, the dynamics of the social construction process have been altered by the development of new media. As argued, new media are inherently different from legacy media in how they relate to their audiences and therefore in how social construction occurs under their influence. New media have changed the social construction process by changing the relationship between consumers and media from passive to active participants and by mimicking one-to-one conversations in how people communicate. While offering access to more information and competing social constructions of the world, new media encourage a narrowing of knowledge consumption and less exposure to conflicting ideas and competing social constructions (Jamieson & Cappella, 2008).

By the late 19th century, early print-based media contained the same criminal stereotypes and causal explanations of crime found today—narratives of individually focused crime and retributive justice. Today, with multiplying outlets and new media technologies, a pervasive multimedia web continues to construct a distorted crime-and-justice portrait. The merging of news and entertainment media in infotainment, combined with the constant looping of content, means that the portraits of crime and justice are homogenized. Criminals are normally constructed as either predatory street criminals or dishonest businesspeople and professionals; and the criminal justice system is shown as an ineffective, counterproductive means of dealing with crime. The crime-and-justice media messages conform to the backwards law, and media persistently reverse the real world of crime and justice in their media-constructed world. In this media-made reality, traditional criminal justice system personnel and standard practices suffer, while reforms and alternatives to the existing criminal justice system fare badly.

The media emphasize individual personality traits as the cause of crime and violent interdiction as its solution, and the media show a preference for crimes involving weapons and solutions involving violence and sophisticated technology. Media present criminality as an individual choice and imply that other social, economic, or structural explanations are irrelevant. The “crime fighter” and “war on crime” icons suggest to the public that crime must be fought, rather than solved or prevented. The result is that, although the criminal justice system is not shown favorably, the solutions to crime suggested by the media involve expansion of the existing criminal justice system through harsher punishments and more law enforcement. Increasing the punitiveness of the real criminal justice system is suggested to be the only reasonable policy course.

Added to this long-term picture, social media introduced a substantial shift in the mediated world, and contemporary media comprise an electronic, digital, visually dominated realm. The evolution of the media over the last century has been toward making a mediated experience indistinguishable from an actual experience, and streaming programming and other developing new media capabilities will extend the reach of crime related media. While the impact of media is acknowledged, the media’s influence on criminality and criminal justice is not close to being fully explored. With the caveat that research results are more often mixed than consistent, the available evidence suggests that the media molds crime more than triggers it, and that, exacerbated by social media, the media construction of crime and justice will continue to obscure the reality of crime and justice.

Review of the Literature

A review of the literature regarding media, criminology, and criminal justice reveals a shifting historical focus on differing research questions that roughly reflect the following areas: content analysis studies; media effects on audiences, with an emphasis on violent media and aggression; criminal justice policy and public perceptions; criminogenic media; and the social construction of crime and justice.

Content Analysis Studies

The oldest method for studying crime and the media, content analysis is a research methodology that quantitatively measures how much attention media give to a topic and qualitatively answers how the topic is described (Moore, 2014). The results of crime related content analysis research are often contrasted with official measures of crime and used to explore for possible media bias and inaccuracies. The content analysis studies are summarized by the media backwards law, which states that the media present crime and criminal justice portraits that are the opposite of the reality of crime and justice (Mason, 2007, p. 491; Surette, 2015, p. 59).

Media Effects Studies

Research in the media effects area has looked at various hypothesized effects of exposure to varied media content. Research on media society-wide effects has looked for effects on public beliefs and attitudes about crime, criminal justice agenda setting, criminal justice policy formation and support, and using media to deter crime through ad-like public service announcements. While consistent effects in these areas have not been found, relationships between media attention and crime and justice have been reported in the realms of the public’s ranking of crime as a social problem, the public’s beliefs about crime, and on criminal justice policy. The public-agenda research suggests a weak to moderate relationship (Boda & Szabo, 2011; Lasorsa & Wanta, 1990; Protess et al., 1991). Concerning the public’s beliefs about crime and justice, the media have been found to raise the public’s fear of crime, but the linkage is not clear or consistent (Callanan, 2012; Chadee & Ditton, 2005; Dowler, 2003; Kohm et al., 2012). The most common reported finding is increased support for punitive criminal justice policies (Beale, 2006). Additional findings concerning beliefs about crime include increased belief in the prevalence of crime, belief in high victimization and violence rates, and the holding of cynical, distrustful attitudes toward others and society (Ditton et al., 2004; Eschholz et al., 2003; Lane & Meeker, 2003). On their part, anticrime public service announcements research has reported some positive effects on attitudes but insubstantial effects on behaviors (Rheingold et al., 2007; Santa & Cochran, 2008).

Criminogenic Media

A seminal work in the media as criminogenic area was produced by Glaser (1956) in the 1950s. Glaser proposed the media as an important source for crime models. His new research question was whether mass media crime models could substitute for real-world ones in a social learning based differential association process. As this line of research developed, criminogenic media research focused on whether violent media generated aggressive behavior, whether the media were a direct cause of criminality in the form of copycat crime, and whether the media and terrorist acts were interrelated. Irrespective of the three research streams, the bulk of research has looked at violent media and social aggression and has generally reported a correlation between exposure to violent media and social aggression in individuals. However, the strength, configuration, and causal nature of the relationship have not been specified (Gunter, 2008; Huesmann & Taylor, 2006). Research on a hypothesized stimulation effect concludes that exposure to media violence stimulates subsequent violent behavior on the part of individuals (Boyle, 2005; Sparks & Sparks, 2002). Proponents of the stimulation effect argue that a consistent pattern of empirical results proves that media violence is a cause of social aggression (Westfahl, 2013). The most commonly advanced mechanism in this research is imitation (Sparks & Sparks, 2002, pp. 278−280). Opponents to the violent media-social aggression link, however, argue that the media have not been empirically shown to be a cause of aggression (Ferguson, 2002; Freedman, 2002; Grimes et al., 2008; Gunter, 2008; Huesmann, 2007; Huesmann & Taylor, 2006 Murray, 2008). In their view, exposure to violent content and violent behavior may be correlated, but are not causally related. One media-generated criminogenic effect that is generally accepted is the ability of the media to generate copycat crime (Helfgott, 2015). Research on various crime waves involving product tampering, hostage beheadings, airline hijackings, and suicide bombings has been reported (Borowitz, 1983; Gupta & Kusam, 2005; Holden, 1986; Pape, 2003).

In sum, prior research has uncovered a set of relationships between media, crime, and criminal justice, but the direct effects research that is largely based on content analysis studies has waned. More recent alternative research looks at media’s roles in how the reality of crime and justice is socially constructed and how a mediated criminal justice system functions. Termed media criminology, the dominant recent research approach follows the general precepts of social constructionism (Clifford & White, 2017).

Social Construction of Crime and Justice

Currently, research in the media, crime, and justice area tends to fall under a social constructionism umbrella. Quinney’s 1970 book, The Social Reality of Crime, is the seminal work in the social construction of crime. His book was followed by several other works, including Altheide and Snow’s Media Logic (1979), Cohen and Young’s The Manufacture of News (1981), Ericson and his colleagues’ Visualizing Deviance (1987), and Reiner’s Keystone to Kojak: The Hollywood Cop (1981), which collectively began to seriously study the media’s role in the social construction of crime and justice beyond simple content analysis. This literature has coalesced under the idea of “newsmaking criminology” (Barak, 1988), which encouraged criminologists to engage with the media in the social construction process. The result was the production of dedicated academic works on policing and the media, such as by Reiner (1981) and a set of studies on the social construction of specific crime constructs, including “killer drunks” (Reinarman, 1988), the “three strikes and you’re out” sentencing policy (Gest, 1994; Surette, 1996), “road rage” (Best, 1991), and “serial killers” (Jenkins, 1994). In addition to social construction based studies, research on individual-level media effects on crime and justice continues in the field of media psychology. Aggregate level effects continue to be studied in the disciplines of political science, communications, and media studies.

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