Framing Justice: Media, Bias and Legal Decisionmaking
62 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2015
Date Written: 2010
During the 1990s, the news media saturated the American public with stories and images of glassy-eyed, teenaged “superpredators,” who allegedly killed and maimed for sport. These violent, dark and “morally impoverished” youth were running wild in our city streets was the message, and unless we did something, they would destroy the very moral fabric of our society. Drawing on recent social science studies, which demonstrate that the graphic and racialized content of crime news coverage can increase consumers’ cognitive bias in imperceptible, but determinative ways, I argue that exposure to the “superpredator” narrative may have had a discernable impact on not only the attitudes and behaviors of the general public, but also on juvenile justice decision-makers themselves. In doing so, the media had an indirect, but meaningful impact on the uptick in, and entrenchment of, racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and, at the same time, undermined legislative efforts to redress the problem. With the recent passage of legislative mandates targeting the problem of racial disparities in juvenile justice, education, capital punishment and child welfare, and the intensification of an academic debate over the efficacy of the “unconscious bias discourse,” I suggest that this analysis has broad implications.
Keywords: Media, Social Cognition, Juveniles, Race
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