How News Media Fuels the Myth of Black Crime
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
You’re not just imagining things. The local news media’s intense focus on violent crime is also deeply racialized, at least if New York City’s media market is indicative of national trends.
Media Matters reviewed the 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. broadcasts of four New York-area stations over the course of this summer and compared their crime stories to arrest data from the New York Police Department. In a report released Aug. 26, the watchdog group found black suspects in crime stories far outweigh their actual representation in arrests—which is saying something, since we also know arrests themselves are racially skewed, with black people representing far more arrests for, say, marijuana possession than drug-use rates suggest is appropriate.
The disparity in crime coverage was most striking for stories about theft. In local news-land, 80 percent of suspects in New York-area thefts are black, Media Matters found. In real life, blacks represent 55 percent of NYPD’s arrests for theft. For assaults, TV-land sees 72 percent of suspects as black. Real life: 49 percent.
This reality skewing coverage is part of how black bodies become synonymous with crime and danger—and helps justify the violence and danger the state then reigns down upon peolpe like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But the news media’s skewed racial reality doesn’t end with crime.
Earlier this year, Colorlines’ publisher, Race Forward, analyzed national news media coverage of stories about race. Our research team found that two-thirds of race-focused stories ignored the systemic factors involved, and focused instead on personal prejudices and individual level efforts to name the racist in the room. Race Forward’s Jay Smooth explains the findings in the video below.