Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 20 May 1999 14:35:38 -0400
From: yemi toure <>
Subject: HYPE—TV News Fuels Crime Fears

HYPE Information Service 770 322 6653 USA

TV news fuels crime fears

Commentary by Earl Ofari Hutchinson, 20 May 1999

The recent FBI report that crime rates have plunged seven years in a row should be cause for great joy.

But many police officials instead have expressed frustration that much of the public still doesn’t believe they have. Many blame the media for fueling public perceptions that crime still rages and criminals lurk behind every street lamp.

But for many who call the shots in TV newsrooms, frustrated police officials and FBI crime stats aren’t likely to change how they present crime news. They’ve spent the past two decades turning TV crime into a sure-fire formula for ratings.

That formula is ridiculously simple.

Just have helicopters and mobile camera crews hover over or roam around city streets looking for police car chases, dead bodies, gang shoot-outs, and drug busts. And most importantly, make sure those city streets are in black and Latino neighborhoods. The formula is bloody, exploitative, and racist.

But it is a smash success.

It has hooked so many Americans on the murder and mayhem nightly news broadcasts that the networks have spun off a legion of hybrid clones. These shows simulate live-action crime chases and busts—and worse, they almost always depict blacks and Latinos as violent criminals.

This has convinced many white suburbanites that their lives are at grave risk from violence-prone, drugged-out Latinos and African-Americans.

The truth is they aren’t.

The FBI crime report noted that Americans are at less risk of becoming a murder, robbery, or assault victim today then in past years. It also noted that while blacks and Latinos commit a disproportionate amount of the street crime in America most whites still aren’t at risk. The overwhelming majority of the crimes committed by blacks and Latinos are against other blacks and Latinos.

The media fetish with crime and the public’s indulgence of that fetish is not just harmless escapism and innocent fun. It has had disastrous public policy consequences—

But TV executives don’t seem to be much troubled by these things. They get their ratings. The public gets its nightly dose of lurid crime sensationalism.

And police officials will continue to get more frustrated when the public believes that they are doing nothing right in the battle against real crime.