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Prime Suspects: The Corrosive Influence of Local Television

  • Author(s): Gilliam, Franklin D., Jr.
  • Lyengar, Shanto
  • et al.
Abstract

Local television news is the public’s primary source of public affairs information. News stories about crime dominate local news programming because they maintain high audience demand. The prevalence of this type of reporting has led to a crime narrative or “script” that includes two core elements: crime is violent and perpetrators of crime are non-white males. We show that this script has become an ingrained heuristic for understanding crime and race. Using a multi-method design, we assess the impact of the crime script on the viewing public. Our central findings are that exposure to the racial element of the crime script increases support for punitive approaches to crime and heightens negative attitudes about African-Americans among white, but not black, viewers. In closing, we consider the implications of our results for intergroup relations, electoral politics, and the practice of journalism.

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