How Media Have Shaped Our Perception of Race and Crime

Many media outlets reinforce the public’s perception about crime by presenting African Americans and Latinos differently from whites, a new report concludes. 

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How Media Skew Our Views of Race, Crime

Distortions Bolster Harsher Penalties, Study Finds

Skewed racial perceptions of crime — particularly, white Americans’ strong associations of crime with racial minorities — have bolstered harsh and biased criminal justice policies [PDF],” the nonprofit Sentencing Project reported Wednesday, outlining the role played by the news media in skewing those perceptions.

“Many media outlets reinforce the public’s racial misconceptions about crime by presenting African Americans and Latinos differently than whites — both quantitatively and qualitatively,” concluded the report, “Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies.”

“Television news programs and newspapers over-represent racial minorities as crime suspects and whites as crime victims. Black and Latino suspects are also more likely than whites to be presented in a non-individualized and threatening way – unnamed and in police custody. . . .”

Among the conclusions of the study, written by research analyst Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D., and presented as a synthesis of 20 years of research:

“White Americans are more punitive than people of color. . . .

“Whites misjudge how much crime is committed by African Americans and Latinos. . . .

“Whites who more strongly associate crime with racial minorities are more supportive of punitive policies. . . .