Video: What Happens When Local News Over-Represents African-Americans As Criminals

Recent Media Matters studies found that local New York City television stations gave disproportionate coverage of crimes committed by African-Americans when compared to actual NYPD crime statistics. Studies consistently report that media over-representation of black people as criminals perpetuates racial stereotypes and can shape everything from personal bias to criminal justice outcomes.

Two Media Matters reports analyzing nightly news coverage show New York City outlets have named African-Americans as suspects in murder, theft, and assault stories at a rate at least 14 percent higher than reflected in actual NYPD arrest rates averaged over the last four years. Rashad Robinson, executive director of the civil rights group ColorOfChange, explained the negative impact of the media's overrepresentation of African-Americans as criminals:

In addition to reaching out to all four New York stations, ColorOfChange recently released a report card, “Not To Be Trusted: Dangerous Levels of Inaccuracy in TV Crime Reporting in NYC,” evaluating the stations in light of Media Matters' latest study. Stations have been slow to react to the report; WNBC, the only station so far to comment, released a statement to Capital New York expressing a commitment to diversity and balanced reporting.

Racial bias in crime reporting is not limited to New York City. Studies in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles found that people of color are more likely to appear as perpetrators in media coverage of crime. Researchers at the Heinz Endowments' African American Men and Boys Task Force found that in Pittsburgh, not only did "[c]rime stories [lead] all news topics" linked to black men, but these stories also “tended to get more prominent play in the news, with stories more likely appearing atop the news page or at the beginning of the evening newscast.”

Racial over-representation in news reports has real effects on news media consumers. Evidence presented in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media suggests that overrepresentation of African-Americans as criminals “strengthens the cognitive association between Blacks and criminality in the mind” of the audience.

In The Black Image in the White Mind, authors and Professors Robert Entman and Andrew Rojecki explained that exposure to images and reports of African-Americans as criminals reduces white viewers' empathy and “heightens animosity” towards African-Americans. Entman and Rojecki added that the media's overrepresentation of blacks as criminals could also “reduce apparent and real responsiveness of White-dominated society to the needs of poor minorities”:

To the extent local television news thereby undermines the fragile foundations of racial comity, it could reduce apparent and real responsiveness of White-dominated society to the needs of poor minorities, especially Blacks. The result, in turn, is continued employment discrimination and government unresponsiveness to the urban job loss and economic dislocation that has so traumatized the inner city -- and consequent breeding of crime.