Crime And Punishment

The crime problem in the United States has historically been misstated and exaggerated by bureaucrats and politicians. The intentions behind these overstatements vary within each context but a common thread emerges upon closer examination. As in any capitalist society, money and material possession are the primary motivation that fuels society and people. It could be argued that FBI director Louis Freeh made his comments to the National Press Club in 1994 out of genuine concern for the American people, but realistically the statement was made in an effort to gather support and increase funding for law enforcement. Following this statement and from increased pressure from politicians, the Federal Crime Bill was ratified, and authorized the spending of thirty billion dollars, primarily towards more police officers and prisons. It also included many new punitive sanctions and the expansion of the death penalty to more than fifty federal crimes. Louis Freeh’s politically correct and unapprised proclamation takes an exceptionally narrow view of crime and its curtailment. Freeh chooses to focus on the media, statistics, and ultimately public opinion as his justification for increased funding. However he fails to realize the influence of the media and statistics in molding public opinion and the difference between public opinion and reality. Existing individualistic theories such as rational choice theory help reinforce Freeh’s statement. The overstated crime problem, backed by a capitalistic media and misinterpreted statistics has created a punitive crime policy, which is further supported by individualistic theories of crime. In this paper I will show how misreported statistics and media focus on violent crimes shapes public opinion. Then I will go on to demonstrate the role of individualistic theories in supporting punitive crime control policies. Ultimately I look to prove that the actions of the media and politicians are centered on money and how crime is inherent to the American Dream .
The media never has been and probably never will be an accurate source for criminology or criminal analysis. The sensationalist media depiction of crime is almost always exaggerated and biased toward violent crimes. From newspapers to television the crimes that get the most coverage and attention are homicides and aggravated assaults. However, in actuality ninety percent of all crimes are property crimes and less than one percent are homicides (Stephen Lincoln 9/24/01). The media also is fond of reporting crime clocks based on aggregate statistics. Popular and catchy lines like, “A murder occurs every twenty seven minutes, a robbery every sixty seconds,” are very misleading yet are used regularly. These crime clocks show no reference to a ratio between crimes being committed and the people effected (Lincoln 10/3/01). Once again here the motives behind depiction of crime by the media vary, but money can be found at the source. Newspapers and television stations don’t want to report common and usually petty crimes because they are boring and monotonous. People don’t buy boring and monotonous newspapers; so to increase circulation and ultimately revenues, editors choose to emphasize and embellish violent crimes. This intentional bias towards violent crimes, even though they represent a very small fraction of all crimes creates a sense of apprehension and concern in law-abiding citizens.
Television is also responsible for exaggerating crime and over emphasizing its focus on violent crimes. Where newspapers can only provide writing and limited photographs of crime, television can take the next step in showing (versus telling) the crime and criminals. The television show “COPS” is an excellent example of the misrepresentation of crime and law enforcement. On the show you never see routine traffic stops or officers writing parking tickets, rather the producers choose to show shootings, gang fights and drug offenders. People throughout the country get to see criminals actually breaking the law on television. Given that the majority of the scenes shown are of violent crimes, people construct a violent and evil image of all criminals. While in reality the majority of police work is mundane, the show attempts to glamorize crime fighting (Lincoln 9/26/01). These producers don’t care about how they are depicting crime or its consequences; they are simply concerned about TV ratings. Higher ratings mean advertisers must pay more money for airtime, which ultimately leads to more money for the television networks.
By constantly and disproportionately reporting