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Journal Article

Prime Suspects: The Influence of Local Television News on the Viewing Public

Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. and Shanto Iyengar
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 44, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 560-573
DOI: 10.2307/2669264
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2669264
Page Count: 14
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Prime Suspects: The Influence of Local Television News on the Viewing Public
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Abstract

Local television news is the public's primary source of public affairs information. News stories about crime dominate local news programming because they meet the demand for "action news." 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 finding is 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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