Death by Design: Capital Punishment as Social Psychological System

By Craig Haney | Go to book overview

2

Frameworks of Misunderstanding:
Capital Punishment and the American Media

Crime-related issues…are socially and politically constructed;
they acquire their meaning through interpretive, representational,
and political processes.

—Katherine Beckett, Making Crime Pay: Law and Order in
Contemporary American Politics
(1997)

This chapter develops a theme that serves as an important backdrop for the chapters that follow: namely, that the mass media in our society play a central role in the creation of erroneous beliefs and preconceptions about crime and punishment that have real consequences for death penalty policies and practices. Given the ubiquity and power of the mass media in American society, it has become difficult to intelligently analyze any important public policy issue without some reflection on the potential influence of the media.1 As members of the public formulate their views of the death penalty—in their roles as citizens, voters, and jurors—they are especially likely to be affected by media messages about violent crime and capital punishment. This chapter explores some of the dimensions of that influence and sets the stage for the more data-based chapters that follow. It is admittedly more impressionistic than my subsequent discussion of the system of death sentencing, but it is no less important.


All Crime, All the Time

No matter which form of media they prefer, American audiences are immersed in crime-related themes and stories. Crime dominates the newspapers and airwaves, and its dominance is long-standing. Because ""t"he mass media always are on the alert for dramatic, personalized stories that will command public attention,"2 crime has been a prominent feature in both print and electronic news and drama. In fact, crime is the single most popular story

-27-

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Death by Design: Capital Punishment as Social Psychological System
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Contents xix
  • 1: Blinded by the Death Penalty 3
  • 2: Frameworks of Misunderstanding 27
  • 3: Constructing Capital Crimes and Defendants 45
  • 4: The Fragile Consensus 67
  • 5: A Tribunal Organized to Convict and Execute? 93
  • 6: Preparing for the Death Penalty in Advance of Trial 115
  • 7: Structural Aggravation 141
  • 8: Misguided Discretion 163
  • 9: Condemning the Other 189
  • 10: No Longer Tinkering with the Machinery of Death 211
  • Concluding Thoughts: Death Is Different 241
  • Notes 247
  • Index 323
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