The Oprahization of America: Sympathetic Crime Talk and Leniency

By Hill, John R.; Zillmann, Dolf | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

The Oprahization of America: Sympathetic Crime Talk and Leniency


Hill, John R., Zillmann, Dolf, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


A common contention holds that Americans have gone soft on crime (Austin, 1995; Leo, 1994). Jurors seem increasingly unable to render guilty verdicts even in cases where the evidence for the commission of the offense by the accused appears compelling (Dershowitz, 1994; Dorfman & Iijima, 1995; Goldberg, 1994; Price, 1994). Such compassion for criminal wrongdoers has been attributed to a growing understanding of motives that could explain transgressive actions. Leo suggests that "we are deep into the era of abuse excuse" (1994, p. 17). He speaks of a doctrine of victimology that grants criminals victim-status which then absolves them from responsibility for their crimes. Defense attorneys, he argues, dwell on the offender's history of abuse of any kind, thereby converting the offender's status to that of a victim. The sympathy created for the offender then diminishes and potentially overpowers the weight of evidence against the offender. Commenting on this phenomenon, the noted legal scholar Alan Dershowitz has acknowledged that jurors have become sensitive to a point where they "are beginning to behave like social workers" (cited in Leo, 1994, p. 17).

This new and apparently growing sensitivity of jurors has been attributed to media influence. The Oprah Winfrey Show has been singled out as the prototype. Oprah Winfrey is frequently credited with extraordinary empathic skills in extracting self-disclosures and gut-wrenching confessions from her guests (Abelman, 1998; Abt & Mustazza, 1997; Priest, 1995). Nonconfrontational self-disclosure has become the trademark of her show --to a point that Krauthammer (1992)has characterized the apparent increase in self-revelations among politicians as an Oprahtization (sic) of politics.

Focusing on Oprah's sympathetic and understanding treatment of "wronged wrongdoers," Dershowitz (1994) claimed the Oprahization of the law (and took credit for coining that phrase). Sandel (1997) cited attorneys who labeled the apparent punitive reluctance of jurors as Oprahization of sentencing.

Such characterizations derive from the fact that Oprah Winfrey employs her "human warmth" in her interviews of guests who are presented as having suffered neglect and abuse, including the trauma of purported miscarriages of justice. More than the hosts of competing talk shows, Oprah Winfrey shows profound sympathy for the allegedly wronged and probes for causes of their transgressive and criminal behavior. The search for "what made them do it" invariably produces information that seems to "explain" and thereby mitigate the transgressive behavior. "Jurors who watch that stuff," contends Dershowitz, "begin to believe it, despite its status as junk science" (1994, p. 5). It is in this context that Dan Lungren, Attorney General of California, speaks of an "Oprahization of the jury pool" (cited in Gregory, 1994, p. 30). He explains that:

   people have become so set on viewing things from the Oprah view, the
   Geraldo view or the Phil Donahue view that they bring that into the jury
   box with them. And I think at base much of that tends to say, We don't hold
   people responsible for their actions because they've been the victim of
   some influence at some time in their life (p. 30).

Gregory (1994) reports that, despite a complete lack of research support for the presumed media influence, jury consultants and selectors have started to include television viewing habits in their bag of selection criteria. The stipulation of voir dire examinations (i.e., of procedures designed to determine the competency and potential biases of witnesses and jurors) to "learn about the jurors' backgrounds and attitudes" (Mauet, 1980, p, 37) is apparently broadened to include media preferences. A consultant is cited asserting, among other things concerning media behavior, that talk-show watchers are "more likely to distrust the official version (of an offense) and to believe that there are two sides to a story. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Oprahization of America: Sympathetic Crime Talk and Leniency
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.