An Analysis of Media Reporting on Intimate Partner Violence and Homicide

By Meyer, Emily | Media Report to Women, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

An Analysis of Media Reporting on Intimate Partner Violence and Homicide


Meyer, Emily, Media Report to Women


Every day in the United States millions of people turn to television, newspapers, or the Internet for information about the world around them. Research has illuminated a plethora of media effects, including the ability to set a policy/political agenda (McCombs & Shaw, 1972; Surette, 2014), direct the public to focus on certain current events or topics over others (Price & Tewksbury, 1997), and even shape or frame news content in such a way as to elicit specific attitudes or opinions. (D'angelo, 2002; Entman, 1993; McQuail, 2010; Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007).

One of the most popular areas of news coverage is the U.S. criminal justice system. From crime commission to courts/trials and corrections, the media will follow a case as long as it remains newsworthy (Bednarek & Capie, 2017). With domestic or intimate partner violence (IPV), news reports can perpetuate myths, stereotypes, and lead to victim blaming (Bullock & Cubert, 2002; E. Meyer & Post, 2013a; Meyers, 1996; R. Taylor, 2008). However, few researchers have moved beyond secondary data analysis of newspaper articles to investigate how journalists and editors actually write and frame the stories the public consumes. Of particular interest are the ways in which media professionals identify cases for publication ("newsworthiness"). The selection and perceived salience of specific crimes and case details is important, as filtering decisions have an effect on how the public perceives IPV, including general attitudes toward the problem and acceptance of victim/ perpetrator stereotypes (Entman, 1993; Surette, 2014).

Mass Media Framing of IPV

In his seminal work on framing, Entman (1993) conceptualized frames as prepackaged interpretations of social, health or criminal justice issues. Frames are the product of selection and salience, in that they begin with a journalist's initial identification of a newsworthy topic or event (selection) and are made relevant by the type of coverage provided (salience). Whether a certain topic is selected from among others, and how it is discussed in a text, influences what people understand about a social problem or criminal justice issue. According to Entman (1993), frames: (1) define problems, (2) diagnose causes, (3) make moral judgments, and/or (4) suggest remedies.

Scholars have long explored how violence against women is framed by the media (Berns, 2004; Meyers, 1996). Research has almost exclusively focused on how IPV victims and perpetrators are constructed and presented in the news. Studies suggest frames frequently excuse perpetrator behavior and blame the victim (Jones, 1994; Meyer & Post, 2013a, 2013b; Meyers, 1996; Pagelow, 1981; Post, Smith, & Meyer, 209; Ryan, Anastario, and DaCunha, 2006; Soothill & Walby, 1991). Journalists that cover IPV also tend to rely on traditional crime beat coverage that lacks a contextualized assessment of deeper issues (Iyengar, 1991; Kaniss, 1997; Ryan, Anastario, & DaCunha, 2006). Official sources dominate the story, as police officers and court personnel are commonly interviewed about specific incidents (Bullock, 2008).

Known as episodic framing, this approach highlights a singular event (Koch, 1990). Thematic framing, however, explores contextual issues surrounding a given social problem (Surette, 2014). Both episodic and thematic frames can affect public opinion; however, episodic frames have a stronger influence on audience opinion when the topic elicits an emotional response (Aarøe, 2011). Research shows IPV is primarily covered using episodic frames. Rarely is the crime context explored; journalists often associate shock and unexpectedness with the incident, even if warning signs were evident (Bullock, 2008; Bullock & Cubert, 2002; Carlyle, Slater, & Chakroff, 2008; Consal- vo, 1998; Gillespie, Richards, Givens, & Smith, 2013; Maxwell, Huxford, Borum, & Hornik, 2000; E. Meyer & Post, 2013b; C. A. Taylor & Sorenson, 2002; R. …

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