Social construction of crime and what we can do about it

Major media everywhere shape our understanding of everything including crime.  Spencer Graves describes this.  In the early 1800s the US had more newspapers per capita than any other place or time. Today we face major problems with political polarization. Graves discusses research and recommendations by Robert McChesney for improving this.

This is an update and expansion of his previous All Souls Forum presentation aired 2019-03-13, ‘“Local News Coverage” with Spencer Graves’.  A video of that presentation with a transcript and references is available in the Wikiversity article on “Media and Democracy in Kansas City and Elsewhere“.

A plot of the incarceration rate in the US from 1925 to 2019 is available in the Wikipedia article on “United States incarceration rate“.  It shows that roughly 0.1 percent of the US population was incarcerated in state and federal between 1925 and 1975.  Then it shot up by a factor of almost five in the last quarter of the twentieth century.  Between 2006 and 2009 it was at least 0.5 percent of the population.  Then it drifted down to 0.42 percent in 2019.

The Wikipedia article on “United States incarceration rate” includes a section on “Editorial policies of major media“, which attributes this increase to changes in the editorial policies of the major media whereby nearly all their investigative journalists were fired and replaced with the police blotter.  They retained their audience, because “when it bleeds, it leads“.  It was a win-win for broadcast managers, because they reduced their costs while simultaneously reducing the risk of offending a major advertiser.  Political corruption increased, as witnessed by increases in income inequality in the US since 1975 and by allegations of corruption in the Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, police departments.  Melinda Henneberger of The Kansas City Star won a 2022 Pulitzer Prize for commentary “For persuasive columns demanding justice for alleged victims of a retired police detective accused of being a sexual predator”, which exposed part of this.

Graves claims that progress on these and other society problems is blocked, because the major media censor their news to protect major advertisers (or underwriters for PBS).  He claims that we will likely reduce political corruption and increase the rate of broadly shared economic growth if we adopt recommendations by McChesney and Nichols to have governmental bodies distribute 0.15 percent of economic activity to local news nonprofits via elections.  This would dramatically limit the ability of government bureaucrats, corporate bureaucrats and the ultra wealthy to dominate the political discourse.  If the reduction in political corruption has the impact Graves expects, it will generate improvements in productivity that are more than sufficient to pay for these subsidies from income we would not have without them.


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