By Dan Pens
A recent survey by the Center for Media and Public Affairs shows that the three major networks aired more than twice as many crime stories last year as in 1992--even though the crime rate remained virtually unchanged. The networks are cashing in on crime, it seerns, in response to the popularity of the crime-crazed TV tabloid shows.
The average American's main exposure to crime is not what they witness first hand. Our perception of crime in America is largely spoon-fed to us by the media. Double the amount of air time for crime. In one year. Is it any wonder, then, why the public's fear of crime is now at record highs? Is it a coincidence that fear-driven reactionary legislation of the three-strikes variety is sweeping the country? What better way for politicians to ensure the continuation of their careers than to demonstrate the get-tough-on-crime attitude that voters demand?
California recently passed a three-strikes bill, close on the heals of Washington State's new law passed by voter initiative. It didn't take the California State legislature long to realize that even though such a law makes for poor social policy, the payoffs in terms of voter popularity are too much to pass up. The Los Angeles Times quoted California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) as saying the politicians have zero courage because, "they like their jobs and want to be reelected." When asked why he did not use his powerful office to modify the bill, he said, "I got out of the way of this train because I'm a realist."
He went on to say he had no idea how the state was going to pay for the massive costs three strikes will bring. In 1984 California spent 14.4% of it's budget on higher education, and 3.9% on corrections. This year the state will spend more on corrections than higher education for the first time in its history.
The runaway train that Speaker Brown says he got out of the way of is being stoked by the public's fear of crime. That fear is based on the perception of crime they get largely from the media. The media is driven by competition and the profit motive. Maybe speaker Brown should consider introducing a "media crime tax". After all, why should the American public be taxed to it's knees and the American underclass be swept into the jaws of the swelling criminal justice machine while the American media laughs all the way to the bank?
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