High-Profile Crimes: When Legal Cases Become Social Causes by Lynn S. Chancer

By Lynn S. Chancer

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Yet the press can also be a source for such frameworks even before criminal cases are tried in court. No doubt, to some extent, journalists themselves are apt to see matters in a two-sided fashion, in step with the broad cultural sway of legalistic thinking in American life. In addition, though, reporters and editors may perpetuate two-sidedness for their own institutionally based reasons: in the interests of objectivity, as traditionally conceived, journalists have long been taught that there are two sides, and often two opposed sides, to every story.

All of the latter were African American or Latino, and Lederer began to obtain videotaped confessions on the night of April 20. Then, too, the power of the criminal justice system had been activated. Third, though hardly least in the genesis of high-profile crime cases, the press was on hand. An almost instantaneous back-and-forth communication was by now taking place between the latter two institutional actors—the representatives of the criminal justice system and the various media that had picked up the story.

For example, in addition to the New York Times coverage, I read all local Daily News coverage for New York City cases,27 for the “Tyson” case, I read all local Indianapolis Star coverage, and for the “William Kennedy Smith” case, all Palm Beach Post coverage. To avoid relying exclusively on coverage by mainstream newspapers, I included media accounts of the seven cases in well-known local papers serving predominantly minority communities. For example, for New York City cases I drew on the Amsterdam News’s coverage of relevant cases; for Los Angeles cases, articles written in the Los Angeles Sentinel.

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