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Copyright (c) 2004 The Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law
The Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law

Fear Factor: The Role of Media in Covering and Shaping the Death Penalty

Spring, 2004

Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law

1 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 585


Susan Bandes *


I. Introduction

Now that there is a book of academic writing available about the Simpsons (The D'oh of Homer 1), perhaps a reference to a scene from that show might have the proper academic cachet. When Sideshow Bob is caught redhanded attempting to kill his brother, Police Chief Wiggams wheels the gurney up to Bob and prepares to strap him in. Bob asks, "Isn't it customary to have a trial first?" and Wiggams replies, "Oh, a wise guy, eh?" As we read media accounts of the jurisdictional jockeying over who would get to impose a death sentence on accused D.C. area snipers John Mohammad and Lee Malvo before they were brought to trial, or about the Illinois clemency hearings in which the cries for execution drowned out discussion of serious flaws with the administration of the death penalty, we might ask whether Chief Wiggams' attitude toward procedural protections is confined to the cartoons.

Substantial work has been done on media's coverage of crime, in particular its insistent focus on violent crime. Very little work has been done specifically on media's relationship to the death penalty. Although much of what has been said about media and crime is highly relevant to this topic, the death penalty presents its own complex set of challenges for the media, and these are the focus of this piece.

Law and media exist in a complex feedback loop. Television, with some help from other media, has become our culture's ...
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