The intersection of race and crime in television news stories: An experimental study

Mark Peffley, Todd Shields, Bruce Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

171 Scopus citations


Studies of media content consistently find that black criminal suspects are portrayed more frequently and more menacingly than white suspects in television news stories of violent crime. Here we investigate the impact of such portrayals on white viewers’ attitudes by means of a video experiment in which we manipulate only the visual image of the race of the suspect in a television news story of violent crime. We found, consistent with our expectations, that even a brief visual image of an African American male suspect in a televised crime story was capable of activating racial stereotypes, which in turn heavily biased whites’ evaluations of the suspect along racial lines. Thus, white participants in our experiment who endorsed negative stereotypes of African Americans viewed the black suspect in the crime story as more guilty, more deserving of punishment, more likely to commit future violence, and with more fear and loathing than a similarly portrayed white suspect. In the conclusion of the article, we discuss the implications of our findings for the study of racial stereotyping, visual images, and the intersection of race and crime in television newscasts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-327
Number of pages19
JournalPolitical Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 1996


  • Crime news
  • Experimental research
  • Race
  • Stereotypes
  • Visual images

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


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