Monday, April 27, 2009

Murder Myths, Tort Myths

Friday evening I went to a lecture by UW sociologist Joe Weis, "'Just the Facts, Ma'am': Investigating Murder Myths." As you'd expect from the title, he debunked a lot of commonly held beliefs -- that murder is up, that serial murder is up, that there are thousands of little children abducted and murdered each year.

Washington State now has the lowest murder rate it's had since 1960. Far from being on the rise, murder has been dropping for the last couple of decades.

Parallels with the work of UW political scientist Michael McCann were striking. When Weis described another scholar's study of newspaper reports of murders in L.A. County finding that only a fraction were reported, it seemed very much like McCann's discussion of media coverage of tort cases. Murders are more likely to be reported if there are multiple victims, if the victims are of high socio-economic class, if there are "extra" factors like mutilation -- and so the public has a skewed perception of murder. Jury verdicts are more likely to be reported if they are very large or surprising in some way -- and so the public has a skewed perception of civil litigation.

For more on McCann's work, see William Halton & Michael McCann, Distorting the Law: Politics, Media, and the Litigation Crisis, KF380 .H358 2004 at Good Reads. (Of course this is William Halton's work, too, but he's at UPS and McCann is here...)

1 comment:

BloggerPal said...

Attention grabbing crimes either because of the identity of the victims or manner of death are the ones most likely to gain air time on television or space in newspapers.