During the 1990s, the US crime rate declined precipitously.David L. Altheide, Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2002). Yet the amount of coverage of crime in the news media increased dramatically. Crime shows filled television. Hollywood films moved from a liberal to a conservative image of law.Timothy O. Lenz, Changing Images of Law in Film & Television Crime Stories (New York: Peter Lang, 2003). The media broadened what is considered “criminal behavior.”Elayne Rapping, Law and Justice as Seen on TV (New York: New York University Press, 2003). This abundance of fictional depictions and factual reports framed crime as a threat, increased the public’s fear, and primed crime as a problem demanding a response from policymakers.
Public officials designed tough policies to stop this imagined outbreak of crime. These included treating juvenile offenders like adults, instituting mandatory minimum and longer sentences, the imposition of a lengthy prison term after a third conviction no matter how minor the crime (the catchy “three strikes” provision), and increasing the number of offenses subject to the death penalty.Sara Sun Beale, “The News Media’s Influence on Criminal Justice Policy: How Market-Driven News Promotes Punitiveness,” William and Mary Law Review 48, no. 2 (2006): 397–480. These policies made little sense to experts as ways of preventing crime. They also cost a lot of money: California spent more on prisons than on all its public universities combined.
Clearly, media depictions—amount of coverage, framing, and priming—can influence public policies for better or worse.
This chapter is devoted to policymaking and domestic policies. It covers the economic crisis and economic policies; the influences on policies of political parties, interest groups, and public opinion; and the major policies. It concludes with policymaking and domestic policies in the information age and with civic education.