White Vans and Misdirected Fears: Media Construction of Crimes Threats and the "Beltway Sniper"

Richard Featherstone, University of Northern Iowa
Stephen Muzzatti, University of Northern Iowa

One of the more recent criminal events to generate nationwide public attention was the "Beltway Sniper" shootings. From October 2 until October 24, 2002 the news media covered the topic with unusual intensity. During this time period much of America's attention was focused on the Communities in and around the nation's capital. We argue that the heavy coverage of this event was neither accidental or inevitable. We begin our argument by explaining how the sniper shootings were a unique crime event that possessed many of the prerequisites for sensationalist crime coverage. We suggest, however, that the specific presentation of the "Beltway Sniper" was intentionally and meticulously constructed by the news media in accordance with dominant crime mythologies. Utilising a content analysis the authors dissect the mediated reality of the "Beltway Sniper" presented by The Washington Post. We illustrate that the sniper story was framed in such a way as to reproduce dominant discourses about crime threats, victimisation risk and public fear.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006