Does the Media Effect How Jurors Assign Guilt in Cases of Individual and Organizational Wrongdoing?

Jeannine A. Gailey, The University of Akron
Matthew T. Lee, University of Akron

This paper examines the impact of the media on the assignment of responsibility for both individual and organizational wrongdoing. That the media has a considerable effect on the way people view and judge everyday events, including crime and deviance, is an assumption that is built into the criminal justice system and reflected in the jury selection process. However, few studies have empirically examined the nature of the presumed media effect, particularly in cases of organizational wrongdoing. This study addresses this gap by using a randomized block design to randomly assign students in undergraduate classes to the either a "media" or control group and to then assign individuals within those classes to one of two vignettes (based on the Cold War human radiation experiments) where the role of the actor (an autonomous or obedient scientist who participated in the experiments) was manipulated. Data were collected from 201 students enrolled in Introduction to Sociology courses at a large Midwestern university to examine whether the media, role, or both, shaped respondents' attributions of responsibility with respect to the individual and/or organization involved in the Cold War human radiation experiments. Results indicate that both role and media effect how respondents assign responsibility; however, findings suggest that the media matters more for organizations than individuals. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for the jury selection process.

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Updated 05/20/2006