Table Topics questions are meant to stimulate family and classroom discussion.
Use the questions below after reading,"Crime and punishment"
During the hard times of the '30s, people escaped from harsh reality into romantic fantasy.
It was a time of glitz in the movies and glamorization of crime. What was the appeal of
crime and criminals like John Dillinger and the infamous Bonnie and Clyde? How did the media contribute to it?
People made folk heroes of those who dared to defy the rules or their social station.
How do common or disadvantaged people get media attention today?
- Today we make a distinction between "respectable" mainstream news media and lurid
tabloid-style newspapers and TV shows. The term "media frenzy" is often used to describe coverage of
sensational trials like those of O.J., the Menendez Brothers, Susan Smith, etc.
In your opinion, do the distinctions sometimes blur in these cases? What harm do you see
in so-called "yellow journalism?"
- Economic times have changed, but our fascination for villains is alive and well.
Can you think of contemporary criminals that deliberately sought fame and notoriety?
What's behind the phenomena of "copycat crimes" or women who "fall in love" with criminals?
What crimes or "bad" people do we tend to glamorize today? Do you think legalized gambling
and the current crop of aggressive sport and music stars are popular because of our vicarious
yearnings for luck or danger? Are these stars bad role models for children that affect their
behavior or innocuous outlets for repressed rebelliousness?
- A few days after Leo Hall was charged with murder, The Times published an artistic rendering
of his facial features and a handwriting analysis that "demonstrated" his criminal tendencies.
Prejudicial publicity was so common that courts did not question it. Do you think it was harder
to get a fair trial in those days? Or conversely, easier to convict a criminal?
- Today, The Times would never publish an altered photograph and has strict guidelines
for fair treatment of suspects, victims and witnesses. Why? Modern defense attorneys often
want cases dismissed or court venues moved, citing extensive pre-trial publicity as unfair
to their clients. And prosecutors often want to limit media access for similar reasons
so their cases won't be damaged. What's a good balance between the sometimes competing
interests of the public's right to know and fairness?
- In the Erland Point beach murders, the lifestyle of the victims became a media issue.
The newspaper portrayed them as indulgent party-goers and loose characters, implying
that questionable choices may have contributed to their deaths. Are victim's lifestyles
still fair game for the media? Should they be?
- Some people say they avoid newspapers because they don't carry enough good news.
Yet folk wisdom has long declared that "crime sells newspapers," implying that the more sensational
the news, the better for sales. What do you think? Do newspapers focus too much on bad news? Is "sensational"
news what people really want because it's human nature to be curious about the bad or bizarre?
Copyright © 1996 The Seattle Times Company