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The Treatment of Persons of Color in Local Television News: Ethnic Blame Discourse or Realistic Group Conflict



Blaming outgroups for social problems is a common discursive practice. However, it is not clear whether this discourse represents ethnocentric bias or realistic group conflict. To compare these explanations, the authors studied 14 weeks of local television news on three stations in Philadelphia. The authors found that persons of color were heavily presented in stories about crime, and within those stories were more likely to be presented as perpetrators of crime than as persons reacting to or suffering from it. An analysis using recent homicide rates in Philadelphia and a rational model of expected victimization indicated that contrary to a realistic-conflict explanation, White actors were overpresented as victims of violence compared to their roles as perpetrators, and persons of color were overpresented as perpetrators of violence against White actors. These patterns were consistent with the hypothesis that the news media engage in a discourse of ethnic blame that is independent of realistic group conflict.