Sunday, February 12, 2006

How Crime Pays

Reporting about crime pays the bills of the television networks and the newspapers.

This must be the case, because otherwise it would be hard to explain why we hear about a disappearance on a tourist island for months after there have been no new information about it, why we get exclusives on the men who kill their pregnant wives or on the women who kill their children. But we hear very little about most of the violent crime that takes place in this country: that which takes place in the poor, urban centers. The victims are not deemed interesting enough and if the crimes are covered there is often an explicitly racist fear factor in the coverage.

The most recent crime that pays is the one where the American wife and daughter of a British man were found dead. Why is this particular crime so important to report on, nonstop? It is awful, true, and obviously worth reporting, but is it more relevant for us than knowing what is happening in Iraq? And what, specifically, is so entrancing about this act of violence that we need to be informed about every step taken in the investigations?

It seems that the reason for all the extra interest is that the husband, the major suspect in the case, is British. Are crimes possibly committed by British people more heinous than those committed by Americans? Or is it so interesting that he was arrested in Britain rather than here? Is the whole point of the story to make it clear that other people might be murderers, too, not just Americans?

I don't know. If there are two types of news, the ones about the dog who bit a man and the man who bit the dog, then we are surely getting the latter type in the crime reporting that suddenly swamps the media. But will that make us believe that men biting dogs is a common and serious problem?

I wonder.