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Covering the Dawsons: Racial Variation in Newspaper Framing of Urban Crime


Sociological Forum

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["\nThis article uses newspaper coverage of a case from Baltimore, Maryland, to explore racial variation in the rhetorical framing of urban crime. In October 2002, seven members of the Dawson family were murdered in a house fire. The murders became an expression of Baltimore’s character and the lives of its residents. After analyzing 206 newspaper articles about the case, we find stark differences in the way the case, its causes, and its consequences are presented to readers. Newspapers with primarily white audiences—both “mainstream” and “alternative” papers—present the case as a horrific, singular instance, placing responsibility on the perpetrator. In contrast, articles in African American newspapers offer a complex web of explanation, calling attention to the structural inequalities and disparate access to state resources. Whereas white newspaper portray the Dawson family as martyrs in the drug war, black newspapers position the family as part of a wider of community of African Americans who are victims of slack policing, racial discrimination, and negligent social policy. We argue that these rhetorical differences are more than cosmetic. Rather, they provide a framework for better understanding the relationship between the press and policy makers. Differences in coverage of the case also contribute to our understanding of why blacks and whites have fundamentally different understandings of race in the United States.\n", "Sociological Forum, Volume 35, Issue S1, Page 1040-1057, September 2020. "]