Document Type


Publication Date



Media coverage of legal issues, Crime reporting, Courts and television, Pretrial publicity and jury prejudice, Fictional portrayals of law, Contempt of Court Act, Litigation explosion and tort reform, Cameras in court


Courts | Criminal Law | Law and Society


Because most of the public has little direct experience with the justice system, public knowledge and views of law and the legal system are largely dependent on media representations. The media provide many lessons about law and justice. In the average American household, a TV set is on for over 7 hours each day, and individual members of the family watch television for about 3 hours. Television news and police and crime dramas account for a substantial amount of incidental learning about the nature of the legal system. Newspapers and films also contribute to the public's knowledge and attitudes about law and the legal system.

This contribution reviews and analyzes the impact of this coverage of law on the public. First, we consider how the media present law, crime, and justice. Our analysis of the content and style of media coverage of legal issues leads to the conclusion that the media mirror presents a distorted view of law. We then discuss the impact of these media distortions on people's knowledge of and attitudes toward law and crime. We conclude with an examination of the effect of media coverage of courtroom trials on juries, the people's representative in court.

Publication Citation

Published in: American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 35, no. 2 (November-December 1991).