An Analysis of Five News Articles

Introduction There have been different theories to explain the nature and motivation of crime. The ordinary man’s access to crime is through the media, considered by many as a “window to the world” (Newburn, 2001). In contrast, some observers have pointed out that media is more often than not, an exaggerated representation of crime, prone to sensationalism and “infotainment”. In this manner, media has become agreeably the greatest source of our knowledge and our fears.

This paper presents an analysis of five recent newspaper articles presented in descending order, exploring how criminological theories are used in each, including the differences or intersections of crime and criminology as applied in theory and the objectivity of crime analysis in the articles. Article 1: Conn. man was on a ‘suicide mission,’ cops say MSNBC, July 9, 2009 NBC covered a story about a Connecticut man who held his ex-wife hostage and burned her house down while threatening to kill her and himself. The perpetrator, Richard Shenkman, 60, is reported to be on a suicide mission.

His ex-wife, Tyler, managed to escape and Shenkman was thereafter charged with kidnapping, arson, reckless endangerment and the illegal discharge of a weapon. The news article provided a detailed account of Shenkman’s many frustrations and a history of “angry and threatening” behavior, supporting the strain theory of crime in trying to explain what had caused this ad executive to hold his wife hostage and burn her house down. The article tells of a man driven to his limits and suffering from severe mental anguish.

Shenkman’s 2007 letter to Tyler’s lawyer reveal his utter sense of helplessness and inability to achieve what he views as positive values such as money and an intact family. “I am totally broke. In money. Mind and spirit. All I have left is the ability to shout to the world what you and Nancy have done to me, her children and herself,” he wrote in that letter. Strain emerges from negative relationships with others (Agnew, 1992); in this case, Shenkman’s negative relationship with his wife and a history of negative relationships with his other two wives.

Tyler had earlier filed for divorce, which was granted after 3 years. Shenk had appealed but failed and in this manner, had lost belief in the role that law enforcement or the justice system plays in realizing his expectation (Agnew, 1992), which is to win his wife back. This could possibly explain his defiance and utter lack of respect for authority, even taunting the police at times and completely ignoring restraining orders against him. Article 2: Retired NFL QB Steve McNair killed in murder-suicide by 20-year-old woman The Daily News, July 5, 2009

The Daily News covered the murder-suicide of retired NFL superstar Steve McNair and 20-year old Sarah Kazemi, who were allegedly dating at the time the murder happened. The police speculated that Kazemi killed McNair and then turned the gun on herself. Although the story pointed out there was no clear suspect yet based on evidence, it presented opinions from detectives pointing to Kazemi as the most likely suspect. The coverage of the murder-suicide hinted of the application of the strain theory as a possible cause for the crime, particularly of a “goal blockage”.

The strain theory purports to the idea that crime springs from a failure to achieve positively valued goals like money, success or love. The gap between the person’s view of what the outcome should be and what actually happens in reality increases personal disappointment and can lead to anger (Akers, 2000). In this case, McNair was reportedly deceiving the young girl of a possible future with him, buying her a Cadillac Escalade registered to both their names, making her hopeful and “making her believe they were going to be together, and everything would be perfect.

” What could have possibly triggered the murder was due to the frustration and anger that resulted from realizing that the goal (being with McNair, who was married and had three children) was unattainable. I observed a selective bias in favor of McNair, evident in positive quotes from people about McNair’s brilliance as an athlete and his philanthropic work while ignoring to cite his adulterous tendencies. In contrast, Kazemi was portrayed as a reckless, wanton, woman who received gifts from a wealthy married man who “drank under influence” and “got high. ” Article 3: French Jewish murder trial opens

BBC, April 29, 2009 The story reported the kidnap-murder of a Jewish man in France by immigrant Youssouf Fofana. Fofana admitted kidnapping 23-year-old Ilan Halimi with the aid of 26 co-conspirators from a street gang known as “The Barbarians”. The story, in my view, focused too much on the racial angle as main motivation of the crime. I believe it should have used subcultural theory themes, used popularly to explain gang violence. Fofana’s accomplices were mostly minors, living in immigrant zones, all of whom shared a reverence for the former whom they acknowledged as leader.

This could be explained with an integration of the Cultural Transmission Theory and Social Disorganization Theory which posits that the poorest areas in a city is a birthplace of deviant behavior that is acculturated and transmitted from one generation to the next and becomes normal in the process (Shaw, 1930). There is strain (due to a perceived wide gap of opportunities between the rich and poor); Fofana in this case, perceived the Jews as the haves and the Muslim-French as the have-nots. By insisting that “Jews were loaded”, he justifies them as key targets for kidnap for ransom.

The news report attempted to capitalize on Fofana’s professed Islamic faith, which to my view unfairly promoted a brand of Islamophobia I believe pervades in Western media today. During the presentation of the piece, he emphasized Fofana’s shout of “God is great” – a phrase that has become synonymous to suicide bombing or Islamic terrorists. This too, my view was not necessary in reporting the crime. Article 4: Josef Fritzl: The monster in the cellar The Sunday Times, May 4, 2008 The Sunday Times featured a crime story that elicited global condemnation.

Josef Fritzl, 73, of Amstetten, Austria imprisoned, sexually abused and impregnated her 17-year old daughter. He fathered seven children with her before she resurfaced 35 years later when her daughter was taken to the hospital after falling ill. Admittedly, this crime story left a chilling impression on me. When I read the story, I observed that Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic perspective was used in order to explain the profile of the person who has come to be known as das inzest monster from Austria.

Freud’s theory of the human personality suggests that the criminal is “an id-dominated person who suffers from an inability to control impulsive, pleasure-seeking drives” (Hare, 1999). Fritzl is described in the story as a man who was too “driven for power” and was seen to have a weak spot which he compensated for through his sadistic behavior. Being poor and insecure as a child could have contributed to his pleasure-seeking, sadist behavior – revealed in the past by a rape conviction and alleged voyeuristic behavior.

He is described to be overly conscious of his looks, particularly his thinning hair and wants to wield “the absolute power of the patriarch. ” There were also feminist criminological themes used in the story, particularly that which pointed to “the suppression of women and authoritarian education” dating back to the Nazi era as a contributor to the crime. Fritzl was described in the story as having “no mental illness”, which finds basis in academic literature. In acting out his sadistic behavior, Fritzl was rational and fully aware of the act being wrong; he even said “sorry” to his victims when he reversed his guilty plea.

Literature would tell us antisocial persons may express guilt or remorse in words and offer excuses but history of repeated criminal behavior displays lack of it. Article 5: Polygamist sect: the secrets of the Zion ranch The Independent, April 10, 2008 The U. S. was again rattled with child abuse allegations perpetrated by a fundamentalist sect of the Mormon Church. The story covered how law enforcement responded to an anonymous call from a woman who claimed to have been brainwashed into the cult and forced to have sexual relations with an older man and giving birth to a child with another one on the way.

The U. S. has had its own share of problems when handling secretive sects such as these that are cloaked with religious freedom to justify what is normally seen as deviant behavior. Polygamy practiced within a community is a deviation from what is accepted culturally, a view obviously shared by the news writer. The article presented the crimes committed (child abuse, rape) using cultural theories. In this case, the article detailed the history of polygamy practiced by the sect and how they had managed over time to practice this without interference from the outside world.

In the process, the crimes associated with the practice have become an accepted fact that comes with the equation of being “spiritually married. ” Conclusion The five news articles I reviewed described crime and its nature using several criminological theories such as the Strain Theory, Trait Theory, Social Disorganization Theory and Cultural Theory in varying degrees. There were portions in the articles reviewed that tended to sensationalize, present a selective bias or capitalized on themes such as sex and racism but overall, they presented crime with reference to criminological themes.

Crime was represented as something dependent on personality, culture, circumstances and even religion. References Agnew, R. & White, H. (1992). “An Empirical Test of General Strain Theory”. Criminology, 30(4), 475-99. Akers, R. (2000). Criminological Theories: Introduction, Evaluation, and Application. Los Angeles: Roxbury. Associated Press (2009, July 9). Conn. man was on a ‘suicide mission,’ cops say. MS NBC. Retrieved from http://www. msnbc. msn. com/id/31827877/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/ BBC News Service (2009, April 29).

French Jewish murder trial opens. BBC. Retrieved from http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/europe/8023990. stm Campbell, M. (2008, May 4). Josef Fritzl: The monster in the cellar. The UK Times. Retrieved from http://www. timesonline. co. uk/tol/news/world/europe/article3867629. ece Hare, R. D. (1999). Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. New York: Guilford Press. Newburn, T. (2001). Criminology. Oxford: Blackwell. Shaw, Clifford (1966). The Jackroller: A Delinquent Boy’s Own Story.

Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Shapiro, R. (2009, July 5). Retired NFL QB Steve McNair killed in murder-suicide by 20-year-old woman.

The Daily Times. Retrieved from http://www. nydailynews. com/news/us_world/2009/07/04/2009-07-04_former_nfl_quarterback_steve_mcnair_found_shot_dead_in_nashville_report. htm Usborne, D. (2008, April 10). Polygamist sect: the secrets of the Zion ranch. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www. independent. co. uk/news/world/americas/polygamist-sect-the-secrets-of-the-zion-ranch-807021. html=zon