The photo above is from one of the most famous car chases in recent memory. Football player O.J. Simpson is in the white SUV fleeing the police with a gun to his head. He is wanted for the murder of his wife and her lover, and the whole world was watching, captivated. However, the country’s fascination with this chase, and the trial that followed it was completely due to the fact that the suspect was famous and the media’s subsequently extensive coverage of it.
In The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills writes, “The individual does not trust his own experience… until it is confirmed by others or by the media.” I would venture to say that the significance of this event to the people who actually witnessed it in person is enlarged due to the media coverage and the entire buzz that surrounded it afterward. If the event had gone unreported, as many police chases and/or arrests do, the significance of witnessing it would be diminished.
Today, as I was driving on Interstate 5 near Griffith Park, I saw several police cars rushing to a scene, and I wondered instantly whether it would be on the news. (I couldn’t take a picture because I was driving, unfortunately.) When I searched for it on the Internet, there was no information and my experience of it was not confirmed. It is now hardly of any importance to me at all. As Mills says, “…we often do not really believe what we see before us until we read about it in the paper or hear about it on the radio.” I think this is an example of what Mills calls, “psychological Illiteracy.” The media has the power to determine which events are significant in the minds of the masses. “Our standards of credulity, our standards of reality, tend to be set by these media rather than by our own fragmentary experience.”
Does racism play a role in which events receive media coverage and, consequently, take on more significance to ‘the people’?
If the media can influence the very “realness” of an event, what other ways can media coverage skew public perception?
Think about how many instances of police brutality could have occurred without any media coverage and consequently might as well not have happened due to psychological illiteracy.