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Coverage of Domestic Violence Fatalities by Newspapers in Washington State

NCJ Number
Journal of Interpersonal Violence Volume: 17 Issue: 5 Dated: May 2002 Pages: 475-499
Cathy Ferrand Bullock; Jason Cubert
Date Published
May 2002
Using quantitative content analysis and frame analysis, this study examined the coverage of domestic-violence homicides by all Washington State newspapers in 1998.
To be included in the study, a domestic violence case had to involve people who were or had been romantically involved and a death or a clear attempt to kill the person. Approximately 40 of the State's newspapers (close to 190) had coverage of domestic-violence fatalities in 1998. Forty-four cases were included in this analysis. For each incident, the analysis determined whether the coverage mentioned domestic violence as a context; whether it portrayed the incident as isolated or part of a pattern of abuse between the perpetrator and the victim; whether the homicide was part of a larger social problem of domestic violence; whether the case involved psychological abuse as well as physical abuse; whether the coverage blamed the victim and/or exonerated the perpetrator; and the sources used. Overall, the analyses of the newspaper coverage found that it gave a distorted view of domestic violence and victims' experiences, often supporting common misconceptions about domestic violence. The coverage generally presented the fatalities as isolated incidents rather than manifestations of a larger social problem. Only a few articles portrayed the incident as evidence of a social problem with the potential to affect every reader. Some of the coverage presented the victim and/or perpetrator as different, blamed the victim, or excused the perpetrator. The reporting relied heavily on official sources of information and often used a police frame, which tended to lead to the omission of information from people who knew the victim and perpetrator and the characteristics of the abusive relationship leading to the homicide. The coverage thus omits issues of male control, manipulation, and the abuse of women. 3 tables, 5 notes, 58 references, and appended list of newspapers that included coverage