Sex Roles, Vol. 51, Nos. 9/10, November 2004 (
Twice Hurt: How Newspaper Coverage May Reduce
Empathy and Engender Blame for Female Victims of Crime
Phyllis A. Anastasio
and Diana M. Costa
In a content analysis of 148 newspaper articles we examined whether victims of violent crime
(excluding sex crimes) are treated differently according to their gender. Articles taken from 4
newspapers showed that accounts of violent crime personalize male victims more than female
victims: more personal information was included about male victims, and males were signiﬁ-
cantly more likely to be referred to by name rather than by a noun (“the victim”) or pronoun.
In a second study we investigated whether such treatment could affect both empathy for the
victim and victim blame. Participants read an account of a murder that manipulated victim
gender, degree of personal information, and the manner in which the victim was described.
Empathy for the victim was increased across victim gender by both inclusion of personal
information and referring to the victim by name. Victim blame was also reduced by the inclu-
sion of personal information. Implications of how the news media may subtly reduce empathy
and engender blame for female victims are discussed.
KEY WORDS: media; news; victim gender; victim blame; empathy.
The news represents but one small slice of all
mass media, yet it possesses enormous power to
subtly shape our perceptions of important issues, of
other people, of the world. The issues the public per-
ceives as critical are very likely to be the same ones
recently highlighted by the news media (Glassner,
1999; McCombs & Reynolds, 2002), which demon-
strates the power of the media for “agenda-setting.”
The Mean World Phenomenon describes the link
between heavy television viewing and escalated
perceptions of danger (Rule & Ferguson, 1986). And
Mullen et al. (1986) made us aware that just the
understated smile of an anchorman may be enough
to sway something as critical and deliberate as voting
behavior: viewers who watched Peter Jennings smile
as he delivered news of Ronald Reagan’s 1984
Department of Psychology, Saint Joseph’s University,
Present address: AstraZeneca Wilmington, Delaware.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department
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presidential campaign were more likely to vote for
Reagan than those who watched other, more neutral
News can also serve to anchor gender and racial
stereotypes ﬁrmly in the public’s minds, albeit in a
very subtle manner. For instance, Archer and his
colleagues (Archer, Iritani, Kimes, & Barrios, 1983)
found that men and women are typically portrayed
differently in news photographs: there were more
close-up shots of men than of women. Zuckerman
and Kieffer (1994) found that this “face-ism” effect
also varies as a function of the race of the target
person; Whites were pictured in close-ups more
often than Blacks were. Both research teams found
A recent example of how the news media may inﬂuence view-
ers’ perceptions of the world is seen in the report released by the
Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) on October 2,
2003. It was found that Americans’ misperceptions of the Iraq in-
vasion were correlated with the source from which they received
their news; the fewest misperceptions were found among those
who received their news from National Public Radio or the Public
Broadcasting Company, and the most misperceptions were found
among those who viewed Fox News.
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