Media Commentary: Crime in Reality and TV Shows "Ripped from the Headlines"

Jan 12, 2023 at 03:31 pm by WGNS News

Mixing actual police procedures in reality verses television shows or movies that are reportedly, “Ripped from the Headlines...” What's real and what can really be done? With today's media commentary, that's ripped from the headlines, here is MTSU Professor of Journalism Larry Burriss...



Verbatim of Burriss Audio: “How many times have we seen a television program that has supposedly been “ripped from the headlines”? Or we’ve seen programs that supposedly show us actual police procedures used in crime solving. There are even more than a dozen programs, supposedly reality-based, that take us, supposedly, step-by-step, through crime to punishment.

Unfortunately, this also means the public often has a distorted view of how police procedures work, and how long it often takes to solve a crime. And we only need to look at public, and media, reaction to the investigation of the quadruple murders in Idaho to see how unreasonable this public perception can be.

Right away it seemed the public, and media, expected a quick solution to the murders. As time went on, the local Moscow, Idaho, Idaho State Police, and the FBI came under more and more criticism for their failure to solve the crime.

The local police were said to be incompetent to handle such a complex quadruple murder investigation, and the FBI, well, for years, they have been having their own problems.

But now we know that although the killings occurred in the early morning of Nov. 11, less than two weeks later, on Nov. 25, Bryan Kohberger was already a suspect.

And how had this happened? Think about how often here have we talked about privacy? Well, police used video from numerous security cameras, and data from the suspect’s cell phone records, to track his movements to and from the murder scene.

So why didn’t the police say so, and prevent all of the public and media criticism?

Well, real police procedures, not what we see on television, often comprises small, step-by-step actions, like in this case finding out which states use front license plates and which don’t. Hardly dramatic, but in this case, essential to the investigation.

And, of course, releasing investigatory information prematurely could lead a suspect to destroy evidence, or make it harder to track them, or even implicate totally innocent people in the mind of the public.

Research has shown that people who watch a lot of police-related dramas on television often have unrealistic expectations of police work, which certainly happened in the Idaho murder case.

So I wonder if there will be a reality television program about that part of police work. I doubt it. - I’m Larry Burriss.”


About Dr. Burriss - Larry Burriss, professor of journalism, teaches introductory and media law courses. At the graduate level he teaches quantitative research methods and media law. He holds degrees from The Ohio State University (B.A. in broadcast journalism, M.A. in journalism), the University of Oklahoma (M.A. in human relations), Ohio University (Ph.D. in journalism) and Concord Law School (J.D.). He has worked in print and broadcast news and public relations, and has published extensively in both academic and popular publications. He has won first place in the Tennessee Associated Press Radio Contest nine times. Dr. Burriss' publications and presentations include studies of presidential press conferences, NASA photography, radio news, legal issues related to adolescent use of social networking sites, legal research, and Middle Earth.

Dr. Burriss has served as director of the School of Journalism, dean of the College of Mass Communication and president of the MTSU Faculty Senate. He was appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen to serve on the Tennessee Board of Regents. He was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and served on active duty in Mali, Somalia, Bosnia, Central America, Europe and the Pentagon.

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