Transmitting Race: The Los Angeles Riot in Television News

By Erna Smith

A paper by Erna Smith, fall 1992 fellow, examines framing in the TV news coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles riot. Smith analyzes the content of television broadcasts before, during and after the riot on ten television stations, and draws three main conclusions. First, the study suggests that television news coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles riot emphasized the involvement and impact of the violence on blacks and Koreans, but significantly downplayed the involvement of and impact on Latinos. Second, the study found substantial differences in the nature of the coverage on the three major networks and on local news stations in Los Angeles. Third, this pattern is consistent with the findings on local and national television news portrayals of racial minorities in general. On local news, people of color were most often depicted as criminals or victims of crime, and on national news, they were most often depicted as victims of society. The study concludes by considering possible reasons for these findings, and the implications of this study for understanding race relations as portrayed on television news.

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