How the American Media Packaged Lynching 1850-1940: Constructing the Meaning of Social Events

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Examines the manner in which the national media in the United States treated lynching and vigilante activity between 1850 and 1940. The perspective emphasizes the importance of media framing, sponsor and opponent activity, and media balance. Since not all lynching incidents can be studied, critical discourse moments are selected.


“Previous social science research on lynching has emphasized the causes of lynching. Subjects for investigation included the link between economic conditions and the incidence of lynching. In contrast to this line of research, Dr. Wasserman’s book deals with a neglected issue. He is concerned with how the news media packaged or framed lynching. Such an analysis is useful not only to those interested in how the media constructs meaning to social events, but also to constructing an understanding of the social forces behind the perpetuation of lynching well into the twentieth century ... A special feature of the book is an original analysis of public opinion survey data on lynching. The Gallup Polls of the 1930s included a question concerning opinion on the anti-lynching laws proposed in the U.S. Congress. These data are cleverly analyzed in the Appendix. This book should prove to be of great interest to academic and associated audiences in several areas including sociology, mass communications, history, and race relations ...” – (from the Preface) Professor Steven Stack, Wayne State University

“Lying at the intersection of race and gender, and contrasting starkly with basic American values, lynching engages our strongest emotions. How could such a practice have been widely accepted in the United States? Although studies often acknowledge print media as a factor in both fomenting and eliminating lynching, Dr. Wasserman demonstrates its key role ... Not only does he examine the portrayal of events in the local press, but he also looks at how these events were portrayed nationally, especially in The New York Times ...” – Whitney Pope, Professor Emeritus, Indiana University

“By treating news as ‘discourse,’ Dr. Wasserman’s exacting study of media coverage of lynching avoids the ahistorical reductions of standard sociological news research that embraces the traditional ‘news as information’ paradigm. In chapters that are both bold and nuanced, Dr. Wasserman explores significant differences in the coverage of the western vigilante lynching and lynching in other regions of the United States ... Indeed, in a day when journalism struggles to make sense of ‘torture’ and ‘terrorism,’ Dr. Wasserman’s book serves as a innovative model for studying any form of collective social behavior.” – Professor Jimmie L. Reeves, Texas Tech University

Table of Contents

Preface by Steven Stack
1. Historical and Cultural Changes in the Lynching Era
2. Lynching in the United States
3. The Evolving Media
4. The Social Constructionist Model
5. The Media and Western Vigilante Lynchings
6. The Media and Southern and Border State Lynchings: 1882-1919
7. The Media and Southern and Border State Lynchings: 1920-1940
8. The Media and Non-Southern and Non-Border State Lynchings: 1882-1940
9. The Media and the Framing of Lynching in the United States
Appendices I, II and III
Bibliography Index

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