of Communications faculty member Brooke Barnett had her article
"Guilty and Threatening: Visual Bias in Television News Crime
Stories" published in the most recent issue of Journalism and
Mass Communication Monographs.
she wrote an op-ed reflection on her study for the Greensboro News
& Record. The column, "TV Images Create Unconsious Bias,"
ran in the Ideas section of the Dec. 14 edition of the News &
She leads off
the op-ed writing:
media treat the public to a seemingly endless procession of images
of defendants being led into court dressed in orange jumpsuits,
handcuffed and escorted by police. Such images are a staple of TV
news. They are also a significant and widely ignored contributor
to jury bias and may undermine the constitutional right to a fair
her study of such visuals in the op-ed piece. Her finding is that
when criminal defendants are shown on television cuffed and in prison
garb, viewers do perceive them to be more dangerous than defendants
in a similar setting who are shown unrestrained and wearing street
clothes. She adds that this impact was shown in her study to be
even more prejudicial than a viewer's knowledge of a suspect's prior
study participants were asked two weeks later what they recalled
about such a defendant, most recalled thinking he was guilty, even
when they couldn't remember anything else about the defendant or
crime," Barnett writes. "This study shows that the TV
image plays a key role, and jurors might not realize their determination
out that members of the media, judges and lawyers are not always
factoring in visual bias when considering the rights of the accused.
She suggests street clothes should be the standard uniform instead
of prison garb when a defendant is being moved from place to place.
She adds that the administrators of the U.S. legal system could
offer defendants the choice to be photographed by members of the
media in street clothes in a non-descript room, rather than in flashy
orange on what has come to be known as a "perp walk,"
a shorthand phrase for the exposure of a suspected perpetrator of
a crime in an embarassing public display.
treats a brief look at the accused wearing prison clothes and being
restrained in the courtroom as harmless error and not as reason
for a mistrial," she concludes. "This study suggests that
the courts will have to consider the impact of this action on the
defendant more carefully ... Journalists should rethink showing
the standard jail transport, where the accused is shown in institutional
clothes and restraints. Ultimately, this may require not using post-arrest
images at all.
are not easy issues, but the evidence is too strong, the risk of
bias too great, and the threat to constitutionally protected rights
too real for either legal professionals or journalists to ignore