'Speaking of Murder' Invents True-Crime 'Media Autopsy'

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Bonnie Bucqueroux' new book dissects the media coverage of three famous crime cases: the Fatty Arbuckle "murder" trials, the Kitty Genovese case where neighbors heard her being killed but did nothing and Truman Capote's creation of the non-fiction novel "In Cold Blood" about the Clutter murders in Kansas.

Exploring how journalists cover famous crimes tells us a lot about ourselves and our attitudes toward justice

Author Bonnie Bucqueroux’ new book Speaking of Murder: Media Autopsies of Famous Crime Cases dissects three famous crime cases through the lens of their media coverage. “A media autopsy looks at the role of the media in helping or hindering efforts to bring justice to the accused, as well as to the victims and their families and to the community,” says Bucqueroux, a faculty member at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism where she previously served as coordinator of the Victims and the Media Program.

In Volume One, Bucqueroux conducts media autopsies on three famous cases from the past:

Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle stood trial three times for a crime that likely never occurred. Aspiring starlet Virginia Rappe died of an infection after a private party that the press transformed into alcohol-fueled orgy, with the lovable comedian cast in the role of the villain. (Arbuckle’s 125th birthday would be this March 24.)

Kitty Genovese was returning home late at night after work when she was attacked on the street and killed by a stranger. What made her case unique was that Abe Rosenthal of The New York Times discovered that 38 witnesses heard her scream during the half-hour she was raped and stabbed but did nothing to help her.

Acclaimed novelist Truman Capote invented the “non-fiction novel” to tell the story of the murder of four members of the Clutter family of Kansas and the subsequent arrest, trial and execution of the two men who killed them. Bucqueroux explores how Capote crafted his masterpiece and at the toll covering such cases inflicts on the journalists who report on them.

Bucqueroux’ website (http://www.speakingofmurder.wordpress.com) offers a free downloadable Study Guide for high school and college instructors who can use the book in English, journalism, criminal justice and sociology classes.

“I teach an introduction to mass media course, and I find that students need to practice their critical thinking skills, to tease out the impact that media coverage of crime has on our society. We are both repelled and fascinated by murder cases, so they serve as excellent case studies for students to consider, ” said Bucqueroux. “We also need to discuss the role of journalists in helping us understand why such crimes persist and how we can do a better job of preventing them.”

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