Consider the difference between these two sentences from a hypothetical
news story describing the same event:
- The bicyclist entered the intersection and was struck by a car.
- The car’s driver made a right turn on red and struck a bicyclist
using the crosswalk.
The phrasing of sentence number one suggests the bicyclist’s choices
caused the collision. Sentence number two suggests just the opposite.
Unfortunately, the media usually chooses sentences like number one, placing
favor in the driver’s corner.
This is the finding of a recent study by two University of South Florida
(USF) researchers, Julie Bond and Erin Sheffels, who analyzed numerous
news reports on fatal
bicycle accidents. Specifically, Bond and Sheffels conducted a “critical discourse
analysis” of almost 200 news reports of 94 cycling deaths in the
Tampa area between 2009 and 2018.
The analysis revealed patterns of phrasing and word usage that subtly,
but consistently, put blame on the bicyclist. When bicyclists were struck,
many times the media report would simply refer to a “truck”
or a “car,” without mentioning the car or truck driver’s
name. The reports would often use passive voice language, such as stating
that a bicyclist “was hit by a car,” rather than explaining
the motor vehicle driver’s role in the event. This lack of focus
on agency or decision-making of the driver silently assigns blame to the
person on the bike. It suggests that only the actions of the bicyclist
mattered to what happened.
Lack of Context, Sociopolitical Biases & Other Issues
The analysis also revealed other problems with coverage. Most media reports
lacked context, making each death seem like a random, unconnected event.
This creates the impression that bicyclist deaths are unavoidable “acts
of God” — like lightning strikes — instead of preventable
events caused by predictable factors like
negligent motorists or poor road design.
While all bicyclists were subject to this bias, people of lower income
were even more likely to be blamed for their deaths. Researchers Bond
and Sheffield found that they were more likely to have blame placed on
them, while more affluent bicyclists might receive more sympathetic coverage,
such as comments from grieving family members.
To some degree, the media’s coverage of such stories often took on
the bias implicit in police reports. Statements from police were often
parroted in media accounts, even when that information was inaccurate
or itself biased. This further reinforces the unfortunate blaming of victims.
In recent years, reporters have discussed inflammatory topics like suicide
and sexual assault with greater sensitivity and awareness. Reporters should
read the findings of the USF researchers and think carefully about how
to fairly cover bicyclist deaths as well.
Proud Legal Advocates for the Wrongfully Injured
At Roman & Gaynor, our Florida bicycle accident attorneys are adamant
about providing a voice to injured bicyclists, and the families of those
who lost their lives in bicycle accidents. We know the truth is often
far from what media reports claim. By standing up for your rights and
insisting on your fair treatment as your claim progresses, we hope to
secure a maximized compensation amount to cover all of your damages. This
is what we have been doing for more than
50 combined years of legal practice, and we do it well.
To schedule a
free case evaluation with our personal injury lawyers in Clearwater, Florida, call 727.877.1212
at any time.