Murder, the Media, and the Politics of Public Feelings

Murder, the Media, and the Politics of Public Feelings

Remembering Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr.
Jennifer Petersen
Distribution: World
Publication date: 08/18/2011
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-253-22339-5
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In 1998, the horrific murders of Matthew Shepard—a gay man living in Laramie, Wyoming—and James Byrd Jr.—an African American man dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas—provoked a passionate public outrage. The intense media coverage of the murders made moments of violence based in racism and homophobia highly visible and which eventually led to the passage of The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. The role the media played in cultivating, shaping, and directing the collective emotional response toward these crimes is the subject of this gripping new book by Jennifer Petersen. Tracing the emotional exchange from news stories to the creation of law, Petersen calls for an approach to media and democratic politics that takes into account the role of affect in the political and legal life of the nation.

Author Bio

Jennifer Petersen is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Media, Culture & Society and Critical Studies in Media Communication.


“...engrossing and expertly-argued reading. Petersen gracefully blends theoretical investigations with narrative recountings of the two cases.”
 — Beth Loffreda, author of Losing Matt Shepard: Live and Politics in the Aftermath of Anti-Gay Murder

“[Petersen] breaks new ground by showing how national and local media coverage interact and how popular emotion and public legislation work together.”
 — John D. Peters, author of Courting the Abyss: Free Speech and the Liberal Tradition

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Media, Emotion, and the Public Sphere
1. Mourning Matthew Shepard: Grief, Shame, and the Public Sphere
2. "Hate is Not a Laramie Value": Translating Feelings into Law
3. The Murder of James Byrd Jr.: The Political Pedagogy of Melodrama
4. The Visibility of Suffering, Injustice, and the Law
Conclusion: Feeling in the Public Sphere
Appendix: Text and Interview Selection

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