The Case Of Ted Bundy And The Media

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Abstract

This paper will explore and examine the media’s coverage and effect on the criminal case of Ted Bundy. In this paper there are several values discussed that helped shape what the media presented to society. Particularly, how the media’s transition to postmodernity impacted and affected the case. Risk, violence and conflict, visual spectacle, and sex were values that were analyzed. Additionally, the media’s postmodern take on this trial, with a shift towards entertainment and headline news. This paper analyzes the tactics used by the media to effectively alter the public’s perception of the truth. The effect the media has on case outcomes was discussed. This paper discussed Jewkes, and Linnemann’s, as well as several other scholars’ research in relation to the media values that shape crime news and the shift to postmodernity. Introduction The “All-American Boy”, better known as Ted Bundy, was one of the most prolific serial killers of our time. He was born in Burlington, Vermont on November 24th, 1946. He was known to be a charming, intelligent, and persuasive individual. In several interviews, Bundy recalls exhibiting antisocial behavior, as well as having a problem with pornography. He was a graduate from college and exhibited a promising career in law. Unfortunately, Bundy decided to take a darker, more sadistic path. His killings began in Washington, and only progressed as he moved from state to state. He continued his spree to Utah, then Colorado, and eventually made his way to Florida. Bundy was known for preying on young college women. At first glance, Bundy appeared to be a charming, young man, however his intentions were sinister. He was known to even pretend to wear a sling, or even walk in crutches to gain sympathy. He would lure women to his “1968 tan Volkswagen Beetle”, where he would eventually rape and murder his victims. A crowbar and a pipe were his most common weapons of choice, as well as strangulation. A peculiar occurrence after the murders, was Bundy revisited the murdered bodies, or would even take them with him for some type of gratification. He was even known for decapitating his victims and sleeping with their bodies. He was first arrested on August 16th, 1965, in Utah. After searching the vehicle, officers discovered rope, handcuffs, and many other items. He was eventually released and placed on surveillance. He was arrested again a few months later for the assault on a victim. However, he managed to escape custody a year later while being transferred to Colorado but was luckily found within a week. He escaped again on December 30th, 1977. This time he made his way to Florida, where he went on to kill at least six more innocent lives, five of them attended Florida State University. He was arrested on February 15th, 1978, after a traffic stop. After years of appeals, Ted Bundy was finally sentenced to death and died on January 24th, 1989.

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Media Involvement and Coverage of the Case

The media coverage and involvement on this case was revolutionary. The trial of Ted Bundy in Florida was televised from start to finish. The criminal trial of Ted Bundy in Florida was the first trial to be televised nationally. Being the first nationally televised trial was a pivotal step towards postmodernity. The media coverage was intense on this case. However, media coverage and involvement were not as prevalent during his earlier killing years. The media coverage increased immensely, following the killing of five Florida State University students. It was also one of the most watched trials to ever be televised. According to reports, the trial was reported on “by over 250 reports from five continents” (White-Jenkins, 2016). The media was so persistent on covering Ted Bundy because of the brutality of his crimes, but also because of his demeanor. Reporters saw Bundy as a celebrity. His earlier trials did not receive the same attention as did his trial in Florida, so to focus on the Florida trial would seem efficient. Reporters described Bundy as handsome, smart, and charming which conflicts with the attributes of a serial killer. According to reports, “the media had a love affair with Bundy, due to the endless supply of headlines and stories his heinous crimes and large personality provided them with”. According to Thomas Fleming, “Ted Bundy’s criminal career and the extensive media focus on his crimes, trial, interaction with the F.B.I, and execution served as a model for public understanding of the emerging phenomenon of serial murder”. Overall, the media involvement and coverage were intense for the trial in Florida, however his earlier trials did not receive the same attention. Analysis After examining the case of Ted Bundy, the media exhibited media values that effectively captivated a large audience.

The first value analyzed was risk. In looking at Ted Bundy’s case, he clearly exhibited risk with every murder committed. In “Media and Crime in the U.S.”, the author states, “Perceived vulnerability is emphasized over actual victimization such that fear of crime might be more accurately conceived of as a fear for personal safety. Sometimes the media exploit public concerns by exaggerating potential risks in order to play into people’s wider fears and anxieties”. Essentially, the media is effective at transferring that risk to society and exacerbating societies fears. In the case of Ted Bundy, the media was effective at disseminating fear to American women, by exacerbating the fear of victimization. The next media value examined was violence and conflict. The serial killings by Ted Bundy exemplify the media values of violence and conflict. According to “Media and Crime in the U.S.”, “Yet, whether treated sensationally or unsensationally, violence — including violent death — remains a staple of media reporting”. Essentially, crimes that are excessively violent are like treasure for the media because, “it fulfills the media’s desire to present dramatic events in the most graphic possible fashion”. The media was able to capitalize on such brutal events, by playing to societies desires. Another value that exemplifies this case is “visual spectacle”. According to Jewkes and Linnemann, visual spectacles, “suggest that visual representation of the traumatic and grotesque is designed to tap into the same human tendency that compels people to gawk when passing the scene of an accident. In this way, we can say that the shocking, often violent image is a defining feature of spectatorship”. Essentially, we as humans have little restraint or resistance to viewing these spectacles. According to our readings, a visual spectacle “appeals to the voyeuristic elements in all of us while at the same time reinforcing our sense of horror, revulsion, and powerlessness. The next media value incorporated was “sex”. Bundy was known to sexually assault his victims. According to “Media and Crime in the U.S.”, “As such, sexually motivated murders by someone unknown to the victim invariably receive substantial, often sensational, attention”. This reveals why Bundy received the attention from society. Additionally, the media value “sex” is often “overreported”, which results in skewed information regarding sexual victimization. The media used this value to manipulate women into feeling unsecure. The media skewed reality, and made women believe they could be victims too.

Another theoretical approach to this trial is examining it from a postmodern outlook. The criminal trial of Ted Bundy exemplifies postmodernity, with the focus on entertainment. According to Thomas Fleming, “the modern age of serial murder begins with the crimes of Ted Bundy”. According to Jewkes and Linnemann, “It is the fragmentary, ephemeral, and ambiguous that are observed, and pleasure, spectacle, pastiche, parody, and irony are the staples of postmodern media output. The media’s responsibility is to entertain, and audience gratification is the only impact worth striving for”. The media was effective at captivating an audience because the media incorporated the media values into their publications. According to Kevin D. Haggerty, “a symbiotic relationship exists between the media and serial killers… Such killers offer rich opportunities to capture public attention by capitalizing on deeply resonate themes of innocent victims, dangerous strangers, unsolved murders, all coalescing around a narrative of evasion and given moral force through implied personal threats to audience members”. Essentially, the media capitalizes on serial killers like Ted Bundy, and captivates an audience by disseminating public fears. The criminal trial of Ted Bundy was the first trial to be nationally televised, because the media merely sought to capitalize on profitable and opportunistic events. This trial opened a gateway to a new age of crime news.

Media’s Effect on Case Outcomes

The media has an apparent and clear, but also substantial effect on their audience that should be taken seriously. From the script, down to the angle of the camera, the media always acts with intent and purpose. The media are capable of effecting trial outcomes, which is both concerning and alarming. In criminal trials that are immensely publicized, there is no escaping the news we hear regarding cases. From the radio, to the television, and through verbal communication we are all predisposed to something. Everyone, including jurors, judges, and society are watching and listening to what is being said regarding a trial. According to authors Brown and Fraser, “The possibility that the public’s media exposure to a celebrity may bias a potential jury pool in favor of the celebrity is theoretically supported by the parasocial interaction theory”. Essentially, the media’s repeated exposure of this person “positively” predisposed society, essentially skewing the potential for a fair verdict. Through the media’s manipulation, Ted Bundy was able to keep his character somewhat intact, effectively skewing the public’s perception of himself. This manipulation tactic is troublesome and draws concern to previous criminal trial verdicts. According to some reports, media coverage can affect awards in civil cases. With civil cases that are highly publicized, the media and society impose pressure on the court to deliver a higher award.

Additionally, the media’s depiction of a criminal on trial, does not allow for society’s own interpretation. The media depicts a person in a certain manner, and pushes for that depiction, effectively weakening the truth. Conclusion From beginning to end, the trial of Ted Bundy was a media spectacle. The trial of Ted Bundy reflects on a new period, with postmodernity solidifying itself in our culture. The media is effective at launching strategies to mesmerize an audience. This captivation develops into manipulation, with the media skewing the public’s perception. In investigating the criminal trial of Ted Bundy, there were four values that illustrated the media’s purpose: visual spectacle, risk, sex, and violence and conflict. Furthermore, the era of postmodernity was examined in connection with the values, as well as what was issued by the media. In the scope of things, the media is efficient at captivating their audience by their use of the media values discussed previously. With a focus on entertainment, the early era of postmodernity was prevalent throughout this criminal trial. The media’s potential effect on case outcomes was examined and revealed some troublesome results. Essentially, everyone in society, including judges and jurors are inclined to a predisposition because of what the media publishes. By predisposing society constantly, the audience will favor or disfavor a criminal solely based on what they are persistently disposed to in the media. Looking towards the future, how can society and the criminal system continue this path knowing case verdicts could be distorted?

References

  1. Brown, William & J. Duane, James & Fraser, Benson. (1997). Implications for the criminal justice system. Communication Law and Policy. Retrieved June 5, 2019 Fleming, Thomas. (2007). Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (3). Retrieved July 07, 2019, from https://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol14is3/Fleming.pdf
  2. Haggerty, K. D. (2009). Modern serial killers. Crime, Media, Culture, 5(2), 168–187. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741659009335714
  3. Jewkes, Y., & Linnemann, T. (2018). Media and Crime in the U.S. Retrieved July 5, 2019. Sewell, D. (2019, February 09). Ted Bundy’s murderous charm still polarizes, 40 years later. Retrieved July 07, 2019, from https://www.apnews.com/fda5c470e49540ec9f7f5910bb07bd8b
  4. Ted Bundy: Serial Killers: Crime Library. (n.d.). Retrieved July 07, 2019, from https://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/serial-killers/ted-bundy/
  5. White-Jenkins, T. (2016, March 29). Ted Bundy’s media takeover. Retrieved July 7, 2019, from http://historyofjournalism.onmason.com/2016/03/29/ted-bundys-media-takeover/
01 February 2021

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