This week I got a press release that some researchers at the Mayo Clinic who compared CSI and CSI: Miami to actual U. S. homicide data. No surprise, they discovered clear differences. Timothy Lineberry, M.D., a psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic, says, “We make a lot of our decisions as a society based on information that we have, and television has been used to provide public health messages.”
Those two particular shows, CSI and CSI: Miami, were used because of their enormous viewing audience, somewhere around 43 million viewers every year. Mainly the Mayo Clinic investigators used the Center for Disease Control’s National Violent Death Reporting System to compare data with the television portrayals. They discovered the biggest discrepancies involved relationships, alcohol, and race where characterizations of perpetrators and victims were concerned.
Apparently, actual statistics say that drugs and alcohol affect both victim and offender at the time of the crime in reality—and that was one of the differences from what the TV shows portray. The other main difference they found was regarding what race was more likely to be involved and on the television shows primarily they used Caucasians who did not know their attackers. In real life, however, whites are not the majority of offenders and, often, real victims know or were intimately involved with their attackers in the past.
"If we believe that there is a lack of association with alcohol, that strangers are more likely to attack, and that homicide doesn’t represent particular groups of people, it’s difficult to create public health interventions that the general public supports. We make a lot of our decisions as a society based on information that we have, and television has been used to provide public health messages." — Dr. Lineberry
So the game has been upped. And in my last two articles, we’ve been talking about the recent denigrating reports from the National Academy of Sciences on behalf of Congress about forensic science and how the researchers found the industry lacking. It's not good, we know.
But the TV producers do do those things; take more than poetic license with drama: portray white, rich, good-looking victims—because they need the show to sell to advertisers and if we saw the real low level of most crime, we’d change the channel—not sexy or appealing enough.