Skip to main content

What’s in the Water? How Media Coverage of Corporate GenX Pollution Shapes Local Understanding of Risk

Abstract

Media coverage of water pollution has been a topic of theoretical examination and empirical testing. Still, green criminologists have not fully explored issues relating to water pollution. This paper draws from the environmental literature on risk society and criminology’s crime news frame to explore media coverage of corporate deviance through the lens of green cultural criminology. A content analysis of local newspaper articles in a southeastern city analyzes constructions of corporate deviance, risk, and blame regarding the discovery of GenX. Results demonstrate how media discourse around risk and science plays an important role in shaping concerns about corporate environmental pollution. Magnification of risk and uncertainty draws the public’s attention to issues of regulatory enforcement and funding. At the same time, risk is minimized by corporate and regulatory officials who urge the public to wait for more research before introducing new laws and regulations while also individualizing the blame.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Adam, B. (2000). The media timescapes of BSE news. In S. Allan, B. Adam, & C. Carter (Eds.), Environmental risks and the media (pp. 117–129). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Allan, S., Adam, B., & Carter, C. (2000). Introduction: The media politics of environmental risk. In S. Allan, B. Adam, & C. Carter (Eds.), Environmental risks and the media (pp. 1–26). London: Routledge.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Beck, U. (1992). Risk society: Towards a new modernity. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Beck, U. (1996). World risk society as cosmopolitan society? Ecological questions in a framework of manufactured uncertainties. Theory, Culture and Society, 13(4), 1–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bradshaw, E. A. (2015). Blacking out the Gulf: State-corporate environmental crime and the response to the 2010 BP oil spill. In G. Barak (Ed.), The Routledge international handbook of the crimes of the powerful (pp. 363–372). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brisman, A., & South, N. (2012). A green-cultural criminology: An exploratory outline. Crime, Media, Culture, 9(2), 115–135.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brisman, A., & South, N. (2014). Green cultural criminology: Constructions of environmental harm, consumerism, and resistance to ecocide. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brisman, A., & South, N. (2016). Water, inequalities and injustice: Social divisions, racism and colonialism—Past and present. In G. Meško & B. Lobnikar (Eds.), Criminal justice and security in Central and Eastern Europe: Safety, security, and social control in local communities: Conference proceedings (pp. 359–366). Ljubljana, Slovenia: Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security, University of Maribor, Slovenia.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burns, R. (2015). Corporate crimes and the problems of enforcement. In G. Barak (Ed.), The Routledge international handbook of the crimes of the powerful (pp. 157–171). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cavender, G., Gray, K., & Miller, K. W. (2010). Enron’s perp walk: Status degradation ceremonies as narrative. Crime, Media, Culture, 6(3), 251–266.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cavender, G., & Mulcahy, A. (1998). Trial by fire: Media constructions of corporate deviance. Justice Quarterly, 15(4), 697–717.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • De Pryck, K., & Gemenne, F. (2017). The Denier-in-Chief: Climate Change, Science and the Election of Donald J. Trump. Law and Critique, 28, 119–126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dukes, T., Leslie, L., & Fain, T. (2017). Timeline: Tracking the route of GenX in the Cape Fear River. WRAL, August 17. Retrieved from http://www.wral.com/timeline-tracking-the-route-of-genx-in-the-cape-fear-river/16869639/?platform=hootsuite.

  • Dunlap, R. E., & McCright, A. M. (2011). Organized climate change denial. In J. S. Dryzek, R. B. Norgaard, & D. Schlosberg (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of climate change and society (pp. 144–160). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • EPA. (2017a). Basic information about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-about-and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfass. Accessed 15 Sept 2017.

  • EPA. (2017b). Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/drinking-water-health-advisories-pfoa-and-pfos. Accessed 15 Sept 2017.

  • Evans, S. S., & Lundman, R. J. (1983). Newspaper coverage of corporate price-fixing. Criminology, 21(4), 529–541.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ferrell, J. (2013). Tangled up in green: Cultural criminology and green criminology. In N. South & A. Brisman (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of green criminology (pp. 349–364). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fitzgerald, A., & Baralt, L. B. (2010). Media constructions of responsibility for the production and mitigation of environmental harms: The case of mercury-contaminated fish. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 52(4), 341–368.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hagerty, V. (2017). Toxin taints CFPUA drinking water. Star-News, June 7. Retrieved from http://www.starnewsonline.com/news/20170607/toxin-taints-cfpua-drinking-water/1.

  • Hansen, H. K., & Uldam, J. (2015). Corporate social responsibility, corporate surveillance and neutralizing corporate resistance: On the commodification of risk-based policing. In G. Barak (Ed.), The Routledge international handbook of the crimes of the powerful (pp. 186–196). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hulme, M. (2009). Why we disagree about climate change: Understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, H., South, N., & Walters, R. (2016). The commodification and exploitation of fresh water: Property, human rights and green criminology. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 44, 146–162.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lynch, M. J., & Stretsky, P. B. (2003). The meaning of green: Contrasting criminological perspectives. Theoretical Criminology, 7(2), 217–238.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lynch, M. J., Stretsky, P. B., & Hammond, P. (2000). Media coverage of chemical crimes, Hillsborough County, Florida, 1987–97. British Journal of Criminology, 40, 112–126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lynch, M. J., Stretsky, P. B., & Long, M. A. (2017). State and green crimes related to water pollution and ecological disorganization: Water pollution from publicly owned treatment works (POTW) facilities across US States. Palgrave Communications, 3, 1–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCarthy, M., Brennan, M., De Boer, M., & Ritson, C. (2008). Media risk communication: What was said by whom and how was it interpreted. Journal of Risk Research, 11(3), 375–394.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McClanahan, B. (2014). Green and grey: Water justice, criminalization, and resistance. Critical Criminology, 22, 403–418.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McClanahan, B., Brisman, A., & South, N. (2015). Privatization, pollution and power: A green criminological analysis of present and future global water crises. In G. Barak (Ed.), The Routledge international handbook of the crimes of the powerful (pp. 223–234). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • McMullan, J. L., & McClung, M. (2006). The media, the politics of truth, and the coverage of corporate violence: The Westray disaster and public inquiry. Critical Criminology, 14, 67–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Michaels, D. (2008). Doubt is their product. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Oreskes, N., & Conway, E. M. (2010). Merchants of doubt. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Phillimore, P., & Moffatt, S. (2000). ‘Industry causes lung cancer’: Would you be happy with that headline? Environmental health and local politics. In S. Allan, B. Adam, & C. Carter (Eds.), Environmental risks and the media (pp. 105–116). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ross, J. I. (2015). Controlling state crime and alternative reactions. In G. Barak (Ed.), The Routledge international handbook of the crimes of the powerful (pp. 492–502). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rothe, D. L., & Kauzlarich, D. (2016). Crimes of the powerful: An introduction. London and New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ruggiero, V., & South, N. (2013). Green criminology and crimes of the economy: Theory, research and praxis. Critical Criminology, 21, 359–373.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • South, N. (1998). A green field for criminology? A proposal for a perspective. Theoretical Criminology, 2(2), 211–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Spencer, J. William, & Triche, E. (1994). Media construction of risk and safety: Differential framings of hazard events. Sociological Inquiry, 64(2), 199–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Strynar, M., Dagnino, S., McMahen, R., Liang, S., Lindstrom, A., Andersen, E., et al. (2015). Identification of novel perfluoroalkyl ether carboxylic acids (PFECAs) and sulfonic acids (PFESAs) in natural waters using accurate mass time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TOFMS). Environmental Science and Technology, 49(19), 11622–11630.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sun, M., Arevalo, E., Strynar, M., Lindstrom, A., Richardson, M., Kearns, B., et al. (2016). Legacy and emerging perfluoroalkyl substances are important drinking water contaminants in the Cape Fear River Watershed of North Carolina. Environmental Science and Technology Letters, 3(12), 415–419.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • White, R. (2002). Environmental harm and the Political Economy of Consumption. Social Justice, 29(1/2), 82–102.

    Google Scholar 

  • White, R. (2003). Environmental issues and the criminological imagination. Theoretical Criminology, 7(4), 483–506.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • White, R. (2015). Climate change, ecocide and the crimes of the powerful. In G. Barak (Ed.), The Routledge international handbook of the crimes of the powerful (pp. 211–222). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilkinson, I. (2010). Grasping the point of unfathomable complexity: The new media research and risk analysis. Journal of Risk Research, 13(1), 19–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarah Hupp Williamson.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hupp Williamson, S. What’s in the Water? How Media Coverage of Corporate GenX Pollution Shapes Local Understanding of Risk. Crit Crim 26, 289–305 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-018-9389-8

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-018-9389-8