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UMD study finds racial bias in celebrity violence coverage

What’s the difference between Chris Brown and Charlie Sheen?

Both were charged with domestic violence in 2009, but while Brown earned a reputation as an abuser, reports of Sheen’s violent behavior toward women got far less attention in news articles, according to a new study.

Race may be the cause.

A researcher at the University of Maryland, College Park says there’s a clear bias against black men in news articles about celebrities who commit domestic violence.

Joanna Pepin, a Ph.D. candidate in the university’s Department of Sociology, looked at 330 articles written about 66 celebrities between 2009 and 2012 and found that violence committed by black men was more likely to be depicted as a criminal act than a similar offence committed by a white man.

Black men were three times more likely to be depicted as criminals — such as by detailing arrest information, criminal charges, and police involvement — than white men, which didn’t surprise Pepin.

What did surprise her was that articles about white men were more likely to include excuses for their behavior. Substance abuse and anger issues, for example, would be highlighted without the white celebrities being stigmatized as addicts or criminals, according to Pepin.

The study, published in the journal “Sociological Spectrum,” examined articles from common sources of celebrity and sports news, such as People.com, TMZ.com, and ESPN.go.com.

Pepin’s findings align with previous research that’s shown that black men in general are over-represented as criminal suspects compared to whites, according to the university.

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