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Savage Portrayals

Race, Media and the Central Park Jogger Story

Natalie Byfield

Publication Year: 2014

In 1989, the rape and beating of a white female jogger in Central Park made international headlines. Many accounts reported the incident as an example of “wilding”—episodes of poor, minority youths roaming the streets looking for trouble. Police intent on immediate justice for the victim coerced five African-American and Latino boys to plead guilty. The teenage boys were quickly convicted and imprisoned. Natalie Byfield, who covered the case for the New York Daily News, now revisits the story of the Central Park Five from her perspective as a black female reporter in Savage Portrayals.
Byfield illuminates the race, class, and gender bias in the massive media coverage of the crime and the prosecution of the now-exonerated defendants. Her sociological analysis and first-person account persuasively argue that the racialized reportage of the case buttressed efforts to try juveniles as adults across the nation.
Savage Portrayals casts new light on this famous crime and its far-reaching consequences for the wrongly accused and the justice system. 

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I am eternally grateful for the generosity of spirit of the members of the Central Park Five—Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise—whose lives provided the inspiration for this project and who have embraced me as I worked to tell a part of their stories. Th e idea to write about the media coverage of the attack on the Central Park...

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1. Reconnecting New Forms of Inequality to their Roots

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pp. 1-27

The personal and professional agendas I pursue in this book grew from a desire to right a wrong. In 1989, members of the media, as well as portions of the political establishment and elements of the criminal justice system in New York City, wrongfully accused a group of black and Latino male teens of sexually...

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2. A Jogger Is Raped in Central Park

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pp. 28-45

I stood at my closet door that morning in April 1989 distractedly rummaging through my clothes. A local radio station provided the morning news roundup; this occupied another part of my mind. Some care had to go into the selection of my work outfit. I always strove for a pulled-together, businesslike—that is,...

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3. The Position of the Black Male in the Cult of White Womanhood

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pp. 46-74

Marlene was not the first and will not be the last white woman to be reduced to tears and fears based on the alleged actions of black men. Her emotions were not simply related to issues of crime and violence. Those fears and tears are related somehow to the ways in which we socially construct the meaning of...

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4. Salvaging the “Savage”: A Racial Frame that Refuses to Die

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pp. 75-105

I began working for the city desk about a year after I started at the Daily News. After my transfer there from the business desk, I did a tour of duty at major bureaus in the city. The purpose of this rotation, according to the editor in chief, was to familiarize me with the network of offices that fed the main...

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5. A Participant Observes How Content Emerges

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pp. 106-128

The thought of my time spent at the office during this period as just visits. I had a sense of freedom that was unusual for me in this job. As I spent days at a time working on my own without constant oversight, or should I say surveillance, from an editor, I started thinking, “So this is what it’s really like to be...

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6. The “Facts” Emerge to Convict the Innocent

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pp. 129-152

By the time the story of the East Harlem kids being ejected from Central Park by the police had run, the jogger had been released from Metropolitan Hospital in Manhattan. Her departure had occurred two weeks earlier with a great deal of fanfare, all of which had been media generated (Byfield 1989d). My...

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7. The Case Falls Apart: Media’s Brief Mea Culpa

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pp. 153-167

As is obvious by now, I left journalism for other pastures. My desire to teach and write about what I had experienced in that field prompted me to return to graduate school. I chose sociology this time and plunged into my classes with gusto. I planned to study the media coverage of the Central Park jogger case...

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8. Selling Savage Portrayals: Young Black and Latino Males in the Carceral State

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pp. 168-181

As the Central Park jogger story unfolded, policy makers, academics, and other researchers from across the city and the nation weighed in on the significance of the attack and off ered explanations and potential remedies for violence in the streets. Their solutions often leaned in the direction of more punitive...

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9. They Didn’t Do It!

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pp. 182-198

By definition, a racial project does “ideological ‘work’” that creates or changes the nature of racial “dynamics” (Omi and Winant 1994: 56). Th e case of the Central Park jogger definitely changed forever the lives of the five teens put on trial. Prior to this case, none had ever been arrested. The Central Park...


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pp. 199-214


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pp. 215-226


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pp. 227-233

About the Author

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pp. 234-234

E-ISBN-13: 9781439906354
E-ISBN-10: 1439906351
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439906347
Print-ISBN-10: 1439906343

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 867630408
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Savage Portrayals

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans in mass media.
  • Discrimination in criminal justice administration -- New York (State) -- New York -- Case studies.
  • Violent crimes -- New York (State) -- New York -- Press coverage -- Case studies.
  • Rape -- New York (State) -- New York -- Press coverage -- Case studies.
  • Central Park Jogger Rape Trial, New York, N.Y., 1990 -- Press coverage.
  • Hispanic Americans in mass media.
  • Racism -- United States.
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