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The Leopold And Loeb Case And Its Sensationalism In Tabloids

1504 words - 7 pages

In 1924, Chicago natives Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb brutally murdered Bobby Franks, resulting in a trial that captivated the nation. Both Leopold and Loeb were wealthy, well-educated teenagers; their shocking actions represented a deviation from the traditional stereotypes and beliefs about crime and its perpetrators. The case attracted many journalists and became a media sensation, sparking discourse about the “dangers of modern youth” and how to prevent them.[1] The criminal case showed the influence of newspapers and other publications, which not only recorded the details of the event, but also aggrandized its significance. However, the murder, trial, and punishment of the two boys ...view middle of the document...

The media also portrayed the case as a learning opportunity for parents, who were encouraged to raise their children correctly to prevent them from becoming criminals.[4] Reporters wrote pieces intended to scare readers about the dangers of misdirected youth; as a result, the case became “a cautionary story” that used the actions of Leopold and Loeb as examples of the consequences.[5]
In addition to investigating the origins of misconduct and the boys’ criminal intentions, the newspapers and other media sources offered new definitions of normalcy. Leopold and Loeb were well-educated and intelligent; their personalities did not fit the typical criminal stereotype. They had prosperous upbringings and no clear motivation for the murder other than their fascination with committing “the perfect crime.”[6] In response to this bizarre situation, the media presented stories in ways that “encouraged readers, if not to identify with the slayers, at least to be on a level with them.”[7] Reporters attempted to make Leopold and Loeb’s situation more relatable and relevant to everyday life. The boys even earned nicknames—Babe and Dickie—that downgraded them from dangerous criminals to just two teenage boys.[8] Though the public still perceived their actions as shocking and illegal, the crime became somewhat normalized.
However, media also portrayed also Leopold and Loeb as unusual in comparison to their peers. At the boys’ trial, lawyer Clarence Darrow utilized the concept of mental abnormality to defend his clients. Rather than pleading insanity, Darrow argued that though Leopold and Loeb knew their actions were morally wrong, they deviated so far from mental normalcy that they deserved a mitigated punishment.[9] Darrow’s defense utilized psychiatry to contextualize the murder of Bobby Franks and show that Leopold and Loeb did not possess the judgmental skills necessary to avoid criminal actions, a strategy that gave “expert psychiatric testimony new visibility in popular culture.”[10] Facts and evidence no longer filled and directed the entire trial; now mental abnormality and its effects played a key role as well. The Leopold and Loeb case became an example of the relevance of psychiatry to society. As a result, the trial gained significance and the killers became like animals in a zoo: doctors studied them, and reporters’ understandings of the case were made public through news publications. However, the press often devalued and twisted psychiatric evidence, turning scientific observations about the boys into “clumsy, uncertain object[s] of ridicule.”[11] Nevertheless, reporters continued to use psychiatry to analyze the boys and study their actions.
Long after the trial had ended, the murder of Bobby Franks still offered insight into the nature of criminality; however, modern society interprets the information differently. The pseudoscientific methods utilized to analyze the boys no longer hold credibility, and the concept of juvenile...

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