Media circus is a colloquial metaphor, or idiom, describing a news event for which the level of media coverage — measured by such factors as the number of reporters at the scene and the amount of material broadcast or published — is perceived to be excessive or out of proportion to the event being covered. Coverage that is sensationalistic can add to the perception the event is the subject of a media circus. The term is meant to critique the coverage of the event by comparing it to the spectacle and pageantry of a circus. Usage of the term in this sense became common in the 1970s. It can also be called a media feeding frenzy or just media frenzy, especially when they cover the media coverage.
Although the idea is older, the term media circus began to appear around the mid-1970s. An early example is from the 1976 book by author Lynn Haney, in which she writes about a romance in which the athlete Chris Evert was involved: “Their courtship, after all, had been a ‘media circus.'” A few years later The Washington Post had a similar courtship example in which it reported, “Princess Grace herself is still traumatized by the memory of her own media-circus wedding to Prince Rainier in 1956.” The term has become increasingly popular with time since the 1970s. Reasons for being critical of the media are varied; at the core of most criticism is that there may be a significant opportunity cost when other more important news issues get less public attention as a result of coverage of the hyped issue.
Media circuses make up the central plot device in the 1951 movie Ace in the Hole about a self-interested reporter who, covering a mine disaster, allows a man to die trapped underground. It cynically examines the relationship between the media and the news they report. The movie was subsequently re-issued as The Big Carnival, with “carnival” referring to what we now call a “circus”. The movie was based on real-life Floyd Collins who in 1925 was trapped in a Kentucky cave drawing so much media attention that it became the third largest media event between the two World Wars (the other two being Lindbergh’s solo flight and the Lindbergh kidnapping).
Events described as a media circus include:
- The Azaria Chamberlain disappearance of 2-month-old baby in outback Australia (1980).
- The Beaconsfield Mine collapse (2006).
- 2009 Violence against Indians in Australia controversy.
- Schapelle Corby Drug smuggler (2014).
- Conrad Black, business magnate of newspapers, convicted of fraud, embezzlement and corporate destruction, imprisoned in Florida.
- Toronto mayor Rob Ford‘s life, including his usage of drugs, alcohol and involvement with organized crime (2013).
- Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka (serial killers).
- Omar Khadr (detained as a minor at Guantanamo Bay in 2001, transferred to Canada in 2012, released in May 2015).
- Murder of Victoria Stafford (8-year-old girl murdered for unclear reasons by a couple who have unclear relations to each other and the victim).
- Jian Ghomeshi (CBC employee alleged to have committed more than a dozen sex assaults over more than a decade).
- Luka Rocco Magnotta, gay porn actor convicted of killing Chinese roommate and mailing remains to the Prime Minister and an elementary school in British Columbia.
- Elijah Marsh, a 3-year-old Toronto boy of black descent who wandered outside in February 2015 in just a diaper, shirt and boots and froze to death.
- The investigation on the murder of Grégory Villemin (starting in 1984, still ongoing as the case is still unsolved).
- The capture of Mohamed Merah in March 2012.
- The funerals of singer Johnny Hallyday in December 2017.
- Amanda Knox (convicted of the murder of Meredith Kercher; her conviction was subsequently overturned).
- Disappearance and alleged murder of Elodia Ghinescu, especially on OTV, which aired a couple hundred episodes on the matter.
- The Charlie Gard case.
- The life, death and funeral of Jade Goody (2009).
- The News International phone hacking scandal (2011). Often overshadowed stories on the Libyan/Syrian Civil Wars, East African famine, and economic crisis.
- The disappearance of Madeleine McCann (2008).
- The McLibel case.
- Christine Jorgensen caused a media sensation when she returned from Denmark to the U.S. in 1952 after undergoing the “world’s first sex change” operation. “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell” was the headline in the New York Daily News on December 1, 1952.
- Coverage of the investigation and trial of the 1969 murders of Sharon Tate and four others by the Manson family.
- David Gelman, Peter Greenberg, et al. in Newsweek on January 31, 1977: “Brooklyn born photographer and film producer Lawrence Schiller managed to make himself the sole journalist to witness the execution of Gary Gilmore in Utah….In the Gilmore affair, he was like a ringmaster in what became a media circus, with sophisticated newsmen scrambling for what he had to offer.”
- The rescue of baby Jessica McClure (1987)
- The Central Park jogger case of 1989.
- The O. J. Simpson murder case of 1994-1995.
- The Blizzard of ’96 (1996). “…this storm …so hyped by the media in the same way that the O. J. Simpson murder case became hyped as the “Trial of the century“.
- The Elián González custody conflict (2000).
- The trial of Martha Stewart (2004). “The stone-faced Stewart never broke stride as she cut a path through the media circus.”
- The 2005 trial of Michael Jackson on child molestation charges and his 2009 death.
- The disappearance of Stacy Peterson (2007).
- The Casey Anthony murder trial (2011). “Once again, it was relentless media coverage that in large part fed the fascination with the case”, Ford observed.
- The shooting of Trayvon Martin (2012). “Here is where the media circus takes a decidedly ugly turn”, Eric Deggans wrote.
- The murder of Travis Alexander (2013), where Jodi Arias was found guilty of first-degree murder.
- Dismissal of and racial remarks by former owner of Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, Donald Sterling (2014).
- 2015 San Bernardino attack.
- 24-hour news cycle
- Cause célèbre
- CNN effect
- Deviancy amplification spiral
- “Dirty Laundry” (Don Henley song)
- Feiler faster thesis
- It’s Not News, It’s FARK
- Richard Jewell
- Media scrum
- Missing white woman syndrome
- Perp walk
- Trial by media
- Yellow journalism
- “Gilmore case turning into a circus for media”. Milwaukee Journal. 1976-12-03.
The worldwide attention that condemned killer Gary Gilmore is receiving has turned his case into a media circus Utah residents are saying
- Miller, Gene (1976-12-08). “Only in America – the Gary Gilmore Circus has everything but dancing bears”. The Evening Independent.
There is most appallingly, an only-in-America spectacle wherein a quest for justice becomes an extravaganza for the fast buck. Come, come, come to the circus.
- Lynn Haney (1976). Chris Evert, the Young Champion.
- Washington Post B1, June 29, 1978. This is the oldest quote the Oxford English Dictionary has listed, although obviously there are older occurrences.
- Brucker, R. and Murray, R. Trapped! the Story of Floyd Collins, University Press of Kentucky, 1983.
- “When is enough Natalee Holloway madness enough?”. Caribbean Net News. 2005-08-23. Archived from the original on 2008-06-22.
- “Vindication at Last for a Woman Scorned by Australia’s News Outlets”. The New York Times. Nov 16, 2014.
- “Media circus comes digging for gold”. Sydney Morning Herald. May 4, 2006.
- “Radio – ABC Radio Australia”. 8 July 2012. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012.
- “Schapelle Corby: Drug claims, media circus and the family saga that gripped a nation”. ABC News. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
- Geraldine Nordfeldt. “Australia’s Schapelle Corby phenomenon”. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
- “Brazil: Making a child murder into a media show · Global Voices”. Global Voices. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
- “Rob Ford’s crack admission creates media frenzy”. CBC. November 5, 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
- “‘Constant circus’ around Rob Ford a distraction, councillors say”. CBC. May 31, 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
- “City hall tours relocated amid Ford media circus”. CP24. November 14, 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
- “Omar Khadr: The case, the compensation and the media”. www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 2019-02-19.
- The Christian Science Monitor (15 October 2010). “As media circus wanes, Chile miners’ families turn spotlight on reporters’ antics”. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
- “BBC News – World News America – The media circus around Chile’s trapped miners”. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
- Lacey Rose. “The ‘Get’ Game Gets Going at Chile Miner Media Circus”. Forbes. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
- “El caso Colmenares y la fascinación de los medios y del público. ¿Qué tiene de especial? ¿Por qué el circo a su alrededor?”. Caracol Radio (in Spanish). May 4, 2006.
- Squires, Nick (September 23, 2011). “Amanda Knox compared to Goebbels by prosecutors”. Telegraph (UK). Perugia. Retrieved 2011-09-27.
“The trial must be held here, in this courtroom. This lobbying, this media and political circus, this heavy interference, forget all of it,” the prosecutor said
- Lim, Joyce (March 13, 2014). “Missing MH370: Day 6 and media circus in Malaysia shows few signs of relenting”. The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 2014-03-13. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
- Italia, Rakshande (March 28, 2014). “Desi Dialogues: Media’s coverage of missing Malaysia Airlines flight appalling”. Inside Toronto. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
- “Peru police confirm Van der Sloot’s murder confession”. Radio Netherlands Worldwide. 2010-06-09. Archived from the original on 2010-06-11. Retrieved 2010-06-10.
- “STIRI – Fenomenul „Elodia”, dupa doi ani”. 4 December 2013. Archived from the original on 4 December 2013.
- MEDIA SUSTAINABILITY INDEX 2009[permanent dead link], p. 89
- “Fenomenul “Elodia”, după doi ani”. adevarul.ro. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
- Taylor, Adam (March 1, 2014). “The Oscar Pistorius trial: Africa’s O.J. Simpson?”. Washington Post. Retrieved April 18, 2014.
- Hiscock, John (12 April 2014). “Oscar Pistorius and the echoes of OJ Simpson”. The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
- Kang, Haeryun. “We need to talk about suicide reporting”.
- Maslow, Nick (December 21, 2017). “Jonghyun’s coffin carried by pop stars at funeral”. Entertainment Weekly.
- Wongcha-um, Panu. “Throng of volunteers gather to rescue Thai boys trapped in cave”.
- “Media circus follows Melnychenko to Warsaw”. Kyiv Post. October 28, 2004. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
- Sedova, Yana (December 11, 2005). Kyiv Press Bureau. LXXIII (50) http://www.ukrweekly.com/old/archive/2005/500501.shtml. Retrieved July 21, 2014. Missing or empty
- “Why did Charlie Gard’s court case become a media circus?”.
- Knapton, Sarah (March 22, 2009). “Jade Goody dies after cancer battle bringing media circus to end”. The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
- Rodriguez, Linda (July 22, 2011). “No one outside of the media-political circus cares about the phone hacking scandal”. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
- “Master of media circus for Madeleine McCann”. The Telegraph. 24 April 2008. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
- “Brightside Mentoring”. www.brightknowledge.org.
- Goldman, Kim; Robertson, Tatsha (2015-09-22). Media Circus: A Look at Private Tragedy in the Public Eye. BenBella Books. ISBN 9781941631607.
- Gelman, David, Greenberg, Peter S. et al., “Ringmaster at the circus,” Newsweek. New York: Jan. 31, 1977. Vol.89, Iss. 5; pg. 77. ISSN 0028-9604. http://search.proquest.com/docview/214345558/
- “How the rescue of Baby Jessica ushered in the era of rolling news”. The National.
- Laura L. Finley (2007), Encyclopedia of Juvenile Violence, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 30
- (Elizabeth Davis, The Daily Beacon, January 12, 1996).
- “Elian moves home to avoid media circus”. The Guardian. 25 April 2000. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
- Newsweek, “Martha’s Fall,” March 15, 2005 “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 2005-12-22. Retrieved 2006-01-01.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- “Lifetime’s ‘Untouchable’ throws the book at Drew Peterson”. Chicago Tribune. January 16, 2012.
- “Casey Anthony Trial Media Frenzy Explained”. digtriad.com. Archived from the original on 19 October 2013. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
- “Casey Anthony trial turned into media frenzy”. Reuters. July 6, 2011.
- “Casey Anthony trial: Media frenzy at new heights”. CBS News.
- “Trayvon Martin shooting: Debate over photos escalates“. Yahoo! News.
- “Jodi Arias Trial: An Over-The-Top Media-Spectacle”. Huffington Post. May 22, 2013.
- “Jodi Arias Trial: Jurors weigh murder charge amid “real-life soap opera” spectacle”. CBS News. May 6, 2013.
- “Jodi Arias trial attracts watchers from across the nation”. FOX News. February 5, 2013. Archived from the original on April 30, 2013.
- “In Arias trial, TV cameras never far behind”. Yahoo! News. May 22, 2013.
- “Is the Jodi Arias Trial the Craziest in America?”. Inside Edition. April 11, 2013.
- Ruelas, Richard (May 12, 2013). “Amid many trials, a frenzy over Jodi Arias”. USA Today.
- Causey, James E (April 29, 2014). “NBA ban of Donald Sterling sends the right message”. Journal Sentinel. Retrieved May 7, 2014.