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June 20, 2012 8:11 AM   Subscribe

How realistic is the portrayal of the media's coverage of the prison on Oz? (No spoilers in the question, potential for some in the answers.)

Mrs.Spiffy and I are approaching the end of a run-through of Oz (her first, my second) and while the show features numerous aspects requiring suspension of disbelief, there's one that I'm really unsure about the accuracy of.

The residents of Em City are often shown watching the local news, and a lot of the time this is how they find out about certain events happening either within the prison or related to the prison. Obviously, it's a very useful plot device, but how realistic is this? I watch local news a fair amount (I'm in Chicago) and it seems like they rarely, if ever, cover events related to the myriad prisons throughout Illinois (Today's escape by an inmate from a medical center being a notable exception.)

So, a couple of thoughts on why this may be the case:

1. Major metropolitan areas have a lot more to choose from when figuring out what they will cover, and there's plenty of gritty stuff happening on Chicago's streets, so there's no perceived need to delve into the prisons.

2. The amount of "newsworthy" prison events happening on Oz is ridiculously inflated, and in fact, when an event worth being covered by the local news happens, it generally is. These just don't happen that often.

So, to put a fine point on it: Are there any areas where prisons are covered in as much detail (or approaching as much detail) as is shown on Oz? In particular, I know a lot of areas have economies that are largely built around the prison. Do these areas tend to put more focus on prison in the local news?
posted by SpiffyRob to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't give a reason or an example counter to what you noticed, but I can say that this bothered me as well, not to mention the really incredible amount of attention the state governor paid to the goings on in the prison and treatment of certain prisoners there. So, there is a suspension of disbelief problem there. I think your framing of the TV news as a plot device is what's telling - the show is so tied to it that at one point, there's a scene where the warden bans TV, and in the very next scene, everybody's gathered around the Em City TV watching the news. Given that there were other instances where McManus would somehow completely change clothes while walking from one part of the prison to another, I'd say continuity isn't really one of the show's strong points.
posted by LionIndex at 8:57 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I worked in PR for a juvenile corrections agency for four years, so I keep an eye out for this sort of stuff out of habit. Correctional institutions tend to get coverage when there is an incident like an escape, murder or riot or some sort of scandal among staff (sex with inmates, contraband etc...). The other time they get coverage in the local news is when they might get closed and a bunch of people could lose their jobs.

Oz is a TV show so something dramatic has to happen every episode. Real life is less dramatic, so coverage depends on something newsworthy happening.
posted by dortmunder at 9:03 AM on June 20, 2012

Oz is just another one of those shows where they basically have every crazy thing that ever happens in every prison in the entire country somehow happening there in rapid succession, so that the stories can be told with the same cast of characters. It's horrifically exaggerated, like how every obscure medical mystery somehow finds its way to Dr. House (and there's no shortage of shows doing similar things for drama's sake). Sure, a lot of the plot points may well be based on actual events from somewhere, but they certainly didn't all happen in the same place or involving the same people.

Though, to be fair, I never found the TV coverage plot-point(s) of Oz too far-fetched... if such a drama-infested prison actually DID exist, it'd definitely attract that kind of attention!
posted by Pufferish at 9:43 AM on June 20, 2012

The Galesburg area (where I grew up) doesn't have a TV station, and the prison there isn't that interesting, but every little thing was covered by the local media -- especially when it was new. I can't imagine how crazy that place would get if they found out Oz-like stuff happened there. (Actually, I can and I'm ashamed to say it's amusing me.)

This isn't completely answering your question except that it's an interesting, related data point:

Back in 2005, many inmates at Cook County Jail (which, though supposedly a transitional point, really, really, really isn't for some people) found out that the facility was going to be entirely no smoking when it was on the TV news. It went over about as well as you might expect.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:03 AM on June 20, 2012

Since you mention Chicago, there was a period about 20 years ago where escapes from the Cook County Jail were a regular occurrence -- everything from ladders propped up to get over the fence to inmates released because they shared a name with someone less dangerous (and all minorities look alike). Sheriffs Sheahan and Dart did a lot to clean up their departments and remove ghost payrollers and goldbrickers, and there was a judicial tussle over the jail itself for a while. But for a lot of that period it did seem like there was a new, or at least updated, story about the jail every other news cycle. This was a market with two news radio stations, four nightly television news programs and two-and-a-half daily newspapers, and yet plenty to occupy their attention. So it's possible.
posted by dhartung at 12:21 PM on June 20, 2012

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