The Biased Portrayal of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo by the Media

Categories: Serial Killer

In the murder cases of convicted rapists and killers Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, the media framed them in different, yet similarly glamorous ways in which mass media outlets and local outlets headlined them as the infamous “Ken and Barbie Killers’i With headlines labeling the couple as the “Ken and Barbie Killers”, the public viewed interest, in this case, regarding their (Homolka and Bernardo’s) story and how they came to be a couple and why they committed the rapes and murders that they did.

If the media was to be compliant with the facts and not working with networks to receive ratings, their headlines may have looked a bit different, For example, instead of branding both people as “Ken and Barbie”, a realistic and factual headline would be dissected to say something along the lines of “Married Canadian Man and Woman are Convicted of Rape and Murder of Several Victims".

This is framing at its finest, where the public or “audience” is privy to perception and placing what they view into a box or “frame” that fits a particular characterization in the case of Homolka and Bernardo, both were framed together as a couple, and both were framed separatelyю Perhaps the biggest concentration on framing was that of making Homolka look like a victim, who was coerced and manipulated by her (then) boyfriend and soon to be husband, Paul Bernardo.

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As learned in the text Media & Crime by Yvonne Jewkes, it is examined that women who commit crimes are framed differently than men, from various aspects regarding family, past, sexual history, femininity, and attractiveness (2008).

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The tendency to label a woman as a victim, regardless of the crime they commit, is strong because the media wants the public to relate and empathize for the woman’s background story.

This particularly targets women as empathizers and even more specifically, women who have been domestically abused beforei Because of Homolka‘s history of abuse by Bernardo, it was easy for the news outlets to make her seem like her crimes were driven by the idea to stay in a perfect relationship with Bernardo. Homolka’s desire to make her husband happy in headlines framed the audience to believe that Hornolka was not so much as a participant in the rapes and murders, but a standby who was doing what she was told in order to please her husband and not suffer abusive repercussions. This obsessive and romantic plea from Hornolka gave the media a chance to present the story in an agenda-setting manner, where the media does not tell the audience what to think, but rather, what to think about. Before being convicted, Homolka used her story of Bernardo’s abusive behavior as a plea to not receive as harsh a sentence as proposed.

In addition to using a plea bargain in admittance to the crimes that she and Bernardo committed, she argued that Bernardo’s abuse was what set her over the edge to tell the truth in the first place Audiences will argue whether or not. Homolka’s sentence of 12 years imprisonment was severe enough for raping and murdering three women, because of the abuse that occurred within her relationship with Bernardo (Moore 2015} When placed together as a couple, the media concentrated on both Hornolka and Bernardo’s attractiveness, which eventually led to the framing of their names “Ken and Barbie", When examining the structure of a headline, it is protocol for headline writers and journalists to create something short and simple that attracts the public to maintain interest, Because of Hornolka and Bernardo’s blonde hair, youth, and good looks, this label was construed to portray them both as youthful and charming in their demeanori.

This message was not factual, as considered earlier, but entertaining, instead framing the couple in light of love and lust, and not “typical” serial rapists or killersi Anything unique, not typical, and attractive in nature would deem the killers newsworthy to the media as opposed to concentrating on the facts themselves, therefore producing several articles maintaining “Karla and Paul’s” actions as justifiable or excusable because of their toxic relationship and their history together. Newsworthiness has changed over the decades in essence that the story produces controversy to create large audiences instead of basing the headlining crime off facts. When newsworthiness is speculated to be original it should be unique in nature, but not glamorized by the appearances of those involved. Newsworthiness in accordance to its origins should relay facts of information to the public and ignore otherwise unnecessary excessiveness that ensues with the dramatic console that is the mass media.

When going back to the basics ofjournalism, “newsworthy” is a term that should be considered under the timeliness of the event/crime, the proximity of the story (where it happened, whether it be local, national, or international), the impact the story (who cares?), the rarity (or uniqueness), the conflict, and whether it’s of human interest. While some of these newsworthy factors are presented in the subtext of Homolka and Bernardo’s news headlines, not all are considered over precedence of entertainment and concentration on their backgrounds, both of which have nothing to do with original newsworthy components (“Journalism 101,” nd). Film is an expression of visual art that allows directors and producers to create movies with an intention to entertain and not inform. The purpose of a good film is to tell a story with the use of imagination and interpretation through personal perceptions to fill in the blanks when a movie is “based off true events”.

In the movie Karla, real life rapists and murderers Homolka and Bernardo are played by well known celebrities Laura Prepon and Misha Collins. When enticing an audience to see a film, the casting director is coaxed to find actors with Hollywood credibility so it draws attention to more movie goers when they see celebrities portraying a character, The film opens with cheery film clips of Karla (Prepon) and Paul (Collins) and begins with the point in reference that Karla is speaking with her psychiatrist to seek parole from her sentence of twelve years imprisonment, Although one can view the real final analysis of Karla’s resulted parole sentence, online, the rest of the film is concentrated around filling in the blanks with fictional ideas of how Karla and Paul came to be, and who they are as killers and rapists. An audience member would not likely have easy access to the real dialogue that took place that led to the eventual conviction of the couple.

The issue with movies “based off true events”, or “inspired by a true story” is that directors have creative leeway to write whatever they want from whichever or whomever’s perspective in the movie. In this case, the movie was titled Karla therefore implying that she was the primary character and that Paul Bernardo would be secondary to her. This tagline “,..true story” and “,,,true events" is a marketing ploy to make the movie seem appealing in nature because it really happened Like modern newsworthiness in news media, audiences who go to movies enjoy stories that they believe to be real because it can be more relatable and give them a glimpse into the lives of those involved. However, the facts in movies based off true events are not as presented as newsworthy, and are presented as more of a visual storyline whose purpose is to entertain and not provide information like the demographics, ages, dates, and criminology.

Since this movie was centered on Karla’s perspective, the audience is enticed to believe that what happened in the movie is what happened in real life to her, in which no one can really fill in those blanks except for Karla Homolka, herself. Perceptions of what is real and what is not are blurred when it comes to the interaction of the entertainment industry and modern newsworthy media storiesi Crime in films and television always have to have a plotline with a climax, and produce interest in characters that audience members can live vicariously through or idolize someone as a “good guy” or a “hero"i In news stories regarding criminal activity there is much less “wiggle—room” to create a plotline, because the story sits as it is and cannot be altered after it has happened. Because of shows like CS], Law and Order, and Dexter, audience members who have an affinity to a certain character may start to relate real criminal news stories to their favorite fictional ones.

This makes the viewer perceive real criminals as they see them in their shows and real law enforcement as they see them in their shows as well. Because of the stereotypical male protagonist character in most fictional crime shows, one is apt to believe that all real male law enforcement personnel is macho, troubled, heroic, and determined in nature. In Karla, the perceived notion that her psychiatrist was open and kind to her, offering her a cigarette, and telling her she “looks well,” in real life, is a myth. Her psychiatrist in real life may have been kind and compliant to his standards of operation, but by placing him in the movie as the “listener”, the audience is apt to believe that all criminal psychiatrists are middle-aged, coat wearing, men. This is the same premise to the arrest of Paul Bernardo as viewed in the movie and as represented in the real case. The movie/television myth that law enforcement can just bust into someone’s home and catch a criminal is rampant among crime shows and movies.

There are methods that restrict police from differentjurisdictjons and boundaries are set before an essential perpetrator is actively sought out and arrested The movie Karla made it seem very easy for law enforcement to just burst into Paul Bernardo’s home and arrest him. Aspects like these in the movie create a sense of action and drama that one does not otherwise receive in real life. The process to gaining access to arrest someone is very lengthy and Lime consuming, and if the movie were to be factual in nature in reference to Bernardo’s arrest, the audience would see a lot of surveillance and paperwork being done, The myths that revolve around the facts and the realities of this case are all about perception, and fact of the matter is, movies are made to entertain not to present facts.

In the case of Ronald Dominique in the documentary Bayou Blue there are several factors to examine the newsworthiness of each story in comparison to the “Ken and Barbie Killers”. First off, the offender, Ronald Dominique, was a middle—aged, white male, who committed the rapes and murders of 23 men/young men aging from 13 and up, in a small parish in New Orleans entitled “Bayou Blue’fl After previously examining the facts as to what makes a story newsworthy, since Dominique lived in such a small town, mass media outlets did not show interest in the “proximity“ of the case When talking earlier about what typically attracts audiences to criminal stories, the public likes to feel some emotion in relation to how well they can identify themselves to the families and the victims As stated by the journalist in the movie Bayou Blue, Dominique was deemed unattractive and was homosexual in nature when it came to the rapes he did, as were his victims.

Primarily black men, Dominique‘s technique to raping and killing his victims was by luring them from the “streets” convincing them that he’d pay them for sexual favors. He would first ask his victims their sexual preference and if they were homosexual he would offer them money to come with him in his truck or go to his trailer. if they answered that they were not homosexual, he would try to tell them that he could find them a pretty girl to have sex with for money and present them with a picture, There is already a stigma surrounding black men, being gay, and masculinity, and although the victims of Dominique were not openly gay, the relatable factor towards the newsworthiness of Dominique’s case in raping and killing had fallen on deaf ears because media outlets did not believe this to be a story of human interest in light of the victims.

Homolka and Bernardo’s case was deemed more of a human interest because their victims were branded as “innocent young girls” who had wealthy parents and went to private schools, As stated in the textbook Media & Crime by Yvonne Jewkes, newsworthy attributes are of those stories that reflect innocence and relatable human interests (2008). The headlines regarding Dominique’s case were very factual in nature and didn‘t present a lot of options to entice the public to be entertained. With this said, the only name Dominique was given by the media was the “Bayou Blue Killer” which didn’t register with anyone, unless they knew where Bayou Blue was located on a map.

The victims in Dominique’s case were portrayed by local media as “homosexual thugs” who were homeless and criminally inclined themselves. Because of this portrayal, mass media outlets were not interested in presenting this case as newsworthy in regards to the title that Dominique was committing crimes on other “criminals”. It made the story look gruesome and didn‘t paint anyone in a positive or innocent light like the victims of Homolka and Bernardo. There was very little media interaction regarding the follow up of Dominique’s sentence, and because of the small parish and the overall physical unattractiveness of everyone involved, this case was well forgotten and unseen.

Updated: May 07, 2023
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The Biased Portrayal of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo by the Media. (2023, May 07). Retrieved from

The Biased Portrayal of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo by the Media essay
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