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.
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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).
- Amanda Knox (convicted of the murder of Meredith Kercher; her conviction was subsequently overturned).
- Hostage situation in the Japanese ambassador's residence (1997).
- Joran van der Sloot and the death of Stephany Flores Ramirez (2010).
- 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, career, 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.
- The 1924 murder trials of Beulah Annan, Belva Gærtner, and several other female suspects in Chicago, adapted into the Chicago franchise by a newspaper reporter
- The 1954 trial of Sam Sheppard. The U.S. Supreme Court held "massive, pervasive, and prejudicial publicity" prevented him from receiving a fair trial.
- The 1965 littering trial against singer Arlo Guthrie and Richard Robbins, deliberately turned into a local media circus by arresting officer William Obanhein to deter others from repeating their actions.
- 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 Summer of the Shark in 2001.
- The trial of Scott Peterson (2004). "The circus became even more raucous when Peterson went on trial for murder in 2004." 
- The trial of Martha Stewart (2004). "The stone-faced Stewart never broke stride as she cut a path through the media circus."
- The disappearance of Stacy Peterson (2007).
- The alleged teenage "pregnancy pact" at Glocuester High School (2008).
- 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.
- The sexual harassment allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein effect (2017).
- The killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed (2020).
- "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. 2014-02-07. 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. 2008-04-24. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
- Langton, James (2007-03-11). "Circus comes to town for Conrad Black's trial". Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
- "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.
- Staff, WIRED (1994-04-01). "Paul and Karla Hit the Net". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
- "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". 2010-10-11. 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 (2018-07-06). "Throng of volunteers gather to rescue Thai boys trapped in cave". Reuters.
- "Media circus follows Melnychenko to Warsaw". Kyiv Post. October 28, 2004. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
- Sedova, Yana (December 11, 2005). "Melnychenko returns to Ukraine, testifies in secret to prosecutor". Kyiv Press Bureau. LXXIII (50). Retrieved July 21, 2014.
- "Why did Charlie Gard's court case become a media circus?". 2017-07-24.
- 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.
- McConnell, Virginia A.Fatal Fortune: the Death of Chicago's Millionaire Orphan, p. 62 Fatal Fortune: the Death of Chicago's Millionaire Orphan (books.google), Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005, ISBN 0-275-98473-7. p. 62
- "FindLaw's United States Supreme Court case and opinions". Findlaw. Retrieved 2019-11-30.
- "Youths Ordered to Clean Up Rubbish Mess". Berkshire Eagle. Pittsfield, Massachusetts. November 29, 1965. p. 25 – via Newspapers.com.
He (Obanhein) said he hoped their case would be an example to others who are careless about disposal of rubbish.
- 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. (31 January 1977). "Ringmaster at the circus". Newsweek. 89 (5). p. 77. ProQuest 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, ISBN 9780313336829
- (Elizabeth Davis, The Daily Beacon, January 12, 1996).
- "Elian moves home to avoid media circus". The Guardian. 25 April 2000. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
- Legon, Jeordan (March 14, 2003). "Survey: 'Shark summer' bred fear, not facts". CNN. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
- Roeper, Richard (July 25, 2002). "Media always produce a summer feeding frenzy". Chicago Sun-Times. p. 11.
- Miller, Suzanne (24 July 2003). "Summer of the shark?". Spiker. Archived from the original on 15 December 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
- "TV docuseries seems to suggest Scott Peterson didn't kill pregnant wife Laci". AP NEWS. 2017-08-14. Retrieved 2019-11-30.
- 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.
- Hinckley, David (January 23, 2010). "Lifetime's 'Pregnancy Pact' treats surge in teen pregnancy with kid gloves". New York Daily News.
- "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.
- "The media today: The 'Weinstein effect' reaches journalism". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2020-09-02.
- Heaney, Michael T. "Analysis | The George Floyd protests generated more media coverage than any protest in 50 years". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-09-02.