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Murder of the Century
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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

Evelyn Nesbit Time period: 1853-1929

Murder of the Century investigates the events leading up to the shooting of wealthy Manhattan architect Stanford White in 1906 by jealous millionaire- eccentric Harry Thaw. In the middle was Evelyn Nesbitt, a beautiful showgirl. This story of love, money, and social class became a favorite of New York's yellow press, whose reporting made the crime a public obsession.

Before Watching

1. Brainstorm as a whole class a list of controversial events in recent history. Discuss how different types of media (newspapers, magazines, television) presented each event. What were the differences in content and tone? What accounts for these differences? How did the coverage affect public opinion?

After Watching

1. Ask students to compare the trial of Harry Thaw to the trials of wealthy Americans today, such as Michael Milken, William Kennedy Smith, Leona Helmsley, and O.J. Simpson. What are the similarities and differences between the trials of these people and the trial of Harry Thaw? How did the defendants' wealth affect their trials? How did the media coverage affect public opinion and interest?

2. Write the following excerpt on the chalkboard and tell students that it comes from a 1907 "yellow" New York newspaper. Explain that yellow journalism exploits, distorts, or exaggerates news to attract readers. Ask them to rewrite the excerpt using only factual information. What are the differences between the two excerpts?

Evelyn Nesbit Thaw entered court today, when the trial of her millionaire husband was resumed, ready to sacrifice all to save his life.

No romance in fiction had the deep interest her narrative possessed; no tragedy caused greater woe than the slaying of a man for her; no sacrifice on the altar of justice was to be more bitter than hers...

In anticipation of the appearance of the beautiful young woman on the stand the greatest crowd in the history of New York murder trials fought the police for admission.

3. Have students discuss in groups the role and responsibility of newspapers and other media. Then have each group write guidelines for the media that define its purpose.

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