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This study examines the emergence of crime as the nation's "most important problem" for the first time in U.S. polling history in 1994. By comparing polling data, news coverage waves, and crime statistics, the analysis challenges the argument that shifting media coverage is driven by public sentiment. It does so by demonstrating that a dramatic change in public opinion polls was precipitated by an unprecedented news coverage wave at a time when crime levels were actually falling. The study thus underscores the leading role media can play in the emergence of social problems and casts doubt on the notion that escalating expenditures for the American criminal justice system are driven principally by public demand.