In contrast, the televised news programs on local CBS, ABC, and NBC channels present stories about crime, criminals, and the police that tend to be favorable to police action and critical of criminals. Many criminals are depicted as emerging from impoverished "ghetto" gang backgrounds and as living outside of societal norms. These programs tend to affirm Merton's theory of anomie and social learning as well as structural functional theories of crime and deviance that are discussed below.
Theories of crime and deviance abound and are significant in determining how criminals are defined. The debate between classicalism and positivism has contributed significantly to the growth of modern day criminology. Classicalism is based in large measure on the assumption that individuals possess free will and that those who violate the law were motivated by personal needs. Utilitarians such as Beccaria and Bentham argued that the decision to violate the law comes after a careful weighing of the costs of criminal behavior and classical theorists assert that punishment should only be severe enough to deter an offense. In contrast, positivist thinkers argue in favor of a scientific approach to understanding choices as evident in the work of Comte and Durkheim. This theory calls for measuring rather than speculating about the causes of cr