Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Language and Politics 15:6 (2016), pp 790–817. doi: 10.1075/jlp.15.6.07cat


Copyright © 2016 John Benjamins Publishing Co. Used by permission.


In September 2008, the collapse of the bank Lehman Brothers led to a financial crisis and the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, threatening the entire global financial system. Some of the effects of the crisis included evictions, foreclosures and high and prolonged unemployment. Despite the fact that bankers and corporate executives are widely known to bear much of the blame for the crisis (“The origins of the financial crisis,” 2013), very few have actually been convicted of any crime. In addition, recent investigations of the relationship between the New York Federal Reserve and banks such as Goldman Sachs have revealed that even the regulators assigned to keep banks in check have become “too risk averse and deferential to the banks it supervised” (Bernstein 2014). Yet, the public has largely “learned to accept the implicit idea that some people have simply more rights than others. Some people go to jail, and others just don’t” (Taibbi 2014, xix). Similarly, in Italy, there is a large public consensus that many politicians and corporate executives are allies of Mafia groups such as ‘Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra (who are engaging in activities such as setting up bogus firms in order to receive public subsidies, money laundering, fraudulent real estate schemes, etc.), yet few of them ever end up being prosecuted or serving jail time. In fact, while the government has created numerous task forces to combat Mafia groups, the ‘Ndrangheta has continued to gross billions of euros and has become a global presence, active in countries such as Germany as well as in South America (Conti 2014). The present paper seeks to understand why these CEOs and Mafia organizations are not often punished for their crimes and why there is little public outcry about it. We are concerned with one element that plays a crucial role: the lack of connection between their actions and their representation in the media. The representation of social actors in public discourse has always played an important role in how the public perceives them, how they are treated by legal and government entities and what the consequences of their actions are (van Leeuwen 1996). Discourses not only represent what is happening, but also evaluate, justify, highlight or background certain aspects of it (van Leeuwen, 2008, 6). Consequently, this multimodal critical discourse analysis will attempt to reveal less-than-obvious discursive strategies that (re)produce dominant ideologies of criminality and how groups in power, convicted or accused of crimes, are treated in the discourse. To do this, we take a qualitative approach that examines online newspaper articles reporting crimes committed by CEOs in the U.S. and Italian Mafia groups. Our focus is on the metonymic strategies.