Media circus is a colloquial metaphor, or idiom, describing a news event where the media coverage is perceived to be out of proportion to the event being covered, such as the number of reporters at the scene, the amount of news media published or broadcast, and the level of media hype. The term is meant to critique the media, usually negatively, by comparing it to a circus, and is considered an idiom as opposed to a literal observation. Usage of the term in this sense became common in the 1970s.
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 as varied as the people who use the term. However, 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."
Events described as a media circus include:
- The Beaconsfield Mine collapse.
- 2009 Violence against Indians in Australia controversy.
- Schapelle Corby Drug smuggler 
- Amanda Knox (convicted of the murder of Meredith Kercher; her conviction was subsequently overturned).
- Disappearance and alleged murder of Elodia Ghinescu, especially on OTV, which aired a couple hundred episodes on the matter.
- The life, death and funeral of Jade Goody.
- The News International phone hacking scandal. Often overshadowed stories on the Libyan/Syrian civil wars, east-African famine, and economic crisis.
- The abduction of Madeline McCann
- 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 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 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 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.
- 24-hour news cycle
- Broadcast Journalism
- Cause célèbre
- CNN effect
- Deviancy amplification spiral
- Dirty Laundry
- Feiler Faster Thesis
- It's Not News, It's FARK
- Richard Jewell
- Local news
- Media event
- Media scrum
- Missing white woman syndrome
- News broadcasting
- News program
- Television news
- Television program
- Trial by media
- Yellow journalism
- "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.
- "When is enough Natalee Holloway madness enough?". Caribbean Net News. 2005-08-23.
- "Media circus comes digging for gold". Sydney Morning Herald. May 4, 2006.
- Radio | ABC Radio Australia
- Global Voices - Brazil: Making a child murder into a media show
- "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.
- As media circus wanes...
- The media circus around Chile's trapped miners.
- The ‘Get’ Game Gets Going at Chile Miner Media Circus
- 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"
- "Peru police confirm Van der Sloot's murder confession". Radio Netherlands Worldwide. 2010-06-09.
- STIRI - Fenomenul „Elodia“, dupa doi ani
- MEDIA SUSTAINABILITY INDEX 2009, p. 89
- Fenomenul „Elodia“, după doi ani | adevarul.ro
- 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.
- Gelman, David, Greenberg, Peter S. et al., "Ringmaster at the circus," Newsweek. New York: Jan. 31, 1977. Vol.89, Iss. 5; pg. 77. Source type: Periodical. ISSN: 00289604. ProQuest document ID: 1098541. Document URL: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1098541&sid=1&Fmt=2&clientId=76566&RQT=309&VName=PQD (subscription) retrieved Dec. 20, 2006
- (Elizabeth Davis, The Daily Beacon, January 12, 1996).
- Newsweek, "Martha's Fall," March 15, 2005 
- Untouchable: Drew Peterson movie review - Chicago Tribune
- Casey Anthony Trial Media Frenzy Explained | digtriad.com
- "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.
- "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.
- "Amid many trials, a frenzy over Jodi Arias". USA Today. May 12, 2013.