In 2020, along with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a dramatic spike in murders in the United States. This increase in lethal violence, understandably, was covered extensively in national and local media outlets. Yet, much of this coverage lacked critical context. While the increase in murders was significant, the overall murder rate remained far below its peak in the 1980s and 90s.
What Michael Moore argued in “Bowling for Columbine” 20 years ago is truer than ever: the American media’s obsession with violent crime has resulted in a frightened citizenry that believes guns make us safer.
"If it bleeds, it leads." Murders are sexy. Controversy is sexy. Political gamesmenship is sexy. The truth about certain and specific things? Not sexy.
If it ain't sexy, it ain't news!
This narrative is also being pushed by many right wing groups to stir up their base and disparage big city government. I’m in Chicago and, yes, there is crime and the last mayor was terrible and we are not quite sure how the new one will do (I’m not a fan), but some groups jump on every chance they get to turn it into stories that focus solely on fear of city life without telling the whole story. Chicago is a great city with many neighborhoods and business districts. The city needs to rebuild and reposition after the pandemic, but it is is an uphill battle if media and political operatives are only talking about the negative without context.
The harm of right wing media can be very insidious. It’s not only what they report, but what they do not report. I used to say that to people who still thought CNN was left leaning after being purchased by AT&T. It was what they did NOT report that was telling.
The GOP needs to create a narrative of high violent crime and an economy in shambles even if the opposite is true. The economy, by most metrics, is incredibly strong and it appears that we may avid the predicted recession (inflation is still up year over year but falling and wage growth outpaced inflation in Q1). Violent crime did spike during the emergency phase of the pandemic and there are still some problems in downtown areas--likely due to the number of people now workkng from home. However, the trend is quite positive but Republicans can't scare the shit (or money) out of voters that way.
Thank you for drawing attention to this information. I live in Minneapolis, and there was a race for the State Attorney General's office last year that focused 100% on crime. Fortunately, Keith Ellison won re-election - but the commercials his hedge fund opponent ran were horrific about "rampant crime".
Local news coverage quality has declined with decreasing budgets. The ambulance-chasing aspect now dominates. Crime, fires and crashes are easy to regurgitate.
Clicks still govern the news media, even the so called liberal news media. Thank you for underlining this issue.
I am always skeptical when rates of increase are trumpeted without context. If there were 10 murders a year ago and 15 this year, look, that's what, a 50% increase? Without knowing the baseline, and even better, historical context, a percent increase is almost meaningless—except for stirring up the Radical Right.
We've moved from, "If it bleeds, it leads," to "If it doesn't bleed (or shock), we don't bother to cover it."
The news media began to cast aside ACTUAL fair and accurate reporting about the time Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and Dan Rather exited the scene. Now news is about nothing but dredging up something to try to grab your eyeballs and mouse clicks and/or "groom" us all into believing the "conservative" agenda makes perfect sense while ignoring the evidence to the contrary which constantly surrounds us.
On top of that, the Media uses the excuse of desperately trying not to be "liberal" to obfuscate the reality that it's owned, lock, stock, and barrel, by some of our nation's wealthiest citizens who tacitly demand that nothing ever be reported that might allow the general public to know where all their money, their well-paying jobs with benefits, and their hope of ever having a comfortable retirement have gone (likely into the off shore tax shelters of those same fabulously wealthy scum bags who already have so much money their great grandchildren will never be able to spend it all, but regard their stolen wealth in the same way "Smaug" the dragon regarded his).
"The media' is whole heartedly participating in turning this nation into an "idiocracy," selling us out and selling their souls in the hope of profit.
Thank s, Judd, for reminding us that there are other possibilities, but until the 50% of the people in this nation who are above average take it as their mission to save the other 50% from being manipulated and ultimately murdered for the fun and profit of our nation's most dysfunctional wealthy folk, nothing is going to change. "Hunger Games," "Running Man," "Squid Game," etc., are dangerously close to turning into prophecy.
Our current free market obsession with "Screw you, I've got mine," needs to be supplanted by the old fashioned (non-Evangelical) Christian attitude that made this country great: "We ONLY do better [long term] when we ALL do better (we even acted to save the world, TWICE, but we'd never do that, now). Lacking that change in attitudes, those at the top are going to continue to try to kill the goose that has laid their golden eggs, failing to realize that, once they succeed in rearranging our nation's economic and political system to meet their own needs, it will all come crashing down and their huge bank accounts won't count for a thing.
We won't need the proverbial pitch forks and torches, because they're going to do this to themselves. Those used to living on nothing will be far better off, while those used to hot and cold running servants, but unable to take care of themselves or grow their own food will likely not make it (thus making "the last shall be first" a true prophecy).
I was at a Juneteenth event in west Philly Sunday. The crowd was huge, joyful and easy going. But there were also a number of calls to the community to stem the tide of violence. There are real issues negatively impacting communities like west Philly, and stats are cold comfort when you're afraid to let your kids play outside or walk the dog after dark. That said, there needs to be more narrative and action around building and investing in community as a way to push back on violence. Sadly, we just elected a mayor who ran her entire campaign focused on "constitutional stop and frisk" (whatever the hell that is). So, we have the very real spectre of violence and lawlessness making people afraid and distrustful, amplified by a media dissatisfaction machine, resulting in politicians who's policies engender further distrust.
Mass shootings are the lead story - - random killings at concerts, campgrounds, in family settings, the feeling that no where is safe anymore.
News reporting should as perfectly as possible reflect the truth and condition of the area it covers. It should be a clear mirror held up for the people to look at. The news must inform.
The profit motive and readership ratings for the major news outlets should be removed. All media should be obligated to take an oath to accurately tell the truth of the events and have their license to report the news revoked if they knowingly break the oath.
Accurate and even handed coverage is a public service without which people are purposefully misled and therefore endangered.
I think the kind of reporting I am most aware of is that about so-called mass and random shootings, which triggers conversation about the availability of guns, but isn’t discussed as murder, which usually has a motive attached. I am glad to see the decrease in the murder rate but wonder of what these figures consist—or not.
Thank you for this piece! It’s become a real pet peeve of mine. (I’m guessing my family is tiring of me barking at the tv.) As the authors suggest, and I agree, it’s not that these murders shouldn’t be covered; it’s just that media coverage should (must!) be more comprehensive.
Thanks for highlighting this rare bit of good news, Judd.
I think it’s pretty clear to me that when media outlets run one of their “crime epidemic” stories, they are following the equivalent of the Southern Strategy. “Crime” is the new code word for “black people”. It’s just more repackaged white supremacist BS. One more reason I don’t subscribe to commercial news outlets. That, and the crappy writing by bored interns.