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narrative control
Weaponized Fact-Checking on Trump and Crime

We’ve noted this pattern before: Despite clear evidence of a rise in violent crime over the past eighteen months, media outlets seem determined to dismiss any expressions of alarm as ignorant at best and bigoted at worst. This is especially true when those claims come from Donald Trump, a figure whom most journalists perceive as, well, ignorant and bigoted.

But Trump’s penchant for trafficking in reckless exaggerations and brazen falsehoods on a number of issues doesn’t change the fact that his statistics about crime in last night’s convention speech were, in fact, entirely accurate. There is no disputing that the official data show a 17 point spike in crime in America’s biggest cities. Even the liberal-leaning Brennan Center, in a report clearly designed to quash stories about a crime boomlet, found a 13 percent increase (using a smaller sample). And yet, this is the first item in CBS News in a story entitled, “here are the debunked claims in Trump’s convention speech.”

TRUMP: “Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement. Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years.”

THE FACTS: A rollback? President Barack Obama has actually achieved some big increases in spending for state and local law enforcement, including billions in grants provided through the 2009 stimulus. While FBI crime statistics for 2015 are not yet available, Trump’s claim about rising homicides appears to come from a Washington Post analysis published in January. While Trump accurately quotes part of the analysis, he omits that the statistical jump was so large because homicides are still very low by historical standards. In the 50 cities cited by the Post, for example, half as many people were killed last year as in 1991.

Similarly, the Washington Post opens its “fact-check” by claiming “Trump cherry-picks data to paint an alarming picture of homicide trends, when in reality, they have been declining for decades.” Again, the fact-checker seems to be attempting to “control the narrative,” rather than grappling with the actual numbers. Yes, crime has declined since the 1990s. But it also has gone up over the last year-and-a-half. Those are not mutually exclusive facts, and the truth of the first doesn’t mean that the second shouldn’t be cause for concern.

Now, while the statistics are (as far as we can tell) irrefutable, fact-checkers could productively contest Trump’s claim that the increase can be attributed to “this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement.” There will probably never be a consensus explanation for the origins of the urban crime spike. But a convention speech isn’t a sociology seminar, and credible criminologists have speculated that changing attitudes toward police officers have caused them to enforce the law less aggressively. To suggest that the Justice Department’s investigations of local police departments have contributed to officers’ decision to retrench is a political argument outside the scope of “true vs. false” fact-checking.

To be clear: The apocalyptic landscape Trump described in his speech is not accurate. Americans are safer today than they were a decade ago, even if they are less safe than they were two years ago. And as Reihan Salam noted, fact that crime has ticked up doesn’t mean police reform isn’t good policy.

But just as with immigration and terrorism, efforts to tamp down fears by denying the very legitimacy of crime problem will almost certainly backfire. And thus far, the media has often been “fact-checking” Trump’s claims with a level of dishonesty worthy of the candidate himself.

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  • Andrew Allison

    “And thus far, the media has often been “fact-checking” Trump’s claims with a level of dishonesty worthy of the candidate himself.” There you go again.

  • Boritz

    TAI writes about Trump with a big dose of disdain, by intent, and a larger dose of blind partisanship, by necessity.

    • Andrew Allison

      TAI’s all-too-apparent disdain for the choice of the Republican voters is, to say the least, distressing. Time for a name change? TEI (The Establishment Interest) perhaps? When can we expect some commentary on the manifest unfitness for office of the Democratic Party’s nominee. Let’s face it, in terms of outright dishonesty, both Hillary and the media demonstrably leave Donald in their dust.

  • Josephbleau

    I loath the ad hominem one liners at the end of these pieces that the authors seem so proud of.

    • Pete

      The kid’s a punk.

      • FriendlyGoat

        So why are you here reading such things?

        • Pete

          To know the enemy, chief, to know the enemy

          • FriendlyGoat

            Gee, I thought that’s why I was here as a leftie reading rightie stuff.

  • PierrePendre

    Liberals have to contest the rise in crime because finding the explanation leads to the point where the figures show the rise beginning and in this case it’s Ferguson and the Left’s subsequent demonisation of the police and their withdrawal from proactive policing. If liberals – whether in politics, the media or academia – admit there is a problem, they’re obliged to admit that they also have a responsibility for it.

  • Beauceron

    You just don’t get it.

    You put the cart before the horse.

    You think media lies are not the way to combat Trump. It’s the media lies that gave rise to Trump.

  • Arkeygeezer

    What are the statistics on Black on Black crime? Black on black homicides have jumped substantially.

    • Anthony

      Always a need to interject your version of black counterpoint no matter subject (psychologically that says a lot). Cognitive psychology labels it The Moralization Gap (self-serving biases) where people try to look good. “Good can mean effective, potent, desirable, and competent, or it can mean virtuous, honest, generous, and altruistic. The drive to present the self in a positive light is a major finding of 20th-century psychology.” The difference between the way people judge other people’s behavior and the way they judge their own behavior is a classic instance of a self-serving bias. It’s not just that there are two sides (if not more) to statistics. It’s that each presenter sincerely believes its presentation and has assembled both narrative and database consistent with version.

      Freud gives an armamentarium of defense mechanisms – projection, denial, reaction formation, etc. Once that is a consideration, social life begins to look different and most importantly we shouldn’t deceive ourselves about self-deception.

      • Arkeygeezer

        Do you mean that if I bring up a point with which you disagree, I am mentally unbalanced? Sounds like the argument for politically correct speech which is meant to suppress political discourse in favor of the elite, progressive position.

        • Anthony

          No, that’s “not” what I mean (political correct speech designation is diversion and you as a man of law know such). My point is (and remains) you comparatively indict American blacks whether subject matter specific or associated. There may be an implicit association operating; you interpose a link extemporaneously (hidden biases of good people perhaps). In furthering political discourse (not elite, not progressive, not stereotype, not adversarial), ruminate on: http://www.salon.com/2016/07/23/anatomy-of-a-trump-voter-how-racism-propelled-trump-to-the-republican-nomination/

          • Arkeygeezer

            I may disagree with what you say sir, but I will defend to the death your right to say it (and be such a blithering idiot!) Voltaire paraphrased.

          • Anthony

            Yea, we both know Voltaire was on sinecure (and as an old commenter used to say: name calling last refuge of…).

          • Arkeygeezer

            “To be clear: The apocalyptic landscape Trump described in his speech is not accurate. Americans are safer today than they were a decade ago, even if they are less safe than they were two years ago.”

            I think that my question was entirely on point. American whites are probably safer, American blacks are not. You can disagree with this point, but the facts differ.

            Deal with it! (in plain english if you will. Obscure language does not help your arguments.

          • Anthony

            There’s nothing to disagree with and no obscure language (another deflection). Your point is yours and not relevant to post (that’s “my point”). Let us end this is as we are 72 hours in. To be clear, you are what you think you are and for me no argument has taken place (another time on a different thread perhaps, thanks).

  • FriendlyGoat

    It does not matter what is in Trump’s statistics or anyone else’s statistics. But it does matter when promises from a “law and order” candidate are undefined. Since we know that the characters of neither Chuck Norris nor Clint Eastwood have personally scared criminals into “going straight”, we can start by assuming that Donald’s hair and tie won’t do the trick either.
    Congress can appropriate tons of federal money to local police units, but Donald can’t. Courts can change legal precedents with respect to policing over-reach, but Donald can’t. No one can anticipate and prevent lone wolf attacks, whether Islam motivated, or race motivated, or hate-the-cops motivated. I think we just heard (in the acceptance speech) a lot of bullsh*t on this subject. The statistics were not the bullsh*t. The promised personal remedy from Donald was the bullsh*t.

  • Proud Skeptic

    “THE FACTS: A rollback? President Barack Obama has actually achieved some big increases in spending for state and local law enforcement, including billions in grants provided through the 2009 stimulus. While FBI crime statistics for 2015 are not yet available, Trump’s claim about rising homicides appears to come from a Washington Post analysis published in January. While Trump accurately quotes part of the analysis, he omits that the statistical jump was so large because homicides are still very low by historical standards. In the 50 cities cited by the Post, for example, half as many people were killed last year as in 1991.”

    1. An increase in spending does not equate to anything but an increase in spending. Higher crime rates are the problem, not efforts to reduce them.

    2.The fact that things were worse in 1991 is irrelevant to Trump’s point. There is a recent uptick. That is what is important. The trend has changed after years of going down.

    3. The uptick coincides with The Ferguson Effect which, I believe, the government still resists fully acknowledging.

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