In order to bring you the most up-to-date news stories from around the country, we pay close attention to the headlines. Which is why we were scratching our heads today at the Crime Pulse chatroom. One major news outlet is saying that violent crime has surged. Another says that it’s at historic lows.
Who should we believe?
The difference in messaging seems to be tied to whether you’re more conservative or more liberal.
On Fox News this week, this was a major headline: Violent crime spikes after police funding cuts dubbed ‘Minneapolis effect.’
However, on the very same day on mega-liberal site Mother Jones, this was the headline: Fact of the Day: Crime Is Still Falling in the United States.
That’s a pretty major ideological difference. At first, it might seem like these two competing news sites are living in completely different realities. How can crime both spike and fall at the same time? Let’s take a closer look.
The Mother Jones opinion piece by political blogger Kevin Drum is more concerned with the big picture. He looked at the difference between the 2019 crime stats just released by the FBI and those of years past.
Compared to 2018, crime dropped across the board last year. “Property crime is at its lowest level of the past several decades, while violent crime is at its second-lowest (only 2014 has been lower),” Drum reported.
While his facts and figures are accurate for 2019, he admits that “we won’t know anything reliable until this time next year” about 2020’s crime rates. Drum’s perspective–that things are, in fact, better overall than they were last year, or the last decade–is similar to the classic “just the facts” style of non-partisan reporting.
Ironically, in our super-charged political climate, non-partisan reporting tends to appear skewed to the left. Liberal journalism typically relies more on facts than feelings. They look at long-term data and statistics and tell their readership that we are, in fact, safer than we’ve ever been.
If you tend to consume more conservative media, then you probably hear a lot of very scary stories. Shootings, robberies, rapes. Child trafficking. Murdered law enforcement officers. Rioting and looting.
Conservative media focuses less on big-picture statistics and more on individual stories that produce an emotional response. A liberal media outlet might report that child trafficking has decreased 18%, while a conservative outlet will tell you the story of an individual child rescued by heroic US Marshals in a daring raid.
Human beings are wired for story and emotional response. We tend to prioritize feelings over facts, which is why the headline from Fox News is so much more compelling. (It’s also, from an objective view, more clickable. I want to know what the Minneapolis effect is, so I better keep reading!)
Here, Fox News is looking at a spike in the overall crime statistics, which they claim is caused by the anti-police messaging in the nationwide protests still rocking the country. Burglary and especially gun homicide have increased dramatically in major cities over the summer. That’s true. But it’s also true that overall crime is down.