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“Fomenting Racism To Convince Racists That He’s Their Guy”: Why The Media Struggles To Deal With Donald Trump’s Race-Baiting

As you’ve probably heard by now, Donald Trump had quite a weekend. First he claimed on Saturday that “I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as [the World Trade Center] was coming down.” Confronted with the fact that this is completely false, Trump insisted on Sunday, “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where you have large Arab populations…that tells you something.”

Then on Sunday he (or someone from his campaign) tweeted out a graphic with phony statistics purporting to show how murderous black people are (and illustrated with a picture of a young black man with a bandana over his face, pointing a gun sideways, gangster-style).

Both of these happenings are receiving plenty of attention in the media today. The problem is that the media doesn’t know how to handle this kind of blatant race-baiting from a leading politician.

And just to be clear, it is race-baiting, and nothing else. In neither case is there even the remotest connection to some kind of legitimate policy question. When Trump says falsely that thousands of people in Jersey City (which has a large Muslim population) were celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center, he isn’t making an argument about Syrian refugees. He’s simply saying that you should hate and fear Muslim Americans. When he tries to convince people that most white murder victims are killed by black thugs (again, false), he isn’t arguing for some policy approach. He’s just trying to foment racism and convince racists that he’s their guy.

So how do the media deal with this? One thing they don’t do is call it by its name. The first approach is to report on it as just another campaign controversy (“Trump takes heat for tweet about black murder rates“). That kind of story sticks to the who-what-where-when approach: Trump tweeted this, he was criticized for it, here’s how it was inaccurate, here’s Trump’s response. Any value judgments that appear will be spoken by Trump’s critics (though not his primary opponents, who for the most part are dancing around any criticism of what Trump said).

The second approach the media takes is to address Trump’s comments through fact-checking, something we have gotten pretty good at. Interestingly enough, fact-checking as a formal genre of journalism can be traced to another campaign that prominently featured Republican race-baiting, the 1988 election. In the wake of that election, many news outlets felt they had been manipulated by George H.W. Bush’s campaign into not only focusing on distracting issues that had little or nothing to do with the presidency, but also into becoming a conduit for ugly attacks with little basis in fact. Over the following few years, many decided to institutionalize fact-checks, at first for television ads in particular, and later for all kinds of claims made in politics. Eventually sites like Politifact and FactCheck.org were created, and major news organizations like this one devoted staff solely to fact-checking.

In the process, journalists acquired both an understanding of how to separate the accurate from the inaccurate from the subjective, and a language to talk about different kinds of claims. While there’s plenty of slippage — you still see claims that have been proven false referred to as “controversial” or “questionable” — the existence of the fact-checking enterprise has allowed reporters to be clearer with their audiences about what is and isn’t true.

So if you want a fact-check of Trump’s claims, you’ll have no trouble finding it (here’s the Post’s). What you’ll have to look harder for is reporting that puts what Trump said in a context that goes much deeper than the campaign controversy of the week.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that there’s a simple template reporters should follow, one that will allow them to easily separate the merely “controversial” from the clearly racist (though wherever the line is, passing on phony statistics about murderous black people from neo-Nazis is definitely on the other side of it). But they wouldn’t violate any reasonable conception of objectivity by making the nature of Trump’s arguments clear.

When David Duke nearly won the governorship of Louisiana in 1991, it was reported in the national media as a story about racism, with a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan garnering a majority of the white vote as he lost a runoff election. Few in the media hesitated to call Duke a racist, in large part because even at the time he was perceived as representing yesterday’s racism, antiquated for its explicitness (even if Duke did try to clean up his views for the campaign).

Trump represents one face of today’s racism (though not by any means the only face). It simultaneously insists that Muslims can be good Americans, and accuses them of hating America and says their places of worship ought to be kept under government surveillance. It says that some Mexican-Americans are good people, and says most of them are rapists and drug dealers. It says “I think I’ll win the African-American vote” and then tries to convince voters that black people are murdering white people everywhere. In every case, Trump proclaims that he’s no racist while tapping into longstanding racist stereotypes and narratives of the alleged threat posed by minorities to white people.

Since I can’t read minds, I don’t know whether Donald Trump is a racist deep in his heart. But he is without question making himself into the racist’s candidate for president. And that’s a subject the media needs to explore in more depth.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, November 23, 2015

November 25, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fearmongering, Muslims, Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Why The Media Can’t Tell The Truth About Donald Trump’s Lies”: Fact-Checking Rains On The Parade Of Media Revenue Models

On Sunday afternoon, Donald Trump retweeted an objective lie. The lie claimed that 81 percent of murdered white people are killed by black people. In truth, 84 percent of murdered white people are murdered by other white people, almost the exact opposite the claim. Not only were the statistics wrong, but the tweet cited the “Crime Statistics Bureau—San Francisco.”

This organization doesn’t exist.

The bureau was the creation of a white supremacist on Twitter, advancing a racist meme with a  lie. Trump hasn’t taken down the tweet, apologized, or even acknowledged it.

But because of the way the Internet values its information, Donald Trump lied again, and he will once again get away with it.

Here were the headlines from mainstream outlets about Trump’s entirely made up piece of information:

“Trump Tweet on Black Crime Sets Off Firestorm,” wrote Fox News.

“Fact Checking Donald Trump’s Questionable ‘USA Crime Statistics’ Tweet Broken Down by Race,” wrote the New York Daily News.

“Trump Takes Heat for Tweet About Black Murder Rates,” wrote The Hill.

Noticeably absent from these headlines was that Donald Trump’s tweet was entirely fabricated. The Hill’s doesn’t even dig into the credibility of the statistics until the ninth paragraph.

Donald Trump lied. And yet traditional news organizations can’t or won’t call him that in the name of “objectivity”—appearing to favor one party over another—even if one candidate is spreading a rumor that unfairly maligns an entire race.

“The incentive for candidates [to lie] is that most media outlets don’t have the resources to check for accuracy immediately, but since the U.S. news media is based on the commercial model—and more eyeballs on the page or the screen is good for business—the networks love it when someone like Donald Trump says outrageous stuff,” Michelle Amazeen, an assistant communications professor at Rider University, told The Daily Beast.

“Fact-checking rains on the parade of that revenue model.”

Amazeen co-authored a study for the American Press Institute that largely had great things to say about fact-checking. Prevalent fact-checking operations like Politifact or FactCheck.org do, in fact, serve as a deterrent for candidates who are thinking about lying during an election cycle, she and her co-authors found.

But when a candidate figures out that he can say whatever he wants in order to advance a narrative and can have immediate benefits—and knowingly exploits it—all bets are off.

“Beyond being ineffective, correcting claims about a highly controversial issue can actually backfire. People who are diehard believers hold their beliefs even more firmly when those beliefs are challenged,” Amazeen wrote earlier this year in The Washington Post.

“We know that a lot of people don’t even read past the first sentence, so the initial information gets passed around and, unfortunately, there’s not much stopping them,” Amazeen told The Daily Beast. “Fact-checking is spreading, but not nearly as fast as that first information.”

As Poynter’s Craig Silverman once put it, “Initial, inaccurate information will be retweeted more than any subsequent correction.”

Trump’s candidacy turned misinformation into ammunition in just four easy steps.

First, say or tweet an incorrect piece of information, knowing any network that calls you on it will be dubbed partial by one of the two political parties.

Two, watch as mainstream news outlets write about the controversy of your statements—as the right and left line up on predictable sides—but not call you out on it. The stories will often present an objective fact-check, placed with seemingly equal weight to what one of your supporters feels is true. “Objectivity” and “balance” means treating someone who is factually wrong, even lying, the same as the person who is right and honest.

Three, fire up your base when one news organization dares to disobey the second rule. Call them “biased,” “failing,” or “unfair.”

Four, watch your Q rating soar!

And Trump’s campaign is built on lies more than any other in recent memory.

“This cycle is very different with the number of flat-out wrong claims,” said Angie Drobnic-Holan, editor-in-chief of Politifact. “Some of our fact-checks are not all clear cut. Some are in the mostly true range, and that’s fine. But this year, the amount of things that did not or could not have happened? Just go through our ‘Pants On Fire’ section. You’ll see way more examples than in previous years.”

Politifact’s “Pants On Fire” designation is reserved for the most severe, unbelievable lies told by politicians on any side of the aisle.

“Take Donald Trump’s scorecard and compare it to Michele Bachmann or Mitt Romney at this time [in the election cycle]. Bachmann is probably the closest parallel, because she said some very provocative things that turned out to be completely wrong,” she said. “It’s not even close. And she only won the Ames poll, then that was it. He’s different.”

Even by 2016 standards, Trump is lapping the field in “Pants On Fires.”

“Tell you what: Look at Jeb Bush’s scorecard. Look at Marco Rubio’s scorecard. Anybody’s. If you’re a politician, and you’re talking about controversial things, odds are you’ll say something wacky at some point,” she said. “But they don’t look anything like Donald Trump’s.”

On a basic human level, too, Drobnic-Holan can see how this kind of thing goes uncovered by beat reporters and mainstream media. Journalists are tired. They can’t check everything right away when they’re on deadline. But writing a story about a controversy over a piece of misinformation one already knows is untrue, and not reporting it that way?

“If you’re repeating information that you know to be wrong without letting your readers know, then you’re doing them a disservice,” she said. “That’s the most vital service we provide, don’t you think? Is that controversial?”

It shouldn’t be, but it is.

The radio silence on Trump’s lies may have a direct and lasting effect on the country, too.

“These claims get repeated down ballot,” said Amazeen. “Governors, judges, dog catchers.”

So how can we stop it?

“We need to re-examine what our news media are doing. We need to find a way to get readers to value the content,” she said.

That means driving news outlets away from placing objectively true information next to feelings about what happened in an effort to shield themselves from the ridicule of one side. That ridicule, in the current economy of the Internet, could lead to a loss of unique visitors—the thing that matters most to advertisers on the Web. News companies, one way or another, need to keep the lights on.

A better way of monetizing the news is coming (like paid subscriptions), but until then candidates like Trump can revel in a mostly controversy-first, fact-second news cycle.

“Fact checking is spreading, but not nearly as fast as the misinformation before it. This is what journalists are supposed to be doing,” said Amazeen. “Journalism has been gutted over the years because it’s not making the money that it used to make. We’ve had a hollowing out of journalism.”

Drobnic-Holan sees a better future. She says her site is being cited more frequently this time around, that there’s a real appetite for it in the 2016 race.

“I really take seriously we’re independent, that we’re not taking sides, that we’re not making a judgment on the overall candidacy of a specific candidate, just their facts,” she said. “We’re trying to provide information for voters to inform the voters, then let the process play out.”

But shouldn’t everybody be doing that? Isn’t that just what journalism is? Isn’t fact checking the whole thing—not just the eighth paragraph underneath the controversy?

“I think so. I think people are starting to see how powerful this form of journalism is,” she says. “That if a journalist’s not fact checking, they’re not doing their jobs.”

 

By: Ben Collins, The Daily Beast, November 24, 2015

November 25, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Journalism, Mainstream Media, White Supremacists | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Dangerous Is Police Work?”: Being A Policeman Is One Of The Safer Jobs You Can Have

After the senseless death and tragic funerals of two young New York City policeman, cops have got to be thinking about assassination. “I want to go home to my wife and kids,” said a cop to the New York Post.” I am concerned about my safety.”

On NBC’s Meet the Press,” NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton said that cops across the country “feel under attack”

They have good reason to worry. Getting killed is a hazard in many occupations, but there is one glaring difference between death risks of law enforcement officers and those of other dangerous occupations: only police officers face the threat of murder as a part of their job. No one is out trying to kill fisherman or loggers or garbage collectors.

A cop on the street endures daily contact with drunks, the mentally disabled and violent criminals. They endure life-and-death situations on a daily basis.

However, the misconception that police work is dangerous, propagated by the media and police unions, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy— especially, if police believe that they are going into deadly battle when they head out on patrol. They are likely to be nervous and trigger-happy and might affect their decision-making in a stressful situation.

The fact is: being a policeman is one of the safer jobs you can have, according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor.

In five years, 2008 to 2012, only one policeman was killed by a firearm in the line of duty in New York City. Police officers are many times more likely to commit suicide than to be killed by a criminal; nine NYC policemen attempted to take their own lives in 2012, alone. Eight succeeded. In 2013, eight NYPD officers attempted suicide, while six succeeded. If police want to protect themselves, a wise move might be to invest in psychiatric counseling, rather than increased firepower.

2013 had the fewest police deaths by firearms since 1887 nationwide.

The national figures vary widely from year to year. In 2014, police deaths in the line of duty, including heart attacks, spiked upward from 100 in 2013, to 126 in 2014.

But the trend has been clearly downward in the last 40 years. Police work is getting progressively safer compared with historical averages:

  • From 1970 to 1980 police deaths averaged 231 per year.
  • 1980 to 1989: police deaths averaged 190.7
  • 1990 to 1999: police deaths averaged 161.5
  • 2000 to 2009: police deaths averaged 165
  • 2013 to 2014: police deaths averaged 113.

Statistics are drawn from the police friendly National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund which also show that felony killings of police dropped by 50 percent from 1992 to 2013 from 10,000 to 5,000 annually per 100,000 residents.

Statistics are notably unreliable both from the federal government and from law enforcement friendly sites. The best statistics come from the New York City Police Firearms Discharge Reports.

The Report for 2013 noted the following:

—- In 1971, 12 officers were killed by other persons and police shot and killed 93 subjects.

—- In 2013, no officers were shot and killed and police killed 8 subjects.

To put the risk of policing in perspective: fisherman and loggers are 10 times more likely to be killed on the job than a police officer, a farmer is 2 times more likely to die on the job, according to national figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A logging worker is eight times more likely than a police officer to die on the job, and a garbage man is three times more likely to die while working.

The 10 Deadliest Jobs: Deaths per 100,000

  1. Logging workers: 128.8
  2. Fishers and related fishing workers: 117
  3. Aircraft pilot and flight engineers: 53.4
  4. Roofers: 40.5
  5. Structural iron and steel workers: 37
  6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors: 27.1
  7. Electrical power-line installers and repairers: 23
  8. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers: 22.1
  9. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers: 21.3
  10. Construction laborers: 17.4

Out of approximately one million police and law enforcement personnel, with 126 deaths per year, the death rate for police is 12.6 per hundred thousand.

The most dangerous job in the U.S. is being president. Eight out of 44 presidents died in office, about 18 percent. Four were assassinated, just over 9 percent.

Most policemen killed on the job die in accidents (mostly auto), not from firearm assault, according to the FBI.

According to FBI figures (which are slightly different than other tabulations), 14 of the 76 police deaths in 2013, nation-wide, were due to auto accidents —- when the officer wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Tragic for sure.

Of the 76 cops who died in the line of duty in 2013, 18 of them were from gunfire. The rest were traffic fatalities or slips and falls.

Assailants used personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.) in 80.2 percent of the incidents, firearms in 4.3 percent of incidents, and knives or other cutting instruments in 1.7 percent of the incidents.

About 40 percent of officers (30) who die in the line of duty are homicides, which would give police a murder rate of 3 per 100,000, compared with the average national murder rate for the general population of 5.6 per 100,000.

The average citizen of Chicago had a murder risk of 18.5 in 2012, more than three times the murder risk of policeman. Police killings are almost always classified as line-of-duty.

In reality, police don’t draw or fire their guns very much.

Many NYC cops never draw their weapons in their whole career. In New York City, only one cop in 755 fired his or her gun at a suspect intentionally in 2012. In 2013, only one of 850 officers fired a weapon at a suspect intentionally.

In 2012, 80.2 percent of officers who were assaulted in the line of duty were attacked with personal weapons (e.g., hands, fists, or feet).

4.3 percent of the officers were assaulted with firearms.

The reason a policeman’s job is getting safer is simple. There has been a dramatic drop in crime in the last two decades. Less crime means safer working conditions for the people who try to stop it.

The act of policing needs to be safer. Use body cameras. Cut down on the number of traffic accidents. Mandate the use of seat belts on duty. Enforce better and more professional training to avoid dangerous situations, and offer better counseling to deal with the stress of the job.

Attacks on police are a great media story, but if the false narrative — that policing is getting more dangerous — continues to spread it will have a significant effect on how police do their jobs —- making them more fearful than they already are, with increasingly deadly results for the general public.

 

By: Blake Fleetwood, Ten Miles Square, The Washington Monthly, January 15, 2015

January 18, 2015 Posted by | Crime Rates, Dangerous Occupations, NYPD | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Economics Of Gun Control”: Quantifying The External Costs Of Gun Ownership

After the school massacre in Newtown, everyone has been putting out proposals for how to reduce gun violence. President Obama created an inter-agency task force. The NRA asked for armed guards in every school. And now economists are weighing in with their own, number-heavy approaches.

First, here’s a recent paper (pdf) by Duke’s Philip Cook and Georgetown’s Jens Ludwig trying to quantify the “external cost” of gun ownership. The two economists wanted to figure out precisely what sorts of costs gun owners impose on the rest of society.

That’s not an easy question to answer. For starters, there aren’t even airtight estimates of how many people actually own guns in the United States. So Cook and Ludwig created a data set that used the number of suicides by firearm in a county as a proxy for gun ownership — and checked it against a variety of existing survey data.

The next step was to figure out the “social cost” of owning a gun. The two economists determined that a greater prevalence of guns in an area was associated with an increase in the murder rate, but not other types of violent crimes (guns, the authors argue, lead to “an intensification of criminal violence”). Why does this happen? One possibility: The two economists found evidence that if there are more legal guns in an area, it’s more likely that those guns will be transferred to “illegal” owners.

When the two economists added up the costs of gun ownership—more injuries and more homicides—and weighed them against various benefits, they concluded that the average household acquiring a gun imposed a net cost on the rest of society of somewhere between $100 to $1,800 per year. (The range depends on the assumptions used—and note that they are not including the increased risk of suicide that comes with owning a gun.)

Now, normally when economists come across a product that has a negative externality—like cigarettes or coal-fired plants—they recommend taxing or regulating it, so that the user of the product internalizes the costs that he or she is imposing on everyone else. In this case, an economist might suggest slapping a steeper tax on guns or bullets.

Others might object that this isn’t fair. There are responsible gun owners and irresponsible gun owners. Not everyone with a gun imposes the same costs on society. Why should the tax be uniform? And that brings us to John Wasik’s recent essay at Forbes. Instead of a tax on guns, he recommends that gun owners be required to purchase liability insurance. Different gun owners would pay different rates, depending on the risks involved:

When you buy a car, your insurer underwrites the risk according to your age, driving/arrest/ticket record, type of car, amount of use and other factors. A teenage driver behind the wheel of a Porsche is going to pay a lot more than a 50-year-old house wife. A driver with DUI convictions may not get insurance at all. Like vehicles, you should be required to have a policy before you even applied for a gun permit. Every seller would have to follow this rule before making a transaction.

This is where social economics goes beyond theory. Those most at risk to commit a gun crime would be known to the actuaries doing the research for insurers. They would be underwritten according to age, mental health, place of residence, credit/bankruptcy record and marital status. Keep in mind that insurance companies have mountains of data and know how to use it to price policies, or in industry parlance, to reduce the risk/loss ratio.

Who pays the least for gun insurance would be least likely to commit a crime with it.An 80-year-old married woman in Fort Lauderdale would get a great rate. A 20-year-old in inner-city Chicago wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Gun insurance for gun owners does exist right now, but it isn’t required — as Wasik notes, only 22 cities even require gun dealers to carry liability insurance. And, yes, under this proposal, people would no doubt still acquire guns illegally and evade the insurance requirements.

Granted, this proposal isn’t likely to garner much political support — even the Illinois state legislature, which has often looked favorably on gun-control laws, swatted a gun-insurance bill down pretty quickly in 2009. It might not get past the Supreme Court. And over at the Daily Beast, Megan McArdle outlines a number of other possible problems with having states require individual gun insurance. Still, it’s another way of thinking about the costs of gun ownership.

 

By: Brad Plummer, The Washington Post Wonkblog, December 28, 2012

December 30, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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