Back in 2003-04, after the U.S. invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein, much liberal commentary criticized the mainstream news media. The Bush Administration’s justification for the military action was that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” that posed a unique and terrible threat to its neighbors. In the event, no such weapons were found, but broad swaths of the American populace continued to believe the Administration’s claims. The Left criticized the MSM for failing to educate the public as to the facts of the matter.
Such criticism could and should be leveled at the MSM today, and particularly its left wing, regarding race. As the excellent Coleman Hughes says, “the public has a mistaken perception of how much racism exists in America today.” When vastly wealthy public figures like Lebron James can, with a straight face, claim that they’re scared to walk out of their houses in broad daylight due to the ever-present threat of white police violence, we know that something is seriously amiss in the public discourse on race.
The simple fact, easily available from a variety of sources, is that, if a black person isn’t armed, he/she is essentially guaranteed to be free of violence from the police. Yes, there are rare exceptions, like George Floyd, but, out of about 50 million interactions between the police and civilians each year, in 2018, just nine unarmed black people were killed by police. Yes, that’s nine too many and yes, the police too often misbehave in other non-lethal ways, but the fact remains that the police pose little-to-no threat to any of us, particularly if we’re unarmed.
And yet, in the MSM, basic, pertinent facts about race rarely see the light of day, replaced instead with claims that range from the very dubious to the outright false. When was the last time you saw CNN or another major news outlet point out that black lives are being taken mostly by other blacks engaged in criminal behavior? That young black men commit almost half of all homicides in the U.S.? That black police are somewhat more likely than white police to shoot a black suspect? That, when rates of crime commission are taken into consideration, whites are more likely than blacks to be shot by the police? That popular sentiment in poor black neighborhoods favors a greater police presence, not a lesser one? That 90% of interracial violent crime is committed by blacks against whites? Etc.
All of that information and much more is altogether relevant to any discussion of race and the police, but the MSM carefully ignores it in favor of a woke narrative of out-of-control cops blazing away at any black figure that moves. And sure enough, it’s had an effect on how Americans view issues surrounding race and law enforcement.
Now British political scientist, Eric Kaufman has published his survey of Americans’ attitudes about and awareness of race. It should be required reading for every journalist, office-holder, academic, or indeed anyone who wants to be informed about race in the U.S.
Amusingly, Kaufman learned that an astonishing eight out of 10 blacks and six of 10 liberal, highly-educated whites believe that more young black men are killed by the police every year than are killed in auto accidents. That’s not only wrong, but jaw-droppingly so. Anyone with even a notional grasp of the facts about police slayings would assume it to be so even if he/she had no information about auto deaths. In fact, police kill about 250 black people per year and auto accidents claim about 4,500 black lives. That’s a 1:18 ratio.
More amusing still is the fact that respondents who voted for Trump are far more likely to get the question regarding black deaths right.
Black Trump voters are almost 30 points more likely to get the question right than black Biden voters.
Plus, conservative whites are even more likely to be right on the issue than are liberal whites.
Conservative whites are almost 50 points more likely to get it right than liberal whites.
In short, if the liberals of the early 2000s were right about the media’s failure to educate the populace, then the left news media have some ‘splainin’ to do about why their readers/listeners are so startlingly wrong about such an obvious matter of fact.
Of course, minutiae like the number of blacks killed in car accidents are hardly dispositive of the issue of the news media’s influence on our understanding of race. But there are more broad-based approaches to that very topic and Kaufman doesn’t neglect them.
For example, from 2001 – 2014, about 70% of Americans (over 70% of whites and between 55% and 68% of blacks) described race relations in the country as “good.” But along came the police slaying of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the media’s coverage of it and the percentage of Americans calling race relations “good” plummeted to 47%.
Now, no serious person would argue that a single, justified killing of a single man by a single officer itself changed race relations in a country of over 300 million people. Rather, what changed was the perception of race relations that was very much in the hands of news organizations. Those organizations – The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and others – seemed, over the months that followed, hell-bent on creating controversy where there should have been none. They routinely made false assumptions about not only the shooting, but Brown, the officer in question, the City of Ferguson itself, its mayor and city council as well, all the while ignoring important information in order to produce a false narrative of white racism and black victimhood.
As but one example, it was widely reported that the officer had, without provocation, attacked Brown and then shot him, apparently for no reason. That was the news for weeks until the grand jury concluded its investigation by “no-billing” the officer and the testimony of six black eyewitnesses revealed that Brown had lunged at the officer and grabbed for his gun before being shot. That exculpatory testimony and much more was buried by the liberal press under a mound of generalized claims of racism. Indeed, the New York Times editorial on the grand jury’s decision entirely failed to mention it.
And it worked. The public’s confidence in race relations has never recovered. That’s true despite the fact that objective measures of race relations have been uniformly improving for decades now. If the Left’s criticism of the press back in 2003-04 is valid, then the same must be said today about race and race relations: the press doesn’t report important, relevant information to the public. It does so in order to promote a narrative that bears little resemblance to the country in which we live.
But Kaufman’s work is far more interesting than simply the light it sheds on the ignorance of the Left on a subject so near and dear to their hearts. I’ll have more on that next time.