Thursday, January 7, 2016

Media hype, perception, and reality around violent crime and terrorism

I wrote this up in response to an inquiry as to my thoughts about the ever-growing amounts of violence and terrorism that make 2015 so much more dangerous than it was for people who grew up in the 1950s or 1960s. I thought it was worth capturing and sharing here.

Hype and perception doesn't match reality in a lot of areas, especially gun crime, violence, and terrorism. Broadcast and cable news have a lot to gain in ratings from making people afraid. And so they do. Here's some of what that means:

1. In terms of murder both America and New York State are now as safe or safer than the 1950s or 1960s. There is no massive growing crime wave. Murder rates peaked in the early 1970s and declined greatly starting in the early 1990s.

Check out the attached graph that I generated from FBI crime statistics.

2. People don't believe that violent crime has decreased greatly because media coverage of murder and violence has increased enormously since the early 1960s. This is especially true for cable "news" since it has so much time to fill. Generating fear generates television ratings.

3. If your "news" sources are telling you that you should be afraid because everything is now more dangerous than it was, they are lying to you. Find other news sources.

4. The Muslims you have met in the past or currently know in your day-to-day life are much more representative of a "Muslim mentality" -- if there is such a thing -- than anything related to the current scapegoating of all Muslims for Middle Eastern based terrorism. There is no more a "Muslim mentality" that predisposes Muslims to terrorism and violence than there was an "Irish mentality" that predisposed the Irish or Irish Americans to terrorism and violence. Don't forget, just a few short decades ago the Irish were the terrorism champs.

5. Along those lines, the notion that "they hate us for our freedom" is a load of dung. They (specifically Middle Eastern terrorists) hate us because we've been bombing the crap out of them for more than 20 years while supporting governments that do not always have the best interests of their people in mind. That's a guaranteed recipe for terrorism. It was true in Cambodia and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. It's true today.

6. There is an "idiots with guns" problem in this country. There probably was 50 years ago, too, but it got a lot less publicity back then. Just because you didn't see it visibly back then doesn't mean it didn't exist. By the same token, the amount of news coverage it gets now doesn't mean that it's a new phenomenon. You might recall about fifteen or so years ago when there was a sudden wave of shark attacks along the coast? In fact, shark attacks were down statistically that year. But cable news ratings were sagging, so the fear machine got cranked up.

7. Statistically speaking, in the US you are more likely to be killed by a toddler with a gun than a terrorist act.


  1. Too often, these days, one has to "help" the Media by saying things that correct for ridiculous biases.

  2. Unfortunately, the "helpers" get far less coverage than the Media, so the ridiculous biases persist...