Issues ››› Crime
  • Fox & Friends Exploits South Carolina Church Shooting To Call For More Guns

    Blog ››› ››› ALEXANDREA BOGUHN


    Fox & Friends used a mass shooting at a South Carolina church to baselessly promote the carrying of guns as a solution to prevent such attacks -- even though research indicates that civilians are more likely to harm themselves or someone else than stop a criminal when they have a gun, and there is "no evidence" that arming civilians stops mass shootings.

    On June 17, a gunman killed nine after opening fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Commenting on the massacre, "[t]he chief of police of Charleston, Greg Mullen, called the shooting a hate crime," according to The New York Times.

    Discussing the tragedy on the June 18 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, the co-hosts repeatedly suggested that the massacre may have been prevented had the congregation been armed. After guest E. W. Jackson urged "pastors and men in these churches to prepare to defend themselves," host Brian Kilmeade asked if giving pastors a gun could help with "security." Later in the show, Steve Doocy similarly suggested, "If somebody was there, they would have had the opportunity to pull out their weapon and take [the shooter] out ... If somebody in there had a gun." Elisabeth Hasselbeck agreed, calling it a "great point."

    But an analysis of 62 mass public shootings over a 30 year period by Mother Jones found no cases where an ordinary civilian with a gun stopped an attack, and instances where someone did try to intervene with a gun resulted in the death or injury of that person:

    In the wake of the massacres this year at a Colorado movie theater, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, we set out to track mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years.We identified and analyzed 62 of them, and one striking pattern in the data is this: In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. And in other recent (but less lethal) rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, those civilians not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed.

    While individuals with concealed carry permits have not stopped mass shootings, the Violence Policy Center (VPC) has identified 29 incidents since 2007 where someone with a permit shot and killed three or more people during a single shooting incident.

    Newly released VPC research on the use of guns for self-defense also indicates why arming the congregation is unlikely to stop an attack. The group found that American gun owners are more likely to injure themselves or someone else with a gun than to use it to stop a criminal. The report, which relied on data from the FBI and the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, found just 258 justifiable homicides involving civilian firearms in 2012 compared to 8,342 murders by gun -- a ratio of 32 criminal homicides for each justifiable homicide. The study noted that suicides by gun outpace justifiable homicides by an even greater extent.

    Examining government data from 2007 to 2011, VPC found that just .8 percent of violent crimes were met with resistance from a gun. These findings are in line with a large body of research that indicates guns are used far more often to commit crimes than defend against crimes.

    Conservative media have frequently promoted the myth that guns are primarily used for self-defense, despite guns rarely being used for that purpose, and have a long history of exploiting tragedies to push their own pro-gun agendas. Right-wing media frequently call for more guns in the immediate aftermath of high profile shooting events, including a May thwarted terrorist attack in Garland, Texas, the January massacre at the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, the 2014 mass shooting at Fort Hood, the 2014 shooting at a high school near Portland, Oregon, and the 2013 attack at Washington D.C.'s Navy Yard.

  • WSJ's Jason Riley Distorts FBI Report On Guns To Claim Obama Used It For Political Gain

    FBI Report Was About Active Shooter Situations, Not Mass Shootings

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley falsely claimed that the FBI misrepresented data on mass shootings to "help drive Democratic turnout" during the 2014 midterm elections. In fact, the report only contained data on "active shooter" situations, not mass shootings, and made that clear in the introduction, which stated, "This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings."

    In a June 9 editorial headlined, "Obama's Gun-Control Misfire," Riley wrote, "Last September the Obama administration produced an FBI report that said mass shooting attacks and deaths were up sharply -- by an average annual rate of about 16% between 2000 and 2013."

    But the 2014 FBI report, which focuses on 160 incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013, literally says it is not about "mass shootings," but rather a different phenomenon known as an "active shooter" situation. From the report's introduction (emphasis added):

    This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings, but rather a study of a specific type of shooting situation law enforcement and the public may face. Incidents identified in this study do not encompass all gun-related situations; therefore caution should be taken when using this information without placing it in context. Specifically, shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence--pervasive, long-tracked, criminal acts that could also affect the public--were not included in this study. In addition, other gun-related shootings were not included when those incidents appeared generally not to have put others in peril (e.g., the accidental discharge of a firearm in a school building or a person who chose to publicly commit suicide in a parking lot). The study does not encompass all mass killings or shootings in public places and therefore is limited in its scope. Nonetheless, it was undertaken to provide clarity and data of value to both law enforcement and citizens as they seek to stop these threats and save lives during active shooter incidents.

    The FBI defined an active shooter situation as "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area," and found that such incidents occurred with increasing frequency over a 13-year period starting in 2000.

    In his opinion piece, Riley used his inaccurate reading of the report to claim that the Obama administration hoped to use the report to help Democrats win in the 2014 midterm elections and to advance its own gun safety agenda:

    The White House could not possibly have been more pleased with the media reaction to these findings, which were prominently featured by the New York Times, USA Today, CNN, the Washington Post and other major outlets. The FBI report landed six weeks before the midterm elections, and the administration was hoping that the gun-control issue would help drive Democratic turnout.


    Following the high-profile mass shootings in 2012 at a cinema in Aurora, Colo., and an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the White House pushed hard for more gun-control legislation. Congress, which at the time included a Democratic-controlled Senate, refused to act. This surprised no one, including an administration well aware that additional gun controls wouldn't pass muster with enough members of the president's own party, let alone Republicans.

    But the administration also knew that the issue could potentially excite Democratic base voters in a year when the party was worried about turnout. Hence President Obama's vow in his 2014 State of the Union address "to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook."

    To attack the report's credibility, Riley cited criticism of it from discredited gun researcher John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center. Lott has a history of manipulating statistics and making false claims about guns to advance his pro-gun agenda, and he is the author of the well-known but thoroughly debunked "more guns, less crime" hypothesis. Lott, who is not considered a credible source for information about mass shootings, recently claimed Fox News is partnering with him to "start systematically publishing news stories about mass public shootings that have been stopped by concealed handgun permit holders." (According to an analysis of 62 mass shootings over a 30-year period by Mother Jones, no such cases exist.)

    Riley's false accusations are the latest in a series of outlandish and baseless criticisms of the Obama administration and gun laws. In a 2014 appearance on Fox News, he said "The administration already has enough race baiters, starting with the president continuing to Eric Holder, his attorney general." In 2013, he said controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense laws "[benefit], disproportionately, poor blacks," even though research has shown that killings defended with such laws are much more likely to be found justified when a white person killed a black person, rather than the reverse.

  • Right-Wing Media See "Hysteria Against Cops" As Cause Of Increase In Homicides

    Blog ››› ››› LIBBY WATSON

    Media outlets are baselessly linking an increase in murders in Baltimore and other cities to "increased scrutiny" of police, without noting the legitimate reasons why such scrutiny of local police departments is needed. 

    Homicides have spiked in the last month in Baltimore, with 43 killings reported in May, the most in one month since 1971 and the highest monthly per capita rate on record, according to The Baltimore Sun. At the same time, arrests have plummeted, with a WBAL-TV investigation finding arrests have gone down 32 percent since the curfew was lifted, and the Sun reporting arrests in May this year were less than half the number in May last year.

    Several right-wing media figures are attributing these numbers to increased scrutiny of police, and this narrative is seeping into mainstream coverage. On the June 1 edition of Fox & Friends, during an interview with author Kevin Jackson, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle argued that "police are more concerned about their own well-being. They don't want to be arrested or persecuted for just putting on the blue every morning." She added that "when you have individuals like [Baltimore City State's Attorney] Marilyn Mosby going aggressively against the police," this "undermines the ability of law enforcement to keep people in the community safe," linking the increase in homicides to Mosby's decision to charge six Baltimore police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray.

    On the May 31 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, National Review Online contributor Heather Mac Donald similarly claimed the U.S. is "in the grips of a hysteria against cops," saying "cops have gotten the message that they should back off of policing." She faulted the "mainstream media, the university presidents talking about assaults on blacks and of course the president and former attorney general." Mac Donald, who has a history of deeply offensive commentary on race, was discussing her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which she argued that the "most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months." 

    The previous week, National Review editor Rich Lowry also advocated for increased incarceration in response to the spike in violence, and cited anonymous police officers who "say they feel that city authorities don't have their back, understandably enough when city leaders are loath to call rioters 'thugs.'"

    And now the Associated Press is adopting the same language. In a May 31 report on Baltimore homicides, the AP stated that "Some attribute the drop [in arrests] to increased scrutiny of police following the April death of Freddie Gray from injuries received in police custody."  

    Aside from the obvious problem with this argument -- that there is no evidence these feelings attributed to the police have resulted in an increase in murders -- this coverage has also missed a significant reason why people have called for increased scrutiny of police officers since the deaths of men like Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray: the fact that police killings and police brutality disproportionately affect people of color. 

    On May 30, the Washington Post released a study on police killings, which found that two-thirds of unarmed victims of police shootings were minorities, and "blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred." Their figures represent far greater total than the FBI statistics on police killings, which are "widely considered to be misleading and inaccurate": FBI records show about 400 shootings per year, compared to 385 so far this year in the Post's data. Three of the 385 shootings the Post reported on resulted in the officer being charged, or less than one percent. And over the last several years, the Department of Justice has found that numerous local police departments have engaged in a "pattern or practice" of improper discrimination against residents of color, and have disproportionately targeted them for stops and arrests.

    Faced with stark numbers like these, any media outlet should feel compelled to at least contextualize claims of a "hysteria against cops" with this evidence of disproportionate police violence against minorities. 

  • National Review's Rich Lowry Advocates For Increased Incarceration In "Dangerous" Black Neighborhoods

    Blog ››› ››› LIBBY WATSON

    National Review editor Rich Lowry advocated for mass incarceration and "disproportionate police attention" toward "dangerous, overwhelmingly black neighborhoods" in response to a spike in murders in Baltimore.

    In an opinion piece for Politico Magazine headlined "#SomeBlackLivesDontMatter," Lowry called the "Black Lives Matter" slogan used by protesters "a lie," citing the lack of attention paid to a spike in murders in Baltimore in the last month. Lowry claimed: "Let's be honest: Some black lives really don't matter. If you are a young black man shot in the head by another young black man, almost certainly no one will know your name."

    As a solution to the increase in shootings in Baltimore, Lowry recommended more policing and more incarceration (emphasis added):

    The Baltimore Sun ran a headline (since changed) that had the air of a conundrum, although it isn't very puzzling, "With arrests down in Baltimore, mayor 'examining' increase in killings." According to the paper, arrests have dropped by about half in May. The predictable result is that violent crime is spiking.

    The implication is clear: More people need to be arrested in Baltimore, not fewer. And more need to be jailed. If black lives truly matter, Baltimore needs more and better policing and incarceration to impose order on communities where a lawless few spread mayhem and death.

    Lowry also called for "disproportionate police attention, even if that attention is easily mischaracterized as racism," in "dangerous, overwhelmingly black neighborhoods." 

    Lowry used the comments of "anonymous police officers" as evidence that the city of Baltimore does not support its law enforcement personnel:

    Meanwhile, anonymous police officers say they feel that city authorities don't have their back, understandably enough when city leaders are loath to call rioters "thugs" and Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby rushed to announce charges against the Freddy Gray officers to placate the mob.

    A recent CNN article about the crime increase reported that while officers have "lost faith in the chain of command," they have also "coordinated a work slowdown by not talking to community members and showing less initiative" --  context Lowry failed to include.

    Lowry finally claimed that Rudy Giuliani "saved more black lives than any of his critics ever will... by getting the police to establish and maintain basic order in New York's neighborhoods and defending the cops when the likes of Al Sharpton maligned them." A 2014 report by the New York Civil Liberties Union found the stop-and-frisk policy put in place by Giuliani was ineffective at reducing violent crime. 

    Calls for the black community and its leaders to focus more on "black on black crime" is a move frequently made by right-wing media figures as a response to the calls for criminal justice reform that have grown louder since the shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO police made national headlines. Last year, Slate's Jamelle Bouie explained why this argument is so flawed:

    First, a little context: In the last 20 years, we've seen a sharp drop in homicide among blacks, from a victimization rate of 39.4 homicides per 100,000 in 1991 to a rate of roughly 20 homicides per 100,000 in 2008. Likewise, the offending rate for blacks has dropped from 51.1 offenders per 100,000 in 1991 to 24.7 offenders per 100,000 in 2008. This decrease has continued through the 2010s and is part of a larger--and largely unexplained--national drop in crime.

    But while black neighborhoods are far less dangerous than they were a generation ago, black people are still concerned with victimization. Take this 2014 report from the Sentencing Project on perceptions of crime and support for punitive policies. Using data from the University of Albany's Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, the Sentencing Project found that--as a group--racial minorities are more likely than whites to report an "area within a mile of their home where they would be afraid to walk alone at night" (41 percent to 30 percent) and more likely to say there are certain neighborhoods they avoid, which they otherwise might want to go to (54 percent to 46 percent). And among black Americans in particular--circa 2003--"43 percent said they were 'very satisfied' about their physical safety in contrast to 59 percent of Hispanics, and 63 percent of whites."


    Beyond the data, there's the anecdotal evidence. And in short, it's easy to find examples of marches and demonstrations against crime. In the last four years, blacks have held community protests against violence in Chicago; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Saginaw, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana. Indeed, there's a whole catalog of movies, albums, and sermons from a generation of directors, musicians, and religious leaders, each urging peace and order. You may not have noticed black protests against crime and violence, but that doesn't mean they haven't happened. Black Americans--like everyone else--are concerned with what happens in their communities, and at a certain point, pundits who insist otherwise are either lying or willfully ignorant.

  • Conservative Media Attack Sexual Assault Protester In Wake Of Alarming New Report On Prevalence Of Campus Sexual Assault

    Blog ››› ››› ALEXANDREA BOGUHN

    Carry That Weight

    Conservative media are lashing out at a Columbia University student who protested her school's handling of her sexual assault allegation, distracting from yet another report confirming the widespread prevalence of the crime on college campuses.

    In 2014, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz made headlines for her senior art thesis, a performance piece titled "Carry That Weight," in which she pledged to carry a mattress whenever she was on campus in protest of her college's handling of her own sexual assault complaint against a fellow student. On May 19, Sulkowicz graduated from Columbia, crossing the stage while carrying her mattress with the aide of four friends.

    In a May 20 post for National Review Online, Ian Tuttle attacked Sulkowicz, accusing her of having lied about being assaulted. Pointing to a letter in which Sulkowicz expressed disappointment that her personal social media pages had been sorted through in order to find evidence to cast doubts on her claims, Tuttle wrote that all victims of sexual assault should "by definition" have to "submit one's own private life to scrutiny" if they want their accusations taken seriously and reported. Another post that same day by the Daily Caller's Jim Treacher similarly attacked Sulkowciz, promoting a "@FakeRape" Twitter campaign against her to  make the debunked claim that false rape accusation are common. 

    Right-wing media's attacks on Sulkowicz come as growing evidence suggests that sexual assault is occurring at epidemic levels on college campuses.

    A new study released May 20 in the Journal of Adolescent Health "surveyed 480 female freshmen at a university in upstate New York in 2010" and found that about one in five were the victims of sexual assault or attempted rape while in college, and the majority experienced it during their first three months on campus. As the Huffington Post reported, "The results confirm other research that has found about 20 percent of women are victimized by sexual assault in college. A Centers for Disease Control report last year showed 19.3 percent of women are victims of rape or attempted rape during their lifetimes." Quoting researcher Kate Carey, a professor of behavioral and social sciences at Brown University's School of Public Health, the article noted that this research is further evidence that "rape is a common experience among college-aged women" and there is an urgent need to address it. Carey explained that "if a similar number of young people were breaking their legs in their first year of school, 'we would expect that the community would do something to enhance the safety of the environment.'"

    Conservative media have consistently worked to discredit research showing that one in five women experiences a completed or attempted sexually assault at college, mocking those who do come forward and dismissing efforts to address the crime as proof of a "war" on men. Their efforts to dismiss the epidemic of campus sexual assault further stigmatizes a crime that according to the Rape, Abuse, And Incest National Network already goes unreported up to 68% of the time.

  • Impact Of Quality Local Reporting Highlights How Conservative Media Fail Sexual Assault Victims

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL CALVERT

    Women Deserve Better

    A local reporter's five-year investigation into rape kit backlogs in Ohio helped inspire state-level reforms and identify hundreds of serial rapists, evidencing how good reporting can bring about positive change to states' handling of sexual assault -- a stark contrast to conservative media's dismissal of sexual assault that may actually discourage victims from coming forward.

    Reporter Rachel Dissell discovered a decades-long backlog of untested rape kits while researching sexual assaults for Cleveland's The Plain Dealer. As she told NPR's Fresh Air, the Cleveland police possessed at least 4,000 untested kits, which contain DNA evidence that could be used to identify and prosecute perpetrators. While many factors contribute to why the kits were left untested, Dissell explained that often times the perceived credibility of the victim played a role: "A lot of the victims whose cases didn't go forward and whose kits weren't tested were minorities. They were drug addicts. They had mental health issues -- all kinds of things like that that just really made them the most vulnerable and the least likely to be believed."

    Dissell and The Plain Dealer's reporting helped inspire a groundbreaking Ohio law mandating that old and new rape kits be tested, leading to the reopening of nearly 2,000 rape investigations and the identification of over 200 serial rapists or potential serial rapists.

    The positive impact of such reporting shines a light on conservative media's comparatively dangerous coverage of sexual assault, which actively reinforces the stigma surrounding sexual assault victims.

    Conservative media have repeatedly attempted to discredit research showing that one-in-five women experiences a completed or attempted sexually assault at college, mocking those who do come forward and dismissing efforts to address the crime as proof of a "war" on men.

    Glenn Beck's TheBlazeTV argued that the sexual assault epidemic is "completely untrue" by acting out sexual positions and labelling each skit "RAPE!", while George Will asserted that victim has become a "coveted status." Pundits from Rush Limbaugh to The Weekly Standard's Harvey Mansfield have blamed women for the epidemic, while other conservative talking heads stoke fears about a supposed increase in false reports of sexual assault. Others have explicitly blamed victims for their sexual assault, describing sexual assault survivors as "bad girls...who like to be naughty" and lecturing women about the burden of personal responsibility, saying, "It is the truth that if you are the victim of violent crime or the victim of an attempted violent crime, it is not the patriarchy that puts the burden on you to defend yourself, it is not rigid gender roles, it is -- it's a fact of life."

    Such disparaging coverage not only stigmatizes victims, it can actually discourage victims from reporting the crimes and their attackers in the first place. And sexual assault is already a vastly underreported crime -- estimates show that sexual assault goes unreported nearly 70 percent of the time.

    In her interview with Fresh Air, Dissell described how discrediting sexual assault victims helps their rapists go unpunished: "They knew if they chose the most vulnerable women - the least likely to be believed - that they would never get caught. And I just don't know how that happened. How did we let them outsmart us for all that time?"