Before San Francisco police arrested and charged tech worker Nima Momeni with the killing of Cash App founder Bob Lee, CNN offered a mixed bag of coverage, connecting Lee’s death to an “uptick in crime” while also pushing back against right-wing narratives characterizing San Francisco as a hotbed of violent crime.
On April 4, Lee died of stab wounds in downtown San Francisco. Right-wing media immediately began to paint Lee’s alleged slaying as yet another example of supposedly rampant violent crime in Democrat-run cities. Twitter CEO Elon Musk, who has repeatedly pushed right-wing talking points and conspiracy theories, used Lee’s death to portray San Francisco as a crumbling, violent city.
These comments from right-wing media and Musk failed to note that rates of violent crime are far lower in San Francisco than in the 20 other most populous U.S. cities. In a piece for Mission Local, columnist Joe Eskenazi noted that even though San Francisco's violent crime rate is at a “near-historic low,” Lee’s death has been “packaged in the media and on social media into a highlight reel of recent San Francisco misfortunes and crimes.”
CNN has a history of taking the bait on right-wing narratives on topics including immigration, electoral politics, and crime — even emphasizing reports of “surging crime, drugs and homelessness” in its coverage of San Francisco. Leadership changes at the company seem to have increased the network’s reliance on right-wing narratives.
The network’s coverage of Bob Lee’s death mixed right-wing narratives about crime and connected Lee’s death to high property crime rates in San Francisco, while also debunking Musk’s claims about “horrific” violent crime in the city.
CNN framed Lee’s death around San Francisco having an “uptick in crime” while also noting that violent crime was down overall
- CNN.com’s April 6 report titled “Tech executive Bob Lee, founder of Cash App, dead after apparent stabbing attack in San Francisco” connected Lee’s death with “an apparent uptick in crime” in the aftermath of the pandemic, noting, “San Francisco has been grappling with an apparent uptick in crime as it still attempts to bounce back from the pandemic. Preliminary police data reports 12 homicides in San Francisco this year, an uptick of 20% compared to the same time period in the previous year. In total, there were 56 homicides in San Francisco in 2022, which is the exact same number of homicides the city saw in 2021.”
- On April 6, CNN This Morning co-host Kaitlan Collins introduced a report on Lee’s alleged murder, saying San Francisco “has been dealing with an uptick in crime,” and asked reporter Sara Sidner, “Is this an anomaly? Is this something that people should be concerned about?” Sidner told Collins that San Francisco “wasn’t like this a few years ago and it has gotten worse,” noting “the car break-ins and the petty crime,” but adding that “when it comes to violent crime, it’s actually lower than a lot of cities of its size.”
CNN renewed discussion of Lee’s killing during segments about Whole Foods closing its flagship San Francisco store out of concern for staff safety
On April 10, Amazon-owned grocery chain Whole Foods temporarily closed its 65,000-square-foot store in its downtown San Francisco location after just a year to “ensure the safety” of its staff. The company offered few specifics, but some CNN reports connected the store’s closure to public safety concerns and mentioned Lee’s death.
- During an April 12 segment on CNN This Morning about the Whole Foods closure, CNN anchor Don Lemon noted the contrast between Lee’s killing and the city’s relatively low homicide rate and asked San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey whether there is a “misunderstanding of just — about how dangerous San Francisco is.” Dorsey responded by blaming high rates of property crime and public drug use for the perception that the city was unsafe and said, “The store right behind me — the Whole Foods that's not going to be opening up — is Exhibit A of why we've got to turn this around.”
- During a headline report on the April 11 episode of CNN News Central, CNN anchor John Berman reported on Whole Foods’ closure in San Francisco, noting that “Whole Foods is temporarily closing its flagship store in San Francisco after rampant crime and concerns for the safety of its staff. Property crimes have risen by 23% between 2020 and 2022.” He added that “the announcement comes just days after Bob Lee, the founder of Cash App, was killed after an apparent stabbing.”
Several segments on CNN brought up Lee’s killing in relation to “rampant” property crime in San Francisco, some of which did note that violent crime in the area is down
- An April 8 report from CNN’s Veronica Miracle said Lee’s killing has “reignited anger over public safety” in San Francisco and noted that “violent crime in San Francisco has fallen from a high in 2013, but it's rising again — up 7% last year and in another 6% so far this year. Property crime in San Francisco is sky-high.”
- During an April 8 report on CNN Newsroom about Lee’s death, CNN reporter Camila Bernal debunked the idea that San Francisco had rampant violent crime, but she noted that “everyone knows someone whose car has been broken into.” Bernal also said that “violent crime in San Francisco is actually on the lower middle part of the pack when you look at other cities, according to data that has been reviewed by CNN, so a case like this really leaves people questioning what in the world is happening in San Francisco.”
Some CNN segments debunked misinformation about Lee’s death and preached patience
- On the April 7 episode of CNN Tonight, CNN contributor Mondaire Jones called Musk’s tweet “propaganda” and said observers “should at least hear from the police about what happened” before jumping to conclusions about Lee’s death.
- Following Lee’s death, an April 7 CNN.com article titled “Despite high profile killing, San Francisco has far fewer homicides than other similarly-sized cities” corrected the record on misinformation on San Francisco crime. The article, which was framed around debunking claims “that San Francisco is dangerous and crime-riddled,” provided key data: “Violent crimes in San Francisco, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, reached a high in 2013 with 7,164 violent crimes, according to California Department of Justice data. But they have tapered off significantly in the past couple of years.” It also quoted criminal justice professor George Tita, who pointed out that “when a very high profile tech person is murdered, it is just going to get more publicity than if it was an impoverished person in a neighborhood of color.”