Ahead of midterms, Fox leans into fearmongering about “America's crime crisis”

Fox News star Tucker Carlson told Republicans to run on crime this November

After Fox News host Tucker Carlson encouraged Republicans to run on crime as an issue in the midterm elections, the network delivered days of messaging pitting red cities against blue cities, blaming the supposed “crime crisis” on Black Lives Matter, and insisting police are the solution despite a growing body of evidence that suggests otherwise. 

During the August 20 edition of his Fox prime-time show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson claimed — without evidence — that “suddenly, there is a huge amount of stealing in the United States. It’s everywhere.” He went on to say Democratic and Republican politicians “have decided stealing isn’t really such a big deal, it’s not really a crime,” and accused cities of “effectively decriminalizing” it. Carlson asked “why isn’t every Republican candidate in the nation running ads” about stealing and looting, concluding that if the country doesn’t clamp down on crime, “it will not be long before they are sticking guns in your face and pulling the trigger.”   

Later in the same show, Carlson spoke to conservative radio host and failed California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder, who attributed any rise in crime to “demoralized” police officers who “are no longer engaging in proactive policing, they’re no longer engaging in some form of stop, question, and frisk.” 

Despite Fox News’ tough-on-crime narrative, a federal judge ruled in 2013 that New York City's implementation of stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional, and experts agree it was an abject failure; at the height of the program in 2011 in New York City, nearly 88% of the 685,000 people arrested were ultimately found innocent. Furthermore, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests police spending and presence do not have an effect on the crime rate, positive or negative.     

A Washington Post study of the past 60 years found that there is no direct correlation between police spending and crime rates. From 1960 until 1980, police spending increased from $2 billion to $14.6 billion nationwide, and the crime rate nearly quadrupled. Alternatively, police spending continued to increase from 1980 through 2000, and crime rates fell. 

Spending spiked to more than $67 billion. Eighteen years later — by 2018, the most recent year for which full data are available — crime rates had fallen further to 2,580 crimes per 100,000, including 381 violent crimes.

Spending that year topped $137 billion.

Even after adding a four-year delay to the study — assuming the effects of spending will take several years to see — the Post still did not find a clear correlation. 

And while Fox claims that defunding the police has caused an increase in crime across the country, almost all of the cities which made cuts following the mass protests against racism and police violence in 2020 have since restored their budgets. Minneapolis, which was once the center of the movement after the police murder of George Floyd, now spends more money on law enforcement than ever before.

Nonetheless, Fox News spent the days after Carlson’s comments covering “America’s crime crisis,” which the network blamed on the Black Lives Matter movement, “demoralized” police, and the “mentally ill homeless population on the streets.” 

  • During the August 22 edition of Your World, Fox News contributor Ted Williams called on states to “build more jails” and claimed that most major cities “just don’t have enough police officers to actually patrol the various neighborhoods.” Anchor Neil Cavuto also suggested that rates of “serious crime” have gotten so high that police are “overwhelmed” and need to pick and choose incidents to “prioritize” for response. 
  • On Fox & Friends, network contributor Katie Pavlich bemoaned crime rates in New York City, claiming that “you have to learn self-defense just to go to work” and that “criminals come in and take advantage of the fact that there is no deterrence and the fact that they are not going to be” charged. Co-host Brian Kilmeade then asked if people should put their own lives in danger by stopping someone from stealing basic necessities like razors and shaving cream. 
  • On Sunday Morning Futures, anchor Maria Bartiromo slammed Attorney General Merrick Garland for “sending FBI agents to people’s homes — not just President Trump, but also Project Veritas and a number of other people associated with Trump” — while “crime is spiking across the country.” Guest Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) also blamed Democrats for rising crime, claiming that district attorneys who support Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, rather than Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, “will not prosecute.” He concluded that Democrats are “demonizing law enforcement” and “gaslighting” the American people, and “that is why crime is up in our cities.”
  • During the August 25 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said that crime in “almost every city” is out of control because cops are “disempowered and outnumbered” by Democratic policies.
  • On America’s Newsroom, Fox host and former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said that 5-7% of the population poses a risk and police need to “separate them from society.” According to Gowdy, the U.S. has a spike in crime as a result of “progressive prosecutors” giving that group of dangerous people “chance after chance after chance.”
  • In an August 29 Fox & Friends segment focused on crime stories across the country, Kilmeade claimed that there has been an increase of 42% of New York City police officers resigning this year, which is “emblematic of the rise in crime” in what “was once the safest city.” Kilmeade went on to bemoan the “criminal justice system that won’t enforce the law on the books," adding that "you have a sentiment in this country to ignore and blame cops for everything, and then at the same time, you don’t want to invest” in law enforcement. 
  • In an August 22 segment about the “out-of-control crime crisis” on The Faulkner Focus, conservative radio host Jason Rantz blamed the alleged rise in crime on having “too few cops” and a growing “mentally ill homeless population on the streets” in “Democrat-run cities that are getting increasingly dangerous, with no end in sight.”  
  • On Fox & Friends Weekend, co-host Pete Hegseth blamed crime on a “culture of criminality” that started after the protests over George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police in 2020, and lamented that it will take “a very long time to rebuild the perception or the morale of” law enforcement. Later in the segment, Hegseth said a lot of the crime is caused by career criminals with “some level of mental issues” who deserve to be incarcerated so that they will stop “retraumatizing” society.

The narrative is clear — Fox News is laying the groundwork for messaging during midterms, which will be full of false narratives about the crime rate and the tired, knee-jerk solution of overpolicing.

In reality, not only does so-called proactive policing have a minimal effect on the crime rate, but it also inordinately targets communities of color and exacerbates racial inequity. Pretrial reform, bail reform, and prosecutorial discretion with nonviolent misdemeanors, however, are proven ways to combat crime without supporting policies that disproportionately harm communities of color.