Fox News has been airing segments about assaults, muggings, and shootings to claim that crime is exploding as a “crisis” under Democratic leadership, despite very little data to back that up. In addition to covering weekly gun violence in places like New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., Fox has spent several segments focused on seemingly random street crime to fearmonger about progressive efforts to reform the criminal justice system.
On July 23, an off-duty firefighter was allegedly attacked by “at least 100 kids” in New York City after confronting them about setting off fireworks nearby. Three days later, on July 26, the New York City Police Department released surveillance footage that appears to show the assault and mugging of a 68-year-old man in Brooklyn. Later that same day, former Sen. Barbara Boxer released a statement that she had been mugged in California.
Networks can and should report on the reality of violent crime in this country. But such coverage should include putting the numbers in context and accurately explaining where the violence is coming from, rather than focusing on sensational reporting and partisan fearmongering.
The reality is that nonviolent crime actually decreased in U.S. cities last year, while preliminary data suggests that violent crime has increased by about 3% -- the bulk of which was driven by a rise in gun homicides.
However, Fox News has repeatedly cited instances of assaults and robberies in the news and hyped the number of gun felonies and homicides in major cities to argue that crime is rising due to Democratic policies, and “the American people want safety back”:
- During the July 27 edition of America’s Newsroom, co-anchors Bill Hemmer and Dana Perino covered the Brooklyn attack and the mugging of former Sen. Boxer as examples of a “coast-to-coast crime crisis,” before claiming that “violent crime in Oakland is on the rise, including robberies, carjackings and homicides.” The program then played a clip of the Chicago police superintendent blaming relaxed prosecution for this “environment of lawlessness,” which Perino said was occurring in cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
- During the July 26 edition of The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld dared viewers to “try walking down the street in any major liberal city” before playing footage of the Brooklyn assault and claiming that “progressive Democrats who pushed for less police aren’t worried.” He went on to predict this is part of an effort by law enforcement to “show what’s going on on the street because ... now we’re seeing what happens when the police aren’t around.”
- The July 26 edition of Outnumbered aired footage of the Brooklyn attack and the assault on the firefighter back to back before also mentioning shootings in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz said, “It doesn’t have to be this way. ... That's what's so infuriating. I think Americans from coast to coast, they don’t feel safe, they don’t feel secure. … And you watch these horrific videos, people don’t want to walk down the street. And the Democrats don’t have a single policy prescription to solve this.”
- Co-host Brian Kilmeade said “the American people want safety back” during the July 26 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends. Co-host Steve Doocy then mentioned the number of people fatally shot in Chicago over the weekend before Kilmeade introduced the video footage of the Brooklyn assault. Guest co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy later added that the “quality of life” in New York City is declining and “the whole place smells like pot and urine.”
But in reality, the crime rate in the United States is more complicated than Fox News is presenting it, and there is very little data to back up Fox's narrative.
The FBI keeps track of nationwide crime statistics with the Uniform Crime Reporting program -- however, the most up-to-date data set is only available through 2019. When the FBI does release reports, crime is broken up into two categories: violent crime, such as murder, aggravated assault, rape, and robbery (defined as theft of personal property with “a certain degree of violence or intimidation”), and property crime, including burglary, theft, and auto theft.
The data presently available for 2021 comes from cities and towns that report their quarterly crime statistics. The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, for example, released a report that analyzed crime statistics in 34 cities since the start of the pandemic through March 2021. According to the report, “The robbery rate decreased during the early months of the pandemic, rose during the summer and early fall of 2020, and dropped again through March of 2021,” and this fluctuation is consistent with data from previous years. Additionally, burglary, larceny, and drug offenses all dropped in the first three months of 2021.
Compared to the first three months of 2020, meanwhile, homicide increased by 24% and aggravated assault increased by 7% in the first quarter of 2021. This data serves as a useful snapshot -- and it is necessary to understand the increase in homicides, which is largely driven by gun violence -- but it certainly doesn’t justify Fox’s hyperbolic statements about a nationwide crime wave, as the statistics are neither comprehensive nor up to date.
Instead, the network is highlighting video footage and reports of individual violent crimes to support its misleading narrative.
Though the full picture may not be known for months and it will take years to unpack the likely myriad causes of these trends, there is no concrete evidence to back up Fox’s current fearmongering about a “coast-to-coast crime crisis.”