Violent Crime and Media Bias in the U.S.
They don’t think gun laws will work because ‘law-abiding citizens’ aren’t the problem. But in many cases, the murderers had followed the law most of their life up until they snapped and pulled a gun out during an argument.
The United States of America undeniably has problems with already high and rising levels of violent crime and murder. Most Americans of all political stripes agree. It’s just that the right wing and left wing emphasize different narratives surrounding crime.
The conservative media emphasizes the rising murder rate and zeroes in on reports of crimes occurring in a few cities associated with liberalism. The message the right is trying to send is that Democrats are weak on crime and that crime proliferates in cities with Democratic mayors and large populations of minorities and immigrants.
Fox News is the largest and most representative conservative media company. A search of its website shows 79,600 results for “San Francisco” – the city that the right is using as the hallmark example of its crime narrative – while MSNBC‘s website only has 5,500 results for the same term.
The liberal media’s message about crime is contradictory in a different way. The liberal media will often report “San Francisco is safe” and things to that effect. But the liberal media dedicates vast amounts of resources to cover stories about people going on shooting sprees or shooting individuals unprovoked. One of the cases to attract large-scale media coverage was the shooting of a 16-year-old black teenager named Ralph Yarl by 84-year-old white man Andrew Lester. Fortunately, Yarl survived. Lester is being charged with attempted murder. MSNBC‘s website has published 2,500 articles about the armed assault on Yarl, but Fox News has only published 108 articles about it.
The imbalance in coverage from both outlets is strange. For example, if Fox News is so concerned about murder, why does it downplay some extremely concerning cases of violent men shooting innocent Americans at random? Fox News has dedicated more time to talking about shoplifting at department stores in San Francisco than it has to the attempted murder of Ralph Yarl. Does the story of a white man trying to kill a Black teen just for ringing his doorbell in Kansas City, a mid-sized city in the middle of America, not support Fox News‘s narrative that San Francisco is America’s most hellish city?
As for MSNBC, they’ve been covering the Yarl case relentlessly, in addition to the cases of school shooters, mall shooters, and white supremacist shooters. But their overall coverage of murder as a widespread threat hasn’t followed suit. There are all these individual cases of murders and attempted murders happening day after day, which MSNBC reports, but it hasn’t dawned on their hosts and pundits that this reflects the trend of increasing murder rates across the country.
Conservatives and liberals in America have different world views, and they are more fearful about different things. The demographic compositions of Republican voters and Democratic voters differ, too. Those demographic differences are reflected across the viewership for Fox News and MSNBC. Those channels are businesses. They are primarily concerned with attracting viewers and making profits. So they tailor their programming to appeal to the fears of the viewers they are hoping to attract. Fear sells.
But the truth is crimes of all sorts are problems that deserve attention and serious consideration. The overall murder rate in the United States rose from 4.4 homicides per 100,000 people in 2014 to 6.5 per 100,000 people in 2020. The 2014 level was the lowest in decades, so perhaps it had to rise. But the increase was not a minor blip; the rate in 2020 is higher than any year since 2001. The liberal media is just not credible if it reassures concerned citizens that there is no problem after a couple of years of rising crime rates.
On the other hand, the conservative media constantly hypes the rising crime rates, but they don’t suggest any solutions. Fox News and other conservative outlets downplay and deny the elephant in the room: guns. These criminals aren’t killing people with their bare hands. They are using a powerful tool that allows them to kill many more people with ease than they would be able to without such free access to guns.
One side denies there is a problem, and the other side refuses to provide the answer. I return to the case of Ralph Yarl because it emphasizes another flaw with the conservative narrative. There are other examples like it: George Zimmerman killing a boy in his neighborhood in 2013, Michael Dunn murdering a teen in a dispute over the volume of music in his car, and cases recently of homeowners shooting people for turning around in their driveway. In each case, a minor incident escalated into homicide simply because of the presence of a gun.
The conservative narrative surrounding crime focuses on the idea of a murderer as a career criminal, a gang member, or someone who plans and executes robberies on a regular basis and uses a gun as a tool of their trade. They don’t think gun laws will work because “law-abiding citizens” aren’t the problem. But in many cases, the murderers had followed the law most of their life up until they snapped and pulled a gun out during an argument.
If you had taken the gun away from Andrew Lester, he wouldn’t have killed someone just for coming to his front door. And if you take the guns away from the robbers, their crimes wouldn’t result in as much bloodshed, either.