One year ago this month, I noticed something odd, if not unexpected: Fox News was suddenly talking about crime a lot more than it had been.
A few weeks before that, I had pointed out that national crime data operated at a significant delay (as the FBI collected information from regional police departments) and with large gaps (which was particularly the case with the FBI’s 2021 data). There was data available at the local level, which presented a fairly muddy picture of what was happening, but that wasn’t Fox News’s focus. The network instead elevated isolated incidents of crime to give viewers an exaggerated sense of what was occurring — generally in cities run by Democrats.
You had already guessed where this was going, I’m sure. Considered against the baseline of crime coverage the channel offered in the first half of the year, mentions of crime on Fox News began to surge in September 2022 and kept going up and up and up … until the midterm elections were over.
When I wrote about Fox News’s coverage in early October, though, I could only guess that it was so obviously linked to the upcoming election. So I just pointed to it, noting that the increase of such coverage on the network was not obviously tied to an increase in actual crime. Fox News’s on-air coterie responded as you’d expect, with host Jesse Watters calling me a “knucklehead” and a “liar.”
On Monday, the government released its national data on crime in 2022 (as I said: a significant delay). Violent crime and homicide, the centerpieces of Fox News’s 2022 coverage not only didn’t surge that year, but each also dropped. Property crimes were up, but still lower in raw numbers than they had been in 2019.
There was a clear increase in violent crime and homicide over the past few years, but it occurred in 2020. In 2021, the number of homicides again went up, but more subtly. Then, in 2022, the number dropped by more than 6 percent, landing below the number of homicides that had occurred in 2020.
Relative to population, the pattern holds (predictably, because the population hasn’t changed that much since 2020). Violent crime was up in 2020 and has been down since.
(This was already suggested at the time of Fox News’s coverage, by the way, with data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that people weren’t reporting more crime.)
The channel’s fearmongering is particularly stark when considering the long-term trends. Both violent and property crimes have shown a lengthy decline. Any suggestion that violent crime was particularly bad in American cities in 2022 would necessarily have carried with it the caveat that things were far, far worse in the early 1990s — though violent crime wasn’t particularly bad last year anyway.
The predictable response here will be that any crime, and particularly any violent crime, is bad. And that is certainly true. It is also true that fear of crime and hatred of the effects of violent crime are potent emotional triggers that can be exploited.
But you’d have to be a real knucklehead to do something like that.