Crime declined in the third quarter of 2023 relative to the same period in 2022, according to data released by the FBI last week. Violent crime was down 8 percent in jurisdictions that reported data — law enforcement agencies covering three-quarters of U.S. residents. Property crime was down 6 percent. Murder was down more than 15 percent.
Fox News, for one, doesn’t want to hear it.
What’s particularly useful about the new FBI data is that the shifts are presented by the population each responding agency serves. So we can see that the drop isn’t a function just of a shift in smaller cities but, instead, occurred across the board. Property crime was up slightly — 0.1 percent — in the most populous cities. But violent crime was down in those places, as it was everywhere else. In fact, the biggest cities saw the biggest drops in murder.
It’s important to recognize the limits on this data. For one thing, data on crime is notoriously slow. The FBI didn’t release summary data on 2022 until October. This quarter-to-quarter comparison, by contrast, is relatively expedient — but it is still only a look at one quarter of the year. It is also still several months old and limited to jurisdictions that returned information.
If we look at the 10 largest cities, for example, we see that Los Angeles and Chicago are missing. In five of the eight that returned data, property crime was up. Only in Dallas, though, had murder climbed relative to the third quarter of 2022.
This is not the narrative that has dominated on the right, particularly on Fox News. Since crime began to surge during the pandemic, cable-news coverage of crime increased. But on Fox News in particular, coverage was consistently higher during the Biden administration relative to the first three years of Donald Trump’s presidency. The peak came in October 2022 — as the channel tried, successfully, to ensure that the rise in crime that had already begun to wane was a central discussion point for the midterm elections. That month, Fox News was three times as likely to mention crime in any 15-second block of airtime as was CNN.
Fox News coverage has consistently focused on crime in urban areas. There are a few obvious reasons, including that the Fox News audience (understandably) associates cities with Democratic leadership, because cities are more heavily non-White and that urban density increases the likelihood that someone will capture an act of violence or vandalism on video that can run over and over and over again.
Even with crime dropping, Fox is still talking about crime as though it’s on the rise. This is often done by cherry-picking, finding a city or a statistic where crime has gone up and then focusing on it. Often, though, it’s simply presented as a given, which its audience — given what it sees on the news — will assume to be the case.
In response to the FBI report, Fox News offered a very useful distillation of how it makes lemonade out of the peck of lemons that is “crime isn’t actually rising.”
On Saturday, NBC News’s Ken Dilanian published a look at the FBI’s data which noted polling showing that Americans think crime is rising. (This is almost always the case.)
Fox News’s response? To present Dilanian’s report to its online readers as though the NBC presentation of facts was, instead, an indicator of media bias.
“NBC News story tells Americans they’re ‘wrong’ to think crime is rising,” the Fox News headline reads, “blames ‘conditioning’ of press.” The piece is littered with similar scare quotes, with the apparent intent of reinforcing the belief that crime is rising solely by pointing out that the hated mainstream media says it isn’t.
“Dilanian’s report caps off another year in which ordinary Americans have expressed growing alarm about crime in big cities,” the Fox News report notes — by itself a revealing admission. Whether there is “growing alarm” is taken for granted; that any such alarm would not be warranted isn’t mentioned.
The reality is that crime surged in 2020 — when Trump was president. That surge continued into the Biden administration but has since waned.
Given that Fox News invested so much effort in promoting crime as surging before the midterms despite lacking any evidence that it was (since it wasn’t), we should not be surprised that its response to crime falling further is to melodramatically roll their eyes, point to mainstream reporting, and say the equivalent of, “get a load of these guys.”
The reality is inconvenient for what it’s spent the past three years telling its viewers.