When the Press Perceives a Crime Trend, Turn On Your B.S. Detector

I've seen people blaming this SNL sketch for the "new" "trend." No, really.In his 1999 book
Random Violence
, which I recommend highly, the
sociologist Joel Best points out that “criminologists usually doubt
claims about crime waves. Crime waves, they say, are really waves
in media attention: they occur because the media, for whatever
reason, fix upon some sort of crime, and publicize it.” Genuine
spikes in crime do occur, of course, but the press has a habit of
spotting patterns that aren’t there.

I recycled that last paragraph from a
blog post
I wrote in January. Back then the alleged crime wave
involved mass shootings. Now the press is focused on “Knockout,”
which my colleague Jacob Sullum
wrote about
here yesterday. This time the alleged crime wave
does not involve guns and is being blamed on black people, so the

tend to be on the left and the
tend to be on the right. (I like to think of
Reason as a place where we’re skeptical about all
the bullshit crime-trend stories.) But the statistical support for
the idea that there has been a surge in random attacks on
bystanders, whether or not those assaults are a “game,” is absent.
The only thing that is spiking for sure is media attention, and
that has less to do with the number of crimes than the presence of
a storyline that the press can plug those crimes into.

Fun fact: In 1989, many reporters became convinced that
there was a crime trend called “wilding,” which (naturally)
involved random assaults on strangers. This was a byproduct of the

Central Park jogger case
: A police officer apparently misheard
a reference to the Tone Loc song “Wild Thing” as
“wilding” and the media ran with it, without bothering to say to
themselves, “You know, ‘wilding’ is kind of a dorky word. Are a
bunch of hardened thugs really going to use it?”

from Hit & Run http://reason.com/blog/2013/11/26/when-the-press-perceives-a-crime-trend-t

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.