How To Spin An Election
The New York Times Tells Us A Story
Sometimes the bias of the New York Times is so outrageous that it surprises even me. Because what the NYT did yesterday in its election coverage is so dangerous, I try my best to analyze it carefully below.
On June 8, the day after the June 7 elections, the New York Times published a story telling its readers about what it called “the shifting winds on criminal justice”:
The NYT’s lengthy article and analysis is based entirely on two individual local races, the recall of the progressive DA in San Francisco, and the primary for the Mayor of Los Angeles. According to the NYT:1
There is a lot of remarkable stuff about this story. But one thing stands out above all the rest: there were huge progressive criminal justice victories in California on election night, and the NYT just ignores them. I honestly could not believe what I was reading.
Take a look at this thread, which lists many of the progressive “criminal justice” victories the NYT erased. Incredibly, the paradigm candidate for tough-on-crime politics ran a scorched earth campaign against the progressive California Attorney General, and got absolutely trounced in a statewide election. NYT? Ignored.
But there is so much more. Right near San Francisco, in a county of over a million people, another progressive DA targeted by police unions and “tough on crime” Democrats won easily. NYT? Ignored.
It gets worse, as a local journalist pointed out when criticizing the New York Times article:
In fact, all over California and the country, continuing a multi-year trend, many progressive Democrats did very well (and a few didn’t) in elections about “criminal justice” issues. It’s astonishing that the New York Times doesn’t mention any of them.
So, what does NYT choose to focus on? 1) The recall of the DA in San Francisco in which Republican billionaire money flooded the race and created an overwhelming spending mismatch; and 2) The Los Angeles Mayoral race, in which a former Republican billionaire spent $41 million on the primary. And although he outspent his nearest opponent by 10:1 ratio, he still only received 40% of the vote! 60% of the voters rejected his message.
But there was an equally important fraud that isn’t as noticeable at first glance. The New York Times neglected to tell readers that the “criminal justice reform” policies of the San Francisco DA were actually enormously popular. Each of his major issues (not prosecuting kids, cash bail, wrongful convictions, worker protection, going after corrupt cops, and more) consistently polled with overwhelming support for nearly his entire tenure, including now:
When writing a story about the unpopularity of progressive platform, did the NYT reporter not know that Boudin’s major reform policies were widely popular or did the NYT reporter know it and choose to omit it?
Using only these two local election-night results and ignoring all of the contrary evidence, NYT concocted a national story published at 5:00am the next morning about a reckoning for progressives and “shifting winds” on “criminal justice.” It’s almost as if the article was already written before the election no matter what the results? Here is the NYT’s remarkable thesis: “The elections on Tuesday showed the extent to which the political winds have shifted even in Democratic cities.”
According to Meltwater, this article had a potential “reach” of 170 million people after it was given prominent placement on the NYT website. The message to them? Democrats have to move right on crime.
The other election-night front-page article by the NYT was even worse. Just filled with even more racist, outlandish misinformation that I’ve debunked time and again. For example, property crime is DOWN in SF but the NYT prints the opposite again that property crime is “unchecked.” This other NYT article had the same message: voters want Democrats to move right on crime:
I don’t know what to say about a journalist and a group of editors who concoct this sweeping message by ignoring most of the evidence. How could this happen?
As always with the New York Times, when you see articles like this, ask yourself: Why is this particular angle news? How did it get to the reporter and who pitched it? What is the goal of the article? How did they choose which voices to quote and which to ignore? Who benefits from framing the issue this way?
Let’s take a look at the sources chosen by the reporter and editors, in chronological order:
Centrist political consultant known for criticizing progressives
“Strategists and leaders in both parties”
Centrist former machine politician. Guess what? It’s the same person quoted making a misleading joke about Boudin in last week’s New York Times debacle. (NYT has trouble finding people to interview, apparently)
Same guy again, this time making a joke pretending he doesn’t know Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s name.
Pollster for Rick Caruso (the former Republican who switched parties to run for Los Angeles Mayor)
Same guy again
A real estate developer, advisor to former Republican Mayor, who is currently a Los Angeles police commissioner
Same Caruso pollster (for third time)
Eric Adams Chief of Staff
“strategists in both parties”
Head of super PAC for House Republicans (twice)
Centrist Mayor of SF
Recalled SF DA
Anonymous Democratic Strategist
Sean Patrick Maloney (lol)
These sources overwhelmingly have political and business interests in promoting centrist, pro-police narratives. The article almost surgically excludes any other perspective, including the perspective of the many progressive strategists and candidates who have won on exactly the opposite message. Many of those people believe, based on evidence, that attacking the root causes of inequality and violence by giving people better housing, care, working conditions, and schools is a more popular political strategy for Democrats than fearmongering and pandering to police and real estate developers.
Instead of quoting or listening to other voices, the New York Times mocks them. Without describing their nuanced, science-based views to readers, the NYT calls anyone with different views the “activist left” and the “activist class.” It even gives space, for the second time in a week, to an 88-year-old man to make a needless joke about a progressive leader, this time about “A.O.S. or A.O.C. or whatever that woman’s name is.”
As you read this, I want you to ask: Is this a reasonable attempt to give people actual information about what progressives believe? To educate people about different strategies from experts who disagree? Is it a reasonable effort to educate the public about an issue?
Because it doesn’t talk to anyone with different views, let alone explain them, NYT misleads the public with ludicrous strawperson arguments. According to the NYT, “some voters demand action on racial and systemic disparities while others are focused on their own sense of safety in their homes and neighborhoods.” See, it’s an “either or” situation. The voters who care about systemic injustice aren’t “focused on” the safety of their neighborhood.
It’s hard to fathom a professional political journalist displaying less understanding of progressive principles (or, perhaps, more committed to misleading people about what real people on the left believe).
Does anyone seriously believe that the millions of poor people, Black people, young people, immigrants, socialists, teachers, nurses, public health experts, faith leaders, crime survivors, etc. who have been fighting against systemic injustices and inequality don’t care about “safety in their homes and neighborhoods”? In fact, researchers are finding that it is exactly the neighborhoods with the most gun violence who most support progressive prosecutors.
Of course, lost in all of this is a key point many medial analysts are making: the national media and political centrist strategists did not have an article ready by 5:00am the morning after election day about Larry Krasner’s huge re-election victory on a progressive platform against “tough on crime” challengers. When that election disrupted the centrist narrative, it was quickly swept under the rug.
Fifteen paragraphs into the New York Times story, we are offered the disclaimer that “turnout was low” and that “there is always a risk of over-interpreting local races.” After that brief interlude, the reporter gets right back to the main message: Democrats need to get tough on crime.
Twenty-three paragraphs into the piece, the New York Times treats readers to this gem:
This is a striking paragraph. First, it contradicts the (misleading) claim at the beginning of the piece that “rising crime” is motivating Democrats. (A claim later quietly deleted by NYT editors with no correction.) Crime is a terrible measure of social harm, but “crime” as measured by police is actually near historic lows in the U.S., and many crimes that cops report aren’t even “rising” at all, as the NYT now admits in paragraph 23.
But, this isn’t an article about evidence. This is an article about what "strategists” say that people “sense.”
I want to try to be as clear as I can about what’s really going on here:
In coming months, you will hear a lot from the news media about how "fear of rising crime" means Democrats need to boost police and prisons to be successful politically. A lot of “strategists” will be quoted. Elite corporate media will justify this as simply reporting how people “feel.”
Setting aside for a moment that people “feel” this way in large part because of the relentless and misleading media coverage of crime, there is a much larger and more insidious problem: the media reports the centrist, corporate pivot to more police and punishment as a natural, reasonable response by Democrats. This is like saying fear of climate change means that Democratic strategists are saying that people must donate to Exxon.
One of the most important functions of copaganda in the media is to treat more and more punishment as a reasonable solution to social problems. “Strategists” say we have to do it, even though all of the available scientific evidence says it won’t solve the problem because it has nothing to do with the root causes.
The actual evidence is clear: real safety is the product not of the machinery of state violence, but comes from reducing inequality, giving people places to live, ensuring that people have access to care, and in investing in the ability of our children to play and to be educated.
One of the greatest frauds but most essential roles of modern "news" is selling people the wrong solutions to the wrong problems in order to prevent the reduction of inequality.
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As I was writing this post, the New York Times quietly changed this part of the story to say “The results offered fresh evidence of the depths of voter frustration in major American cities about quality-of-life issues.” As discussed below, the prior sentence about “rising crime” is demonstrably false, so the paper turned to this euphemism instead but did not append a correction. When NYT talks about “quality of life” it’s not talking about the quality of life for people who are unhoused through deliberate policies.